The grip of militancy on Manipur is becoming tighter. Consider this: recently, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had to actually negotiate with a militant group to reach the man wanted for killing the state health minister’s eight-year-old daughter.
In a state where two dozen militant groups run amok as the government and the police watch helplessly, CBI officials had to urge a leader of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), an armed group currently in a ceasefire agreement with New Delhi, for access to the alleged murderer of Lungnila Elizabeth.
On November 4, 2003, Elizabeth, a Class III student, had stepped out of her Little Flower School and was waiting for her school van when she was abducted. She was the daughter of the state’s then health minister Francis Ngajokpa.
When the police failed to make any breakthrough, the minister had to negotiate. The abductors, who reportedly wanted a ransom of Rs 15 lakh, could not be traced. On November 12, Elizabeth’s mutilated body was found in a sack, dumped in a pond in Imphal.
For months, police were unable to find the killer. Months after the killing, the NSCN (I-M) said it has “arrested” the main suspect, James Kuki, tried him and later let him out on “parole”.
Nothing happened in the case till February this year, when the rebel Information and Publicity Minister Kilonser Chawang told the local Sangai Express newspaper that handing over Kuki to the Manipur government was “a matter of serious concern … (as) the organisation has doubts (whether) the investigation would be carried out effectively.”
The CBI took over the investigation and found that Kuki, indeed, was their prime suspect. “The state police threw up their hands. They said only the NSCN (I-M) can help,” a senior officer told the Hindustan Times. A meeting was arranged and an investigator travelled to Camp Hebron in Nagaland, the rebel headquarters outside the insurgent hub of Dimapur. The officer met a top rebel leader there.
“He did not agree. We persisted. We reminded him of the grisly nature of the crime. We gave them arguments,” the officer said. “Finally he said, ‘ok, we will not hand him over to you but we will tell you where he is, and you can launch a joint operation with the police and get him’.”
Kuki was swiftly arrested and is set to be charge-sheeted.
Governance has lost control on the northeastern state to such an extent that citizens take their grievances to the rebels, not the police or courts.
Every single citizen of Manipur pays “taxes” to the militants directly or indirectly. Government contracts, officials say, are given out by local administrators only after the approval of the militants.
(With inputs from Sobhapati Samom)