HT interview: Both sides working to find peaceful solution, says Manipur CM | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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HT interview: Both sides working to find peaceful solution, says Manipur CM

Apr 13, 2024 07:44 AM IST

In an interview with HT, Manipur chief minister Biren Singh spoke about efforts to find a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict that has raged for 11 months

Ahead of April 19, when Manipur goes to polls (one of the two constituencies in the state will go to polls in two stages, on that day and also April 26), chief minister Biren Singh spoke to Hindustan Times about the current situation in the state, efforts to find a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict that has raged for 11 months, the role of militant groups, and why the decision of the Union government to suspend the so-called Free Movement Regime (FMR) and erect a border fence along the India-Myanmar border will resonate with voters.

Manipur is set to got to polls on April 19 (one of the two constituencies in the state will go to polls in two stages, on that day and also April 26). (ANI)
Manipur is set to got to polls on April 19 (one of the two constituencies in the state will go to polls in two stages, on that day and also April 26). (ANI)

When will normalcy return to Manipur? What is the government doing to restore normalcy?

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A Naga MLA, Dinganglung Gangmei ,who is the chairperson of the Hill Area Committee -- all 20 MLAs from hill districts are under HAC -- and under his leadership, MLAs from Naga and Kuki groups are meeting in Guwahati and have started talks to find a solution. Talks are also being held in Delhi, with help from central agencies. Both sides are working to find a peaceful solution. This is happening for the first time. This is also the reason why peace is returning to Manipur. The talks have started.

A lot has happened in Manipur over the past one year, so what is your party’s poll promise?

People from both communities have suffered. The main reason they suffered is the involvement of outsiders (illegal residents) during the clashes and before it. The future of the indigenous residents is at stake because over 2.5 lakh(250,000) outsiders have come in illegally and settled here. This is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ordered border fencing and ended the free movement regime (FMR). The state government has already suspended FMR in Manipur since Covid-19 pandemic. We are telling people how villages have come up in forest areas. These people are taking away the rights of the indigenous people. Our government conducted a survey and has mapped such villages across Manipur. Only NRC (a national register of citizens) and border fencing will help us identify the existing illegal residents, and deport those who are staying illegally. People will vote for BJP because Congress’ Rahul Gandhi is against NRC, which is one of the most important issues.People will vote for the BJP because this is the main issue here.

There are allegations that the radical group Arambai Tenggol is supported by the state government?

The Arambai Tenggol is a group that was formed to protect the social heritage of the Meitei people. In the initial days of the clashes, there are many viral photos and videos of AT members carrying only lathis. When militants used guns and heavy fire power in the ethnic clashes, AT members also managed to get weapons for their protection. Though police and security forces are recovering stolen weapons every day, civilians are keeping the weapons for their safety. I can assure you that once normalcy returns, every weapon will be handed over by the group. Arambai Tenggol is not an anti-India group.

What about Kuki residents who do not have faith in your government?

There are indigenous people among Kukis too who have been recognised as tribes and residents of Manipur. All those who settled here before 1961 are Manipur residents. This is why we want a National Register of Citizens(NRC) from 1961. For the first time in Manipur, we have witnessed a Tangkhul Naga MLA moving a private member resolution in the assembly urging the state government to appeal to the central government to implement NRC . It was supported by a Liangmai Naga Minister, two Meitei Pangal (Muslims) MLAs and Meitei MLAs. It was passed by the house on the same day. We only have a problem with illegal residents living in the hills. In fact, the chairman of the screening committee to identify illegal immigrants was a Kuki MLA, Letpao Haokip. Even rights of Manipur citizens among Kukis are being taken away because there has been unnatural growth of villages in the forests in the hills. Our government has mapped every village that has been set up since 2012. The Naga MLAs are speaking to the Kuki civil society organisations on how illegal migrant is affecting everyone.

But there are no star campaigners coming to Manipur

Normalcy is just starting to return to the state so we may not have many star campaigners. But the Union home minister is visiting Manipur and will address a rally on Monday. He will directly talk to the people.

How will border fencing help? Many say thousands of families will be affected when a border fence comes up at the border?

It is true that the FMR led to cross border marriages and people have families on both sides of the border. I am sure that the Centre will come up with a system for such people to meet their relatives in India. Maybe they can show their passports and some form of documentation. Why should anyone have a problem with this? This will let us keep track of the people who have entered our country. This will ensure that we have a record. Nobody can enter India illegally, live as Indian citizens forever, make settlements and take away rights of the people. They will have to return. The FMR and open border led to foreigners entering India and indulging in crimes, chiefly smuggling.

What is the status if of the Suspension of Operations(SoO) with Kuki militant groups ?

At the moment, the Centre has yet to renew the SoO. Many groups indulged in violence. The Centre is identifying the groups and the people behind it. A call to extend or not to extend will be taken only after the verification process by the Centre.

Next month will be a year since ethnic clashes broke out in the state. Is there any clarity on how it started?

There are police logs and records which show how the violence started. The first rally happened in Moreh at around 9.40 am The second rally happened in Churachandpur at 11 am. About half an hour before rally in Churachandpur, militants burnt the forest office at 10.30 am. The forest office was burnt to destroy documents, which showed how illegal villages had come up there. Fortunately, barring a few documents lost in the arson, we have all and records at the headquarters. In Churachandpur alone, 129 illegal villages came up between 2016 and 2018, followed by 169 in Kangpokpi. The first target was the forest office. Valley people living in Churachandpur were next. The allegation that Meitei groups indulged in arson at the Churachandpur war cemetery came around 2.30 pm. By then violence had started in Churachandpur. The violence in Imphal started after 4.30 pm.

What about Outer Manipur seat where BJP is supporting Naga People’s Front?

There are many Naga tribes across Manipur, who too are suffering from the problem of illegal migrants. Naga people too are under threat because if the refugees. We are on the same plank when it comes to stopping the influx and fighting for indigenous people. The BJP decision on FMR, border fencing and NRC is for the benefit of all including Nagas. This is the main issue in Outer Manipur too.

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