New Delhi: Suspected militants fired at Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s helicopter after he landed at Pakshi Ground in Hungpung village in Ukhrul district on Monday morning. According to news reports, one jawan of 6 Manipur Rifles sustained injuries.
The chief minister, who was accompanied by deputy chief minister Gaikhangam Gangmei, escaped unhurt and returned to the state capital Imphal, 100 km from the Ukhrul district headquarters.
According to initial reports that quoted local officials, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) militants are suspected to have been behind the attack. Some have also suspected Tangkhul Naga Long to be behind it. Ukhrul is a Tangkhul Naga dominated town. The NSCN-IM, which has been in peace talks with the Centre, has denied any role in the attack.
The reports said that Singh and Gangmei flew to Ukhrul from Imphal around 9:30 am to inaugurate the newly built district hospital there. At around 10:30 am, they were met with vociferous protests from local people. For the last few days, Ukhrul residents have been protesting against the impending visit of the chief minister and had called for a shutdown on Monday to coincide with his visit.
The locals were opposed to the inauguration of the hospital because they claim the work was incomplete.
While Singh and his team waited inside the chopper for an hour for the protesters to calm down, unidentified armed men began firing at them and injured two jawans. Singh’s chopper immediately left for Imphal.
An Ukhrul-based reporter told The Wire that the irate public torched two police vehicles after security forces began carrying massive search operations across Hungpung.
According to news reports, Singh held an emergency cabinet meeting on the situation in Ukhrul after returning to Imphal.
In election-bound Manipur, the demand for greater Nagaland is gaining momentum in the Naga dominated districts, with the protesters resisting Singh’s poll campaign there.
On October 21, Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang, speaking at a conference of Naga villages in Senapati district, called for the derecognition of “artificial boundaries”. It led many Manipuri organisations and politicians from different parties including Singh to react strongly against it.
“Unlike Manipur [which became a part of the Indian union following independence], Nagaland was never a nation. It was carved out of Assam [in 1963],” Singh reportedly retorted to Zeliang’s comment. Manipur MLA L. Ibomcha Singh of the Nationalist Congress Party filed an FIR against Zeliang for his statement.
On October 23, Zeliang’s office issued a statement stating that the chief minister had “spoken about the need for the Nagas of Manipur to be united to protect their birth right over their land, customs, culture and tradition.”
Though it mentioned Singh’s comment, the statement was quiet on the reaction of O Joy, the spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Manipur. Joy accused Zeliang of “instigating disintegration not only in Manipur but also unity of India.”
Zeliang’s Naga People’s Front is a part of BJP’s political initiative in the region, the North East Democratic Alliance.