Politics

NE Dispatch: Demonetisation, Economic Blockade Disrupts Life in Manipur; Karmapa’s Tawang Visit Draws Ire From China

A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.

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Representational image. Credit: PTI

Manipur: Normal life affected as United Naga Council-called economic blockade continues

Periodic economic blockades called for by student and civil society organisations in Manipur have been a bane for the state for sometime now. The latest one, called for by the United Naga Council (UNC), has reportedly led to a spiralling of prices of essential items – including fuel and cooking gas – in the state since November 1.

The inconvenience being faced by the common people across the state has been worsened by the Centre’s demonetisation move due to which they have been forced to stand in long queues outside banks and ATMs to withdraw cash.

According to local media reports, the prices of fuel have continued to remain prohibitive at Rs 250-300 per litre. There has also been an acute shortage of cooking gas since the two arterial highways – NH-2 and NH-37 – have been blocked by UNC supporters, thus crippling the movement of fuel tankers and trucks that bring essential goods to the state.

According to the latest reports, nearly 1,000 trucks have been stuck on both the highways. Some reports said the state police have helped a few trucks and fuel tankers to enter Manipur through Jiribam – which borders Silchar in Assam – by providing them security cover.

The blockade has been called to oppose the state government’s decision to create Sadar Hills and Jiribam as full-fledged districts, which the UNC claims will bifurcate the ancestral lands of the Nagas living in Manipur.

On November 28, the state government arrested UNC president Gaidon Kamei and UNC information secretary Stephen Lamkang from the Imphal West district for imposing the blockade, thus sharpening the confrontation between the state and the UNC, and other Naga civil society organisations including the Naga Hoho that are opposed to the state government’s decision.

In a statement released after the arrest, the Forum for Understanding the Naga-India Conflict and Human Rights said, “The Manipur state government clearly knows that the ongoing blockade in the hill districts of Manipur state, especially in the four Naga inhabited hill districts, is the direct result of the state government attempt to address the issue of Sadar Hills and Jiribam disregarding the previous Memorandum of Understanding between the Naga civil bodies and governments of India and the state. Rather than addressing the issue democratically, the state government’s imprisonment of the Naga leader amounts to the state’s inability to address the genuine concerns of the people inhabiting within the state’s jurisdiction. If at all the state government is serious on the issue, taking the confidence of all the stakeholders is expected. However, in the present case, the state government has completely ignored the voice of all the stakeholders.”

The state government’s reason behind the creation of the districts is “administrative convenience.” State chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh recently told local media, “Land belongs to the government and not to any tribe. It is for administrative convenience to create new districts.”

Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh. Credit: PTI

Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh. Credit: PTI

For years, Jiribam has been under the Imphal East district, though the two areas are more than 100 kms apart. In order to reach Jiribam, one has to travel through the Tamenglong district.

UNC feels that “If the state government went by logic, Jiribam should have been made a part of Tamenglong district (Naga majority) or should have been within Churachandpur district (Paite majority).”

UNC is also opposed to the creation of a full-fledged district out of Sadar Hills claiming it to be the ancestral land of the Naga people. The Sadar Hills, however, has a majority of people from the Kuki tribes, traditionally seen as a challenger to the Nagas. They have been demanding a full-fledged district for years.

Meanwhile, there has been a spurt of opposition to the economic blockade in the valley areas that are dominated by the majority community – the Meiteis. On November 29, a large number of lawyers led by the All Manipur Bar Association carried out a silent protest in Imphal against the rising prices of essential commodities due to the blockade.

According to reports, some locals in Jiribam and Bishnupur areas have begun a “counter blockade” by stopping trucks carrying essential goods to the hills districts.

The United Committee Manipur, a powerful civil society organisation of the majority Meitei community, gave a December 5 deadline to the UNC to call off the blockade since it has been causing immense hardships to the common people across the state. The UNC, however, has not relented.

On December 6, representatives of Naga civil society and student organisations met the minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju to express their concern regarding the arrest of UNC president.

The Joint Naga Civil Societies, Delhi, organised a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar on December 3 to protest the “unprecedented arrests” and appealed the Centre “to deal with the situation quickly.”

Mizoram: Centre’s demonetisation move and refugees’ demands stall the largest ever repatriation of Bru people from Tripura

Nearly 20 years after they fled Mizoram to take shelter in north Tripura due to an ethnic conflict with the Mizos, as many as 32,759 Bru refugees were set to return home between November 30 and December 15.

Their wait is likely to get longer due to the Centre’s demonetisation move and a set of demands that have been presented by the refugees to the central government, which have reportedly stalled the process of repatriation.

While as many as 3,000 Bru refugees were resettled in Mizoram between 2009 and 2011, this round of repatriation would have more or less covered the remaining refugees who are living in six relief camps in Tripura.

A Bru refugee woman at the Thamsapara relief camp in Tripura. Credit: Reuters

A Bru refugee woman at a relief camp in Tripura. Credit: Reuters

According to media reports, although the identification of the refugees by the Mizoram government occurred from November 2-24 – a pre-condition of the state government to the Centre’s plea to take back all the refugees residing in the relief camps – the scheduled date for their return had to be postponed due to a lack of funds. Media reports quoting Mizoram home department sources said the state government was yet to receive funds from the Centre to begin the process of repatriation.

“The state government has not received funds from the Centre to begin the repatriation. Unofficially, we have been told that the Centre could not release the money in view of the demonetisation move,” a state home ministry official told The Telegraph on November 27.

The decision to defer their return was reportedly taken at a meeting of the joint monitoring group held in New Delhi on November 24. The meeting, attended by senior officials of the ministry of home affairs, Mizoram and Tripura state governments and representatives of the Bru refugees living in the relief camps, was chaired by Mahesh Kumar Singla, the special secretary (internal security), Ministry of Home Affairs.

However, the official reason behind the delay in the repartition process is a set of demands from the refugees. The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum, an apex body of the community, have demanded that the Centre provide funds for each repatriated family to construct a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana besides ensuring government jobs for the youths and a stretch of five-acre land for each family from the state government. The forum also protested the exclusion of 1,050 Bru families from the list of refugees that are to be repatriated. These families are living in the relief camps.

On December 6, Singla visited the refugee camps to hold discussions with the leaders on their demands. According to some sources, the Centre “also warned” the refugees that failing to cooperate with the government’s move would lead to “curtailment of all the grants being given to them for upkeep.”

According to state home ministry officials, the aim of Singla’s meeting was to ensure that the repatriation process begins by January 2017. Although the Mizoram government conducted a round of repartition last year, only one refugee reportedly moved back to the state while the others who were identified by the state government as Mizoram residents refused to return.

This time, a team of two dozen officials of the Mizoram home ministry conducted the identification process in all the six relief camps – Naisingpara, Kaskau, Hamsapara, Khakchangpara, Asapara, Hazacherra and Naisingpara – as per the voters’ list of 1995 or on the basis of any other documents that a refugee could furnish to prove that he/she was a resident of Mizoram.

According to the government’s plan, the refugees are to be settled in the three districts of Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei in Mizoram.

In 1997, thousands of Bru people fled to Tripura after a bloody ethnic conflict with the majority community, the Mizos. Tripura also has several Bru people – referred to as Reang – which drove the refugees to flee to that state.

Arunachal Pradesh: Centre facilitates Karmapa’s maiden visit to Tawang, draws ire from China

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje – the head of the Kamtsang Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism – arrived in Arunachal Pradesh on November 28, a move facilitated by the Modi government six months after it decided to lift the restrictions imposed on him to travel abroad.

The travel restrictions were imposed on him in 2011 after one million dollars – some of which was in Chinese currency – was recovered from his monastery in Dharamshala.

Although the Centre, which kept Dorje under house arrest, allowed him to travel within the country a month after the recovery of cash, it did not lift the restriction on him travelling abroad. He was also suspected of being a Chinese spy since the country, in an unusual move, made an official announcement recognising Dorje as “the first reincarnated living Buddha.”

On November 28, the Karmapa was accompanied to Arunachal by Amitabh Mathur, an advisor to the home ministry.

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Gyalwang Karmapa accompanied by chief minister Pema Khandu. Credit: Twitter/@CMPemaKhandu

Addressing a public meeting in Tawang on November 29, the Karmapa thanked the central government, the Home Ministry, the minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju and the chief minister Pema Khandu for organising the visit. Among other places, he visited Urgyelling Gompa, the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama in Tawang and paid his homage at the Indian soldiers’ war memorial at Nyukmadung, near Dirang.

The Modi government’s facilitation of the visit – the first by a Karmapa to the state in 900 years – follows an invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal, which was formally extended by the state government at the behest of the Centre. Recently, the state government also invited the US ambassador to India, Richard Verma, as a guest of honour at the annual Tawang Festival. China criticised Verma’s visit to Tawang as well as the state government’s invitation to the Dalai Lama.

Reacting to the Karmapa’s visit, Beijing said it hoped India can “refrain from any action that might complicate the boundary question.”

Since the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981, the recognition of the 17th Karmapa has been a matter of controversy as the two candidates – Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje (who lives in the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim) – were selected for the position. Though both have been performing ceremonial rituals as the 17th Karmapa, the Dalai Lama recognised Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa in 1992.

The Karmapa is considered as the third most influential spiritual figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.