A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.
United Naga Council demands president’s rule in Manipur, citing government’s failure “on all fronts”; centre dispatches paramilitary troops
The powerful Naga civil society body of Manipur, the United Naga Council (UNC), intensified its ongoing offensive against the Okrom Ibobi Singh government on December 20, with a delegation of its members submitting a memorandum to union home minister Rajnath Singh demanding president’s rule in the state.
The UNC members, who have been camping in New Delhi for some days, also met minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju on December 19 on the issue.
The Centre, responding to the escalation of violence in the state since Sunday when 22 vehicles bound for the hill district of Ukhrul were torched near Imphal leading to imposition of curfew in Imphal East and West districts, has rushed around 4,000 paramilitary personnel to the state in two batches, as per a senior home ministry official.
In a press meet in New Delhi after meeting Rajnath Singh, UNC leader Adani Mao said, “We appeal (to the centre) to impose president’s rule in Manipur as the state government has failed completely on all fronts and law order has deteriorated. Creation of seven new districts is a ploy by the Manipur chief minister for electoral gains.” Mao warned of “a full blown ethnic war” in Manipur if the state government doesn’t concede to the UNC’s demand.
Since November 1, the UNC has been blocking the two arterial national highways to the state – the NH 24 (Imphal to Dimapur in Nagaland) and NH 37 (Imphal to Jiribam adjoining Silchar in Assam) – in protest against the state government’s decision to carve out two full-fledged districts from the Jiribam and Sadar Hills, accusing it of bifurcating the ancestral land of the Nagas in Manipur. The state government has denied this, adding that the decision was taken for administrative ease.
Jiribam, even though set apart by 200 km from its district headquarter Porompat, has been a part of the Imphal East district till now. UNC, joined by some other Naga civil society organisations, argue that it should have been a part of the adjoining Naga-dominated Tamenglong district.
People living in Sadar Hills, mostly Kukis seen as traditional rivals of the Nagas, have been agitating for a long time demanding it be elevated to a full-fledged district. Till now, it has been a part of the Naga-dominated Senapati district. The Naga groups felt they should have been consulted by the state government before taking the decision.
At the press meet, the UNC leaders spoke of “four memorandums of understanding signed between 1981 and 1998 as per which it was mutually agreed that the Manipur government would not redefine administrative areas inhabited by the Nagas without consulting the Naga bodies. The Ministry of Home Affairs ratified the decision in 2011.”
“Also, when the framework agreement is already signed between the centre and the NSCN (I-M) which will essentially address the border issue of the Nagas, an extrapolated measure by the present government will not be accepted,” said Mao.
Meanwhile, with hundreds of trucks stuck on the highways due to the economic blockade which led to a crisis of essential commodities across the state, the state government arrested UNC president Gaidon Kamei and publicity secretary Stephen Lamkang on November 29 to mount pressure on the organisation to call off the blockade. In a gazette notification issued on December 9, the state government not only went ahead with its decision to make Jiribam and Sadar Hills (as Kangpokpi) full-fledged districts but also carved out five more districts, thus taking the total number of districts in the state from nine to 16.
With the UNC continuing the blockade, a counter blockade was begun by some in the Meitei-majority valley areas, thus preventing the supply of essential commodities and passenger cars to the Naga areas leading to the attack on the 22 vehicles this past Sunday. The violence spread to Senapati district the next day with miscreants torching two more vehicles. It led the government to impose curfew in Imphal and its outskirts. As per local media reports, mobile data services have also been suspended since last Sunday and will remain so till December 25.
Assam: Activist Akhil Gogoi released from jail after 78 days
Akhil Gogoi, president of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), a civil society body that fights for peasants’ rights in Assam, was released on bail on Monday from the Golaghat central jail after 78 days in custody. Gogoi was arrested on October 2 while addressing a press conference in Guwahati on charges of inciting violence during an eviction drive carried out on September 19 by the police and local administration in the Bandardubi village adjoining the Kaziranga national park. Police alleged that Gogoi instigated the crowd to resort to violence, leading to the death of two evictees in police firing and injuring 19 others including 15 policemen.
After his arrest, Guwahati police deputy commissioner (general) Ranjan Bhuyan told newspersons, “After a case was registered (in Jakhalabandha) against Gogoi, the Gauhati high court also refused him bail in a case registered against him in 2013 in Lakhimpur district. Gogoi went into hiding. We arrested him as soon as he surfaced.”
On December 19, Gogoi’s lawyer Pranjal Gogoi told local media, “Akhil was granted bail by two local courts in the cases registered against him on the Kaziranga issue under the Golaghat, Bokakhat and Jakhalabandha police stations. On December 16, after the Gauhati high court granted him bail in the 2013 case, he was released by the Golaghat central jail on bail.”
After coming out of jail, Gogoi addressed a huge gathering of his supporters in a public meeting in Golaghat town where he reiterated his resolve to oppose “any move” by the government to provide shelter to Hindus of Bangladeshi origin in the state.
“No compromise will be tolerated in the implementation of the Assam Accord. We will never allow anyone to provide shelter to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam,” he said in the meeting.
Many student bodies, intellectuals, politicians and members of public in the state are opposed to the centre’s attempt to amend the Citizenship Act to grant citizenship to the Hindu Bangladeshis living across the country. As per the Assam Accord, anyone – a Hindu or a Muslim – who entered the state from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971, will be identified and deported back to their country of origin.
Assam: Course on Bhupen Hazarika introduced in Dibrugarh University
In a first such move in the state, the Dibrugarh University in Assam has readied a post graduate course aimed at studying the works and times of renowned singer Bhupen Hazarika.
As per the university vice chancellor Alak Kumar Burhagohain, the course will be introduced by the university from the next session starting July 2017.
“The syllabus for the university is ready. It will be at the post-graduate level. Not only local students, students from outside the country too can learn about the life and times of Hazarika. They can acquaint themselves with the vast repertoire of his creations,” said Buragohain recently at a function organised in the university to mark the evergreen balladeer’s fifth death anniversary. The course will be available at the Centre for Studies in Performing Arts, now named Dr Bhupen Hazarika Centre for Studies in Performing Arts.
Hazarika, who visited Dibrugarh University many times, was, however, more closely associated with the Gauhati University where he taught for some time and also wrote its anthem, ‘Jilikabo luitore paar’, when it was inaugurated in 1954. He was cremated in an area offered by Gauhati University, which has now been turned into a memorial.