Manipur: Centre Says 'No Information' on Article 355

The startling response by the Union government to an RTI query indicates that the state's law and order is still technically under chief minister Biren Singh.

New Delhi: In response to a Right to Information (RTI) query, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), has for the first time, categorically stated that it has no information on any notification issued by the Centre under Article 355 of the Constitution between January 2023 and June 13, 2023.

This assumes greater significance with the Supreme Court saying on Tuesday, August 1, that state machinery in Manipur has “completely failed” and there is no law and order left in the violence-hit state.

The RTI reply with the startling revelation is received by Karnataka high court advocate Ajay Kumar a day after news came about the Union government leaving out a question in the Lok Sabha on whether Article 355 could be applied in Manipur.

Speaking to The Wire, Kumar said, “I had filed the RTI application on June 28, 2023, seeking the copy of all notifications issued by the Ministry under Article 355. To my question, it was categorically stated by the legal officer and CPIO of the Ministry, Shakti Prakash, that ‘it is informed that the undersigned CPIO doesn’t hold any information’. This then means that unlike what has been reported in a wide section of media, there was no official notification issued by the Centre to clamp Article 355 on Manipur.”

Kumar said he received the reply via email on August 1.

On June 22, Ajay Kumar had also written a letter to the President of India petitioning her to intervene in controlling the violence in Manipur. “Manipur may be a small state, but it is an integral part of our Union. However, recent events makes it appear that the Union Government, of which you are the Supreme Head, does not consider Manipur to be worthy of attention….sending the central forces without giving them the operational independence to tackle the emergency situation in Manipur is like asking a child to draw with just paper and no crayons…am writing to you as a citizen and a patriot…”

As underlined by Kumar, the categorical reply of the MHA is in contradiction to widespread reporting in the media two days after clashes broke out in Manipur on May 3 that the Centre had invoked Article 355 of the Constitution to bring the situation under control.

Based on Article 355, the MHA, as per media reports quoting ‘sources’ then, had made two crucial appointments to take control of the deteriorating law and order situation in the northeastern state. While Ashutosh Sinha, additional director general of police (Intelligence), had been appointed by MHA on May 5 night as the overall operational commander of the law and order situation, Kuldip Singh, former DGP (CRPF), had been named as security adviser to chief minister N. Biren Singh who is also the state’s home minister.

The Centre’s move was seen as a response to the Kuki community’s demand for the removal of the chief minister from controlling the law and order situation in the state, accusing him of acting partisan and in favour of his community, the Meiteis.

The then head of state police, at a press meet in Imphal then, had also stated that the Centre had imposed Article 355 of the Constitution and based on which Singh had been appointed the security adviser to the chief minister.

Going by that official statement, The Wire, in a report then, had underlined the mysterious case of clamping the Article without clamping Article 356 on Manipur. Never in Indian political history has Article 355 been imposed on a state without Article 356 which brings a state formally under President’s Rule.

On Tuesday, August 1, too, speaking to The Wire, Athouba Khuraliam, the spokesperson of the powerful Meitei civil society organisation Coordinating Committee on Manipur Unity (COCOMI) which is seen close to the chief minister, had stated that Kuldip Singh had been controlling the law and order situation in the strife-torn state since after “Centre had taken control of it” and therefore the chief minister has been handling other divisions of state’s administration.

However, the latest RTI reply of the MHA stating that it has no information about issuing any notification on using Article 355 in any state till June 13, 2023, strongly indicates that the state’s law and order is still technically under the state chief minister, Biren Singh.

Article 355 of the Indian Constitution is titled, “Duty of the Union to protect States against external aggression and internal disturbance”. It reads, “It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”

Despite claims of ‘double-engine’ government by the BJP and despite so many reports of mayhem and violence, this indicates that the state is fully under chief minister N. Biren Singh.