Manipur: As Violence Rages On, MLAs Divided Over Whether or Not to Hold Special Assembly Session

While the Biren Singh government has asked governor to convene the session from August 21, Kuki MLAs have already made it clear that they will not attend such a session, apprehensive about traveling to Imphal.

New Delhi: Even as Manipur continues to burn requiring the Centre to dispatch additional forces to the strife-torn state, tension is building up around holding a special session of the Manipur assembly to discuss the ongoing turmoil.

The issue has now reached the door of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Athouba Khuraijam, the spokesperson of the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), told The Wire, “Today, I and some other representatives of the Committee went to the PMO to physically submit to the Prime Minister a copy of the resolution taken at a public meeting on July 29 in Imphal calling for such a session.”

On asked to spell out why such a session is particularly needed at the moment, Athouba said, “The demand has been raised from our side because we have not seen any initiative from the legislators or the state government to discuss the Manipur issue on the floor of the House. The assembly is not dissolved, so it must assemble to deliberate on what is going on in the state, including discussing the demand for a separate administration from a set of MLAs. For instance, the 10 MLAs belonging to the Kuki community have stated their individual positions on the matter which should be stated also on the floor of the House. There are outside forces acting in the state; people are asking, where is the assembly?”

He said, “We have also noticed some sitting MLAs engaging in things which they can’t, being a member of the assembly. Such things must be put on record.”

The July 29 resolution was taken as part of a mass rally held in the Imphal valley. As per news reports, around two lakh people took part in that rally where some speakers also criticized the silence of the Prime Minister on the Manipur issue and the failure of the state chief minister N Biren Singh to quell the violence in the border state. In that session, those assembled urged the Governor, the speaker and the state government to hold that special session by August 5.

Prior to it, several other valley-based civil society organisations had also taken a similar resolution. On July 27, the state’s information and public relations minister Sapam Ranjan told the local press that the Cabinet had approved a special session and the request had been forwarded to the governor. Ranjan said the Cabinet has asked for a special session in the third week of August.

Since the government has failed to hold the session by the August 5 deadline of the COCOMI, it has now called for a “social boycott” of the state government.

On reaching out to Paolienlal Haokip – one of the 10 Kuki MLAs demanding a separate administration for the Kuki residents of Manipur – if he would attend such a session if the governor accepts the Cabinet’s decision, the BJP leader categorically stated, “Who would give assurance of safety and security of the Kuki MLAs going to Imphal to attend the assembly session? At this point, I would say it is not possible and also not necessary to participate in it as the separation of the state is complete.”

Manipur Assembly. Photo: https://www.assembly.mn.gov.in/

On asked whether he is still hopeful of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), relenting to the demand for a separate administration to the Kukis, he said, “I hope, we hope, it would. Also, BJP is a national party; it is not about fulfilling the political ambitions of someone by causing communal violence. I hope it takes action against it.”

Yet another BJP MLA from the Kuki community, L.M. Khaute, also told PTI, “In view of the law and order situation, it will not be possible on my part to attend the upcoming session.”

Wilson Lalam Hangshing, co-founder of the regional party, Kuki People’s Alliance (KPA), which has two MLAs, too told The Wire that his party colleagues would not attend the session. “The session has been arranged by the state cabinet at the call of a fascist organisation like COCOMI which has no locus standi on the matter. Manipur is now being ruled by a mob; there is no government there; the government has surrendered to mob rule, so there is no question of our party attending any assembly session.”

On August 6 evening, KPA also pulled the plug on the Biren government. On asked why it took so long to withdraw support to the BJP government in the state, Hangshing said, “Informally, we had withdrawn support earlier but formally we have sent the letter to the governor last evening. This is also because we were all scattered due to the violence and couldn’t meet; there was no internet either. Also, there were more pressing issues to handle than formally make a move on the withdrawal.”

By now, several Kuki civil society organisations have also hardened their stand on the assembly session and have asked their MLAs to boycott it. They have been strictly told not to travel to Imphal.

Influential Naga civil society organisations – like the United Naga Council – have also asked the 10 MLAs from the community to stay away from the special session if held, stating that the valley-based civil society organisations had “dictated” the government to convene it to “protect the territorial integrity of Manipur State”.

However, the demand for a special session of the assembly has been favoured by some opposition parties. Two days before that July 29 public meeting in Imphal, five MLAs from the state Congress had put in a request to the governor Anusuiya Uikey to hold an “emergency session” of the assembly. In a letter seeking her “constitutional intervention”, Congress Legislative Party leader and former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh had said, “The assembly is the most appropriate forum to discuss the situation on how to restore peace in the state rocked by ethnic strife since May 3”.

Earlier that day, the state unit of the Communist Party of India (CPI) held a protest demonstration in front of the state assembly, also demanding a special session.

The Congress and CPI’s call for such a session was only a follow-up of the June 14 plea to the governor by 10 political parties which had called on the governor at the Raj Bhavan. “We have urged her to convene a special session of the assembly,” Sarat Salam of the CPI (M) had told media persons then.

The state information minister Sapam Ranjan’s statement announcing the cabinet decision came a day later.

While he had then said the cabinet had asked for the session in the third week of August, this past August 4, the state government asked the governor to convene it from August 21. The last assembly session was held in March.

While by rule, the governor is to agree to the date recommended by the state cabinet, yet, COCOMI is going ahead with the social boycott of the state government on the matter. On asked why it has still boycotted the state government on the issue of holding a special session, Athouba said, “This is because the government failed to hold it by August 5 which was decided at a mass rally attended by thousands of people.”

A valley-based political observer, however, told this correspondent, “COCOMI has been putting the heat on the state government for a special session essentially to take a resolution that the state’s territorial integrity would be maintained at all cost. Even when the cabinet said before the July 29 rally that it would hold it in the third week of August, COCOMI still set an August 5 deadline for it. To my mind, this ongoing pressure on the Biren government only pushed it to now cite a date to the governor. Still, COCOMI is going to the PMO with the demand; it could be because it doesn’t want the Centre to intervene and stall it.”

While the Meitei-dominated valley areas have 40 MLAs, the hill areas have 20 in the 60-member assembly.