In an interview to explicitly and only discuss what steps are needed to douse the flames, restore law and order and build trust and harmony in Manipur, one of the state’s former speakers has identified immediate steps as well as long-term steps that must be taken, whilst applauding home minister Amit Shah for announcing a judicial inquiry and a peace committee.
Hemochandra Singh, who is also a five-term Congress MLA, though he was defeated in the 2022 elections, said that there are two necessary immediate steps. First, the army and paramilitary must be given explicit orders to douse the flames. He said reports he has received from Manipur suggest that so far, the army and paramilitary have not succeeded and he believes this is because they have not been given explicit orders. In this connection, Hemochandra Singh said it’s perhaps necessary to declare President’s rule so that Delhi can take direct charge and use the authority of the Indian state to ensure the flames are rapidly doused.
Singh said the second immediate necessary step is to take measures to protect thousands of people, still living in camps, from the monsoon, which is just weeks away and usually very heavy in Manipur. He said makeshift camps need to be built to house people through the monsoon and, again, the army could play a lead role because it has the skills and, even, the experience to do this rapidly.
Looking down the road, once calm and law and order have been restored, Singh said the first and most important step is the need to restore trust through dialogue. In this connection, he endorsed a suggestion made by the Naga elder statesman Niketu Iralu, in an earlier interview with The Wire, as a way of building trust. Iralu said it’s important to identify people in different communities and tribes who are willing to accept the mistakes their community has made and apologise to the other community. Singh feels this is a good way to start in Manipur.
After a dialogue to build trust has been established and has shown results, Singh felt the next step in the sequence is to tackle the land problem and, after that, the demand by the Meitei for scheduled tribe status.
Singh felt that the land issue is the greater priority and it needs to be resolved by amending legislation that prevents the Meitei people from buying land right across the state, something the Kukis and Nagas can do. However, he accepted that resistance from the Kukis and Nagas would have to be overcome through dialogue, which is why he said the first step in the sequence is to build trust through dialogue.
Singh gave the clear impression that the demand for Scheduled Tribe status for the Meiteis is not as big a priority in his eyes as the land issue.
Singh said the fourth step in the sequence, i.e. the last is to tackle the demand for a separate administration. He suggests that once trust is restored and the land issue is tackled the demand for a separate administration could lose much of its significance.
Finally, speaking about the Northeast as a whole, Singh said that governments in Delhi must appreciate how important their unique identity is to the different people of the North East and credible assurances must be given that Article 371 will not be tampered with or abrogated, as happened in 2019 to Article 370.
Right at the end of the interview, Singh also spoke of the need to amend Article 3 of the Indian constitution so that parliament on its own cannot change the boundaries of a state without the concurrence of the state legislature.