The BJP government in Manipur is facing a big challenge. With the Manipur situation limping back to normal after the May 3 incidents and subsequent ethnic violence, all the ten MLAs belonging to the Kuki community have accused the N Biren Singh government of failing miserably to protect the community. On May 12, they resolved to pursue a “separate administration under the Constitution of India” and live peacefully as neighbours with Manipur. This demand for a separate state for the Kuki tribes is bound to lead to an ethnic division of the state. On and off, some pro-tribal sections of the civil society and NGOs, for around a decade had been demanding a separate state for the tribals living in Manipur.
The separate state demand assumes more significance as out of the ten MLAs, two are ministers and one an advisor to the chief minister. The ten legislators — five from the BJP, two from JD-U, two Kuki People’s Alliance (KPA) and one Independent MLA, demanded a “Separate Administration” for the tribals, who constitute around 37 to 40 per cent of the total 27.21 lakh population (2011 census) of the state. There are differences of perception on many issues among the tribals and non-tribals in the northeastern region, where 27-28 per cent are tribals out of the 45.58 million population. The separate state demand in Manipur assumes more significance as it was raised by the ruling party MLAs and their allies.
The hills, comprising ten of the 16 districts, account for 90 per cent of the state’s area and 10 per cent population while the valley occupies 10 per cent land. In the valley, there are Hindu, non-tribal Meitei communities while the hills are inhabited largely by the Christian Naga and Kuki-Zomi communities. Several years after the erstwhile princely state of Manipur merged with the Indian union in October 1949, the Meitei community felt that with the infiltration from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal their demographic balance and position would be jeopardised if they did not get constitutional protection. With this observation, the Meitei communities, who constitute around 53 per cent of the total population, have been demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, which has been strongly opposed by the tribals.
The tribals’ logic is that the Meitei communities as the majority population got many constitutional and government benefits, and if they are categorised as ST, the tribals’ constitutional benefits would be shared further with them (Meitei communities) including land rights in the hill areas. The Manipur violence was preceded by anger and strong opposition against the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserve and protected forest land and destruction of poppy cultivation by the state government leading to a series of agitations and tension between the majority Meiteis and the minority Kukis. The demand by the ten elected representatives belonging to the Kuki tribals for a separate state has pushed a division of Manipur on ethnic lines.
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