Manipur: An Ever-present Danger
Independence Day celebrations on August 15, 2012, in Manipur were marred by a series of four bomb blasts in Imphal East, Imphal West and Thoubal Districts.
Four civilians, including two women, were injured in the first incident, which took place near the Thoubal Mela Ground at around 7:30 am. The second blast occurred at around 9.00 am at Sagolband Salam Leikai (Imphal West). Half an hour later, another bomb exploded near GM Godown at Telipati (Imphal East). The fourth explosion occurred at Mahabali (Imphal East) at around 10:30 am. There were no casualties in any but the first blast at the Thoubal Mela Ground.
A day later, the Coordination Committee (CorCom) of seven Valley-based militant outfits claimed responsibility for the serial blasts. CorCom includes the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), its Progressive faction (PREPAK-Pro), Revolutionary People's Front (RPF - the political wing of the People's Liberation Army - PLA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and United Peoples Party of Kangleipak (UPPK). According a statement issued by CorCom, the four explosions were part of its 'general strike' to boycott Indian Independence celebrations. Thereafter, the Committee declared that the people of Manipur "were/are never Indians and nor will ever be". The statement added, "after the forced and treacherous merger of Manipur into India in October 1949, the distinctive identity of the indigenous people is being obliterated by the day, and their distinctive identity is being threatened to the stage of complete disappearance." CorCom urged the people of the region to shed divisive feelings and stand united to wage a war of liberation collectively.
Earlier, CorCom had engineered a series of three explosions on January 26, 2012, Republic Day. A powerful explosion took place in Imphal during Republic Day celebrations at Thumbuthong in Imphal East District; and at Moirangkhom in Imphal West District. No causalities were reported. Further, unidentified persons lobbed a hand grenade at a market shed at Waheng Khuman in Bishnupur District, injuring five persons. CorCom claimed responsibility for all three attacks.
On January 22, 2012, CorCom had engineered a bomb blast at the residence of Singjamei Congress candidate I. Hemochandra in Imphal West District, in which one person died and another four were injured. Partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) records a total of 76 explosions in the State in 2012 (till September 2, 2012), with 2 killed and 51 injured. At least 15 of these incidents are confirmed as attributable to CorCom elements, according to SATP data. On January 8, 2012, CorCom had claimed responsibility for the six bomb blasts that occurred before January 8, taking the total up to at least 21. Two incidents are confirmed as attributable to the Maoist Communist Party - Manipur (MCP-M, earlier known as the KCP-Maoist, which now denies any relationship with other KCP splinters). Responsibility for the remaining incidents is unconfirmed.
CorCom was formed in July 2011, when top leaders of seven underground groups operating from the Imphal Valley of Manipur met for two days (July 8 and 9) to discuss 'revolutionary movements' in Manipur and elsewhere in the South East Asian region, and agreed to form a Coordination Committee. RPF 'president' Irengbam Chaoren was appointed 'convenor' of CorCom. A Joint Press Statement was signed by seven top leaders of the militant groups, namely Ksh Laba Meitei, 'president' KCP; N. Oken, 'general secretary' KYKL; N. Nongdrenkhomba, 'chairman', PREPAK; Irengbam Chaoren, 'president' RPF; Kh Pambei, 'acting chairman' UNLF; Laan-ngamba Luwang, 'chairman' UPPK; and L. Paliba, 'chairman', PREPAK-Pro. The Joint Statement indicated that the coordination committee would comprise at least top two leaders from the seven underground groups, and was intended to establish a United Front to bring unity among revolutionary groups to free Manipur from India's 'colonial regime'.
CorCom has since engaged in numerous acts of violence, with a particular intensity during the Assembly Elections of January 2012. CorCom had declared a 'ban' on the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) and, accordingly, issued death threats and carried out numerous bomb blasts across the State, while openly claiming responsibility for its activities. In a statement on January 4, 2012, CorCom declared that contesting on INC tickets, campaigning and organizing rallies for the INC were prohibited, and anyone defying this diktat would be 'punished'. The ban, however, failed, and Okram Ibobi Singh was sworn in as Chief Minister for the third consecutive term, on March 14, 2012, with the Congress winning 42 out of 60 seats in the Assembly.
Manipur saw a sharp escalation of violence in the beginning of 2012. On March 21, 2012, the Union Minister of State for Home Jitendra Singh stated that Manipur had become the State worst affected by militancy in the country, overtaking Jammu and Kashmir (J and K) and other northeastern States, with 246 militancy-related incidents recorded in the first three months of the year. 34 such incidents occurred in J and K during the same period.
According to SATP data, 70 fatalities have been reported in the State, including 16 civilians, 9 Security Forces (SF) personnel and 45 militants, already exceeding total figure of 2011, at 65 fatalities.
CorCom was responsible for the maximum number of bomb attacks carried out across the State, and was also involved in a number of encounters with the SFs. Some significant incidents involving CorCom in 2012 included:
January 26, 2012: Two days before elections, at least four SF personnel and three militants were killed in two separate clashes in Manipur, at Aishi village in Ukhrul District and at Taretlok, bordering Thoubal and Ukhrul District.
January 16, 2012: Two SF personnel were killed and two were injured when a patrol party of the Assam Rifles was ambushed near Jhoukhonom village in Churachandpur District on the Myanmar border.A CorCom Press Release claimed that three constituent members of CorCom: PREPAK-Pro, RPF and UNLF were behind the ambush.
May 9, 2012: Three suspected PREPAK militants were killed during an encounter with personnel of 23 Assam Rifles at Chadong Tangkhul village near Maphou Dam under the Litan Police Station, Ukhrul District.
Meanwhile, the SFs have managed to make some significant arrests of top CorCom leaders and cadres:
August 16, 2012: SFs arrested a top UPPK militant, identified as 'organizing secretary', Homeshwar Singh, and considered the senior-most member of the outfit, from the Beharbari area of Guwahati city (Assam). Singh was on the wanted list of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Manipur Police.
June 17, 2012: Four top UPPK leaders were arrested from Patna Railway Station by a Manipur Police team, with logistic support from Bihar Police. The arrested militants were identified as 'general secretary' Ningthoujam Shanti aka Chinglemba; 'finance secretary' Langpoklakpam Birjit aka Inaocha; 'major' Elangbam Bobo aka Khanganba, and 'captain' L. Jiten aka Selkai.
April 2, 2012: NIA arrested a PLA 'captain', identified as Arnold Singh aka Beckon from Siliguri in West Bengal. Sources indicate that he was connected with the supply of arms to the outfit. Arnold Singh is also a member of PLA's 'external affairs' wing. Singh was the leader of a four-member team that imparted arms training to Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in the Saranda Forest in Jharkhand between September 11 and November 20, 2010.
February 10, 2012: SFs arrested five militants of the CorCom (PREPAK), who struck terror among Congress candidates and their supporters during the Assembly elections of January 28, from Imphal West District.
November 30, 2010: The UNLF 'chairman' Rajkumar Meghen, who went missing after reportedly being caught in Bangladesh, was arrested at Motihari of East Champaran District in Bihar.
CorCom has also seen two major incidents of mass surrender including cadres this year. On July 20, 2012, 73 cadres of different militant groups lay down arms before Chief Minister Ibobi Singh during a 'home-coming ceremony' held at Mantripukhri in Imphal East District. Of the surrendered cadres, 14 belonged to the UNLF, 12 to PLA, 13 to KYKL, 15 to different factions of KCP, seven to PREPAK, eight to the People's United Liberation Front (PULF), one to the Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front ((MNRF) and three to the Kuki National liberation Front (KNLF). Earlier, on April 30, 2012, 103 cadres of several militant outfits operating in the State and its neighboring areas surrendered with their weapons, before the Chief Minister, during a ceremony at Mantripukhri. They included 22 cadres of the UNLF, 20 of PULF, nine of KYKL, 14 of PREPAK, eight of KNLF, 10 of KCP, nine of PLA, four of the United Naga People's Council (UNPC), two of National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), one each of NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K), UPPK and Kom Rem People's Army (KRPA), and two of the Kuki Revolutionary Front (KRF).
On May 2, 2012, however, UNLF, RPF, and PREPAK, dismissed the surrender ceremony of April 30 as a 'forceful (sic) surrender of militants' staged by the Ibobi Singh led Government,
CorCom elements have also intensified their propaganda and drive against 'outsiders'. The United Revolutionary Front (URF, set up on January 7, 2012, which collaborates with CorCom in their attacks against non-locals, but is not a member of CorCom), a conglomerate of five splintered factions of the KCP, in a statement issued by its 'secretary, information and publicity' A.K. Pibarel, on April 9, 2012, declared that it was not right to let outsiders claim ownership of all professional works in the State and that the indigenous people should be the right owners of Manipur and its markets, including all kinds of occupations or professions. Thereafter, on April 14, 2012, URF announced an 'ordinance' against all non-locals living in Manipur as part of its economic policy for indigenous people. The 15- point ordinance, among other provisions, imposes a monthly 'tax' on all non-indigenous people, without considering the period of their settlement in Manipur.
Significantly, in a pre-dawn operation launched on August 30, 2012, by Manipur Police teams in Lilong and Hatta Golapati, two Muslim-dominated areas of Thoubal and Imphal East Districts, as a precaution to prevent an outbreak of Assam-like violence in the State, a total of 43 foreign nationals, including 24 Bangladeshis and 19 Myanmarese, were detained. The crackdown on illegal migrants came close on the heels of a fresh campaign by civil society groups for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in Manipur. The ILP is an official travel document required for Indian citizens to travel into restricted areas. The Manipur Assembly passed a resolution in July 2012 to urge the Centre to introduce ILP in the State, to regulate the influx of migrants and foreigners. The Centre, however, is said to have no plans to extend the system, which exists only in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, to include Manipur.
Significantly, according to an August 28, 2012, report, the URF has called on Manipuri students to look towards the fast developing regions of China and Southeast Asia to pursue higher studies and employment, arguing that 'mainland India' has repeatedly disowned them. The URF cited the present incidence of threat and intimidation against the people of the Northeast, in apparent retaliation to the Kokrajhar (Assam) riots, as evidence of the perverse attitude of mainstream India.
The PLA's close links with the Communist Party of India - Maoist is also emerging as a cause for urgent concern. Security agencies believe that the CPI-Maoist is making rapid inroads into the North-East, immediately to gain access to the arms market in the neighbouring Yunan Province of China, as well as in Myanmar and the Southeast Asian countries. According to a June 2, 2012, report, the Maoist were ready to spend INR 2 billion for arms and training, an amount that would tempt any insurgent group in the Northeast. The CPI-Maoist is likely to become a member of a Strategic United Front (SUF) comprising major insurgent groupings in South Asia, and including the groups in India's Northeast. Indian Security agencies apprehend that members of Chinese intelligence agencies may participate in the meetings of the proposed SUF in the guise of representatives of the Wa State Army - the largest illegal arms manufacturer in Myanmar. The CorCom along with other North East militant outfits have camps in Myanmar under the protection of NSCN-K.
The multiple insurgencies in Manipur have been losing steam over the past years, and annual fatalities have registered a sharply declining trend. On June 26, 2012, Major General U.K. Gurung, Inspector General (South), Assam Rifles, stated that Manipur's insurgencies had 'lost steam' and the law and order situation was 'much improved'. Indeed, on April 25, 2012, on the occasion of the outfit's 18th 'raising day', the 'chairman' of KYKL, N. Oken conceded that both the 'revolutionary movement' and the 'social movement' had gone into a 'reverse gear' and had lost the people's support to an alarming level.
Nevertheless, the efforts of strategic consolidation and renewal under the CorCom, as well as growing insurgent linkages abroad, give significant cause for concern. Manipur's politics remain unstable, its administration corrupt and dysfunctional, and its people frustrated by social, economic and political stagnation and a lack of opportunities. A single spark has, in the past, set this volatile tinderbox afire; there is an ever-present danger that this may happen again.
(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)