Speaking out publicly for the first time on the violence and an economic blockade that has crippled Manipur for weeks now, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh has blamed the United Naga Council (UNC) for the communal tension in the state, calling it the “mouthpiece and frontal organisation of the NSCN-IM’’ insurgent outfit which has long sought a Nagalim that includes the hill districts of Manipur.
Speaking to The Indian Express Wednesday, Ibobi Singh, who heads a Congress government in the state which goes to assembly polls early next year, also alleged that the Centre was “not intervening and taking action in time’’ to help restore order in the state. He said the Centre should prevail on the UNC to call off the economic blockade.
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“Since the central government is in peace talks with the (NSCN) IM, they can easily put pressure on the United Naga Council to call off the economic blockade which has caused so much suffering here,’’ he said — Wednesday was the 50th day of the UNC-imposed blockade of vehicles carrying essential goods to the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley.
According to the Chief Minister, as soon as tension started building up, he went to Delhi to meet Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. “When I apprised him of the situation, I was really surprised by his response. He said that the cause of all this was the creation of the seven new districts, and that more thought should have been put into it. I told him that no one, not even the Government of India, has the right to dictate to any state what they should or should not do within the state. And the creation of the districts was a purely administrative matter,’’ he said.
Ibobi Singh claimed that despite repeated requests for additional paramilitary forces to control the deteriorating law and order situation, the Centre sent only 10 battalions. “This is clearly not adequate to control the situation. And the action taken by the Centre was delayed. We needed prompt action and support,’’ he said.
On Wednesday morning, the Chief Minister chaired a meeting with different security agencies, including Manipur Police, Assam Rifles and the paramilitary forces, to chalk out a plan of action for the next few days.
There is scarcity of petrol in Imphal city since no oil tanker is being allowed to enter the valley — most petrol pumps are shut. “There are around 250 oil tankers waiting in Silchar (Assam). We are getting more forces to try and bring them to Imphal city. We can forcibly lift the blockade, we can force ourselves onto the highways. But we don’t want to use that kind of force,” Ibobi Singh said.
“All communities in Manipur, including the Nagas, belong to the state and we will not use force against them. But the highways also belong to the Centre, they are the property of the country and have been hijacked by the IM. Why isn’t the central government doing anything about this?”
He said the NSCN-IM actions over the past few weeks have been in “blatant disregard” of the ceasefire agreement which it had signed with the Government of India. “I have apprised the Centre of this breach of the ceasefire,” he said.
The Meiteis of Imphal Valley have in the meantime imposed a counter-blockade, preventing vehicles from moving to Ukhrul and Senapati districts which are largely Naga-dominated districts. On Wednesday, there were incidents of Ukhrul-bound vehicles being targeted by mobs. On Sunday, 21 vehicles including three buses, which were headed to Ukhrul under police protection, were set ablaze by a mob.
The state government has suspended Internet and imposed curfew in sensitive areas across Imphal East and West districts.