A picture that went viral Wednesday purportedly shows the key leader of the agitation for inner line permits in Manipur taking an oath of allegiance with the flag of a banned insurgent group. There have been reports earlier of the group, United National Liberation Front (UNLF), being behind the inner line permit agitation. Now, the photo is being seen as evidence — it purportedly shows the convener of the Joint Committee for Inner Line Permit (JCILP), Khomdram Ratan, and members of his team taking an oath administered by UNLF organisation secretary Nongyai.
The JCILP has been spearheading the agitation for inner line permits in Manipur for the past two years. An inner line permit is a special pass required to enter certain restricted areas in the country. Even Indian citizens need a permit to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. Manipur has been demanding such permits since 2012 to restrict the entry of “outsiders’’.
The photograph sent ripples through the state soon after it was released anonymously and attributed to a “reliable source’’. The UNLF, a dreaded militant group and among the oldest in the state, has been fighting for an “independent” Manipur. It “liberated’’ parts of Chandel district until an operation by the Army — Operation Somtal II — forced them out of the area and into camps across the border in Myanmar.
A confidential report of the IB last year, reported by The Indian Express, had said the UNLF was suspected to be behind the protests for inner line permits that had stalled life in Manipur, especially Imphal city, for the past few years. A Manipur police officer told The Indian Express the UNLF’s involvement in the movement is known to the police, the IB and the government.
“But this is the first time we have photographic evidence of this. This photograph is new and we know to be authentic. Ee knew that the UNLF was funding the inner line permit movement, but since the convener is taking the oath of allegiance it shows that they are not just sympathisers, but what we call OGWs or overground workers. This makes the Convener of JCILP a cadre member of the UNLF,” said the official.
He added that the police would not act on it until the state government sanctioned an operation. “This is not a simple issue. The government needs to give approval.”
He stressed the government is in favour of inner line permits and has passed bills to this effect, now awaiting presidential sanction.
In March last year, the Manipur Assembly had passed the Regulation of Visitors, Tenants and Migrant Workers Bill, the Protection of Manipur People Bill and the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill — as a surrogate to inner line permits. All three bills then came under severe criticism from both the tribal groups, who are opposed to inner line permits, and the Meitei groups, who wanted nothing less than permits.
The agitation took a particularly violent turn last year. The movement was initially headed by an organisation called FRIENDS; the JCILP took it over in the past two years, mobilising students for protests.
The JCILP is essentially an umbrella body of 30 groups in the state including all the valley (that is Meitei) students organisations. It claims to have no political affiliation and is primarily Meitei-driven as Manipuri tribals have largely kept away from the agitations.
In wake of the new development, sources in the government said that Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh was expected to meet the Prime Minister this month regarding the inner line permit issue. Khomdram Ratan did not respond to calls for a response.