Manipur has become the second state in the Northeast, after Assam, to take concrete steps towards a National Register of Citizens (NRC), with the Assembly on August 5 adopting two private member resolutions to establish a population commission in the state and implement the NRC.
The move follows demands by groups such as the United Naga Council (UNC) and Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) to finalise an NRC after fixing a base year to identify illegal immigrants in Manipur.
As the tempo builds up, groups such as Kukis are worried that the burden of proving citizenship will fall on them.
While the UNC is the apex body of Naga groups, the COCOMI is a conglomerate of Meitei organisations. The two earlier submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard.
The private member resolutions were moved in the Assembly by JD(U) MLA Kh Joykishan Singh. Claiming large-scale infiltration of “outsiders” into Manipur, Singh said while the population of the state had grown by 153.3% in the hill districts from 1971 to 2001, the rise was 250.9% between 2001 and 2011. The valley districts saw a population growth of 94.8% and 125.4% between 1971 and 2001, and 2001 and 2011, respectively, he said.
The UNC and COCOMI claim that much of the socio-political unrest in Manipur is, directly and indirectly, the consequence of the influx of migrants from neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. They also accuse immigrants of taking over land owned by native residents in some districts of Manipur.
The districts named by the two groups specifically as having seen “an abnormal explosion of population” are Chandel, Tengnoupal, Pherzawl, Kangpokpi, and Churachandpur – all of which are Kuki-dominated. In contrast, they say, the increase in numbers in Meitei- and Naga-dominated areas of the state has been much slower.
UNC Secretary Milan Shimray says the social unrest that often flares up in Manipur is closely connected to this “demographic imbalance” and land issues, and that there is no provision in the Constitution to protect the indigenous population currently.
While the Centre had in December 2019 extended the Bengal Easter Frontier Regulation of 1873 to Manipur to bring the state under the Inner-Line Permit (ILP) system that requires Indians from elsewhere to possess a temporary travel document for entry in the state, the groups say this is toothless as the base year to determine “non-Manipuris” is fixed at 1961 (the year Manipur became a separate state) against its demand of 1951.
In 1950, the then entry permit system had been discontinued in the state, and the groups claim that around 10 lakh illegal immigrants entered Manipur between then and 1961.
Manipur is now the fourth state in the Northeast under the ILP system, apart from Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.
COCOMI member Khuraijam Athouba calls the current demographic condition “very alarming”. “Illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have a close cultural affinity with some of the tribes of the state. They enter the state for taking shelter temporarily, but manage to assimilate with the population,” Athouba says.
He mentions the NRC updation exercise in Assam, which is incidentally stalled as the government has contested the report submitted by an NRC panel. “Around 5.6 million illegal immigrants were detected during the NRC exercise in Assam. The number is so huge that the state is unable to execute the deportation of immigrants. It has become a human crisis. Manipur also needs to expedite the NRC exercise at the earliest before we meet the same fate as Assam,” Athouba says.
Hemjathang Khongsai, former vice president of Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), an apex body of Kuki tribes, says they are disturbed at how the tribe is being portrayed. “We have no objection to an NRC but the way some are portraying the tribe is very unfortunate. There has always been mistrust against the Kukis.”
Many of the Chin-Kuki tribes of Myanmar share ethnic bonds with the Kuki community in Manipur. Manipur and Myanmar have a long, 398-km common border.
Over the years, Manipur has witnessed several ethnic insurgencies – Meitei, Naga and Kuki – with each group demanding a separate homeland of its own. Many of these tribal homelands cut across state and national borders.
Currently, the state is witnessing mass protests seeking more autonomy for hill districts in the state.
A Kuki-Naga clash in 1992 had led to hundreds of killings, and displacement of thousands. Khongsai says the reason for the “population explosion” seen in Manipur was this ethnic clash and the consequent displacement. “Migration is a constant process,” Khongsai notes.
Questioning what would be achieved from the exercise apart from some political gains, he adds: “The only outcome would be ‘mistrust’. Such policy will only harm peaceful co-existence.”
While asserting that they had nothing to worry about, the Kuki leader adds: “If the peaceful atmosphere is harmed though, we will not remain silent spectators.”
Opposition parties have expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of the NRC exercise. K Devabrata Singh, the Manipur Congress vice-president, says that it is true that it is the desire of all indigenous people in the state that illegal immigrants be identified, “as they are eating our share of the pie”. However, he says, the BJP government in the state appears to be just going for some brownie points, starting with the fact that an NRC exercise with the base year of 1961 “has no meaning”.
“We want to know whether the state has got proper Census documentation done. Another area of concern is whether it has the authority to deport immigrants. The present government should be very decisive when it comes to matters like the NRC, for there should not be any dispute and the matter should not turn into a human crisis”, the Congress leader says.
BJP vice-president Ch Chidananda Singh says the party is firmly behind the resolution adopted by the Manipur Assembly for an NRC exercise. “It is the right step towards protecting the indigenous population of the state. Not only will it help protect the political rights of the indigenous people, but the NRC exercise will also solve the immigrant issue, thereby paving the way for a peaceful atmosphere,” he says.
On the population commission that has been proposed, Rehanuddin Choudury, Joint Secretary, Home Department, says they are hopeful of working out the details soon.