Tension prevails ahead of crucial panchayat polls in Manipur
After a thumping victory in the last Assembly polls in Manipur, Congress finds itself challenged by the rebel outfits once again ahead of the crucial panchayat polls. Ratnadip Choudhury reports how revival of insurgency has left the Ibobi government in a tizzy
On Wednesday 12 September, a powerful explosive was found near Manipur Secretariat South Block which houses the offices of the home minister and the chief secretary. In the last two weeks, Imphal and other urban areas of Manipur have seen four blasts in which two people have died and at least 15 people are battling for life at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Imphal. As a knee-jerk reaction, the state government has called the rebels to come forward for talks.
After months of peace, the Ibobi Singh-led Congress government finds itself once again challenged by the underground rebel groups in the state capital Imphal, ahead of the panchayat polls in the state to be held on Thursday 13 September. A total of 4,620 candidates are in fray for panchayat election which consist of 60 seats of Zila Parishad, 161 Pradhans and 1514 Gram Panchayat seats. Scrutiny for the election was held on 7 August in which one Zila Parishad member, one Pradhan and 57 gram panchayat members were elected uncontested while one seat each from the Zila Parishad, Pradhan and Gram Panchayat seat remained vacant. A total of 6,51,817 electorates are expected to cast their votes for deciding the fate of the candidates.
The rebels in Manipur, under the banner of CorCom (Coordination Committee), comprising of seven underground rebel outfits operating in the valley areas of the state, remain the main challenger to the Congress. Congress has not only retained power in the state in this year’s Assembly polls, but has also proved its political supremacy in Manipur by winning 42 out of the 60 seats, an addition of 12 seats compared to the 2007 Assembly elections. While the rebels had earlier targeted Congress candidates and workers mostly in rural Manipur, a distinct pattern of urban insurgency seems to be emerging in the state.
“The panchayat election in Manipur will be held on September 13 and these groups are trying their best to remind the people about their existence,” said home minister L Gaikhangam, who has urged upon the rebels to shun violence and come forward for dialogue. Sources in Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) say that the state government has requested the Centre to work towards bringing in the rebel groups, particularly those operating in the valley areas of the state, on board for peace talks. “We have definite inputs that the rebels want to create trouble in urban areas because it effects the morale in the entire state. They would try to carry out low intensity attacks to prove two vital points — that they are still powerful and that the state government is clearly lacking in terms of providing security even in state capital, forget other areas,” reveals a senior officer of Special Branch of Manipur Police on condition of anonymity.
The state home department is further alarmed by the fact that the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), whose supremo RK Meghen is lodged in Guwahati Central Jail, had claimed responsibility for a blast on 5 September and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the armed wing of the outlawed Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF) of Manipur, claimed the responsibilities of subsequent blasts on 7 and 8 September. These claims have reiterated that the blast was the first coordinate attack to be launched against patrol teams of the Indian Army in Manipur with the objective of scaring them away from the state. The involvement of the two of the strongest rebel outfits in attacks launched in busy areas of state capital has rattled the state government, political watchers believe that the entire state will once again see tension prevail.
Apart from the recent blasts, several insurgency-related incidents have also been reported, including parcels carrying explosives being delivered to candidates and party workers in many villages in the districts of Thoubal and Imphal East.
In a recent incident, men who claimed to be members of the proscribed PREPAK (PRO) allegedly threatened RTI activists to stop investigating into the discrepancies related with the implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Kh Pasot, a RTI activist alleges, “We have applied for RTI because the member and pradhan of Lairenkabi have denied us of our rights. In these 5 years, we have never received our full rights as labourers and in doing so we have also faced the wrath of some underground groups (UGs). Few months back when we were preparing to file our first RTI, armed men claiming to be cadres of Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) drag us out of our homes and thrashed us in front of the public. And now, some cadres of the PREPAK (PRO) have warned us to halt our investigation in MGNREGS and other stuffs which could defame the pradhan or the gram panchayat members.” Thokchom Ranjit, another RTI activist from Lairenkabi gram panchayat added “It is very unfortunate that our UG brothers are on the wrong side of justice and instead of finding the actual culprits, the UGs are trying to suppress the voice of truth and I would like to appeal them to support us and stop threatening.” RTI activists in Manipur have charged that a lot of members in the panchayat have been cheating and siphoning off money from funds allocated for rural development through the panchayat.
“I have been receiving frequent death threats from a faction of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) who are seeking a cut from the wages of MGNREGS labourers. But the problem is that there are too many factions of KCP and once I started yielding to the demand of one faction, persons belonging to other factions of the organisations are adamant on getting their cuts,” informed a panchayat official from Imphal East district. Since the implementation of the MGNREGS, there has been a growing threat and harassment of panchayat officials by rebel groups. Earlier this year, rebels killed two gram panchayat pradhans and a relative of a pradhan for ignoring their demands.
With inputs from RK Suresh in Imphal
Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.
Revival of insurgency in Manipur
12 September – A powerful explosive was found near Manipur Secretariat South Block which houses the offices of the home minister and the chief secretary.
10 September - An IED weighing 10kg was recovered less than 100 metres away from Paite Veng residence of Health Minister Phungzathang Tonsing in Imphal.
9 September – Bomb explosion at Kangsubi Bridge under Kumbi Police Station in Bishenpur District killing one Assam Rifles JCO and injuring 6 people.
8 September - Explosion took place along the Tiddim Road near the Imphal Tulihal Airport in which one civilian and a jawan of the Sikh Regiment were injured.
6 September - A powerful blast took place in the busy streets of Keishampat Junction in Imphal in which 3 Assam Rifles jawans were seriously injured.
5 September – IED was recovered from the resident of a Pradhan in Nongpok Keithelmanbi
3 September - A 21-year-old was killed in a powerful blast at Nongpok Keithelmanbi in Manipur’s Thoubal district.
24 August – Two bombs were exploded at Nongren Maning Leikai of Imphal East at the residences of former Pradhan Leishangthem Tarpon and Loitam Chinglen