Centre should consult us on Naga deal

Interview/ N. Biren Singh, chief minister, Manipur

DSC_3914 N. Biren Singh | Aayush Goel

N. BIREN SINGH, the BJP’s first chief minister in Manipur, has threatened to bring down the state government if the Centre bypasses the assembly while taking a decision on the Naga accord. Currently, he is camping in Delhi, along with 30 other legislators, to present his case to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Excerpts from an interview:

What issues did you raise with Home Minister Rajnath Singh?

We requested him that if something is being decided to resolve the Naga issue, related to Manipur, whether it is territorial, administrative or cultural, the Centre should take the consent of the state assembly.

Have you been told that the Naga peace accord has been finalised?

Right now, we do not have any official information. But rumours are spreading far and wide. A couple of months back, the Naga interlocutor R.N. Ravi gave an interview where he explained the demands of Naga territorial councils. Manipur is a small state. We will not be able to sacrifice further. In every district, there is a mix of Kukis, Nagas, Meiteis and so on. So, giving autonomy in the name of any one will divide the state. It is unacceptable to us.

Was the state government consulted when the Centre signed the framework agreement with the NSCN(IM) in August 2015?

I was not in the loop then, but the broad contours of the framework agreement were communicated to then chief minister Ibobi Singh. We believed that whatever was being done would be good for the nation and the states concerned. But now the rumour is that the territorial and cultural integrity might be compromised. If this happens, there will be an uncontrollable people’s movement with national security ramifications.

There are a few underground groups hiding in jungles, waiting for a chance to strike. We have intelligence inputs that they are keeping a close watch and the Manipuri youth will join the movements. We cannot allow another people’s struggle to take place.

Don’t you think the government should hold peace talks with all underground groups?

The mindset of some bureaucrats in Delhi is not clear. Some underground leaders who surrendered with hundreds of cadres and dozens of weapons to hold peace talks were arrested a couple of years back. If the underground leaders want to come forward for peace, you have to receive them in a similar manner. These things reflect transparency and commitment. I am particularly upset with this attitude.

Have you raised this issue with the home minister?

The home minister has been kind enough to say that he will intervene and see what they can do. The NSCN(IM), which has killed several Army men and civilians, is functioning like a parallel government in its own state. The people are suffering as they have to pay double or triple tax. Every single vehicle on the highways is being stopped. So we do not know what kind of peace talks are going on.

On the other hand, leaders of the United Peoples Party of Kangleipak (an insurgent group in Manipur) are sent to jail. Its general secretary Ningthoujam Shanti alias Chinglemba was arrested by the National Investigation Agency in 2012, when they came forward for talks. I do not know the logic behind it. It creates suspicion in the minds of the people. In Manipur, we are trying to take all the underground groups into confidence and the crime statistics have come down remarkably.

Should the scope of the agreement with the NSCN(IM) be expanded?

If we want to solve the Naga problem, it will be better if we can also engage other groups, of not only Nagaland, but also Assam and Manipur.

Have you engaged with R.N. Ravi?

I have raised the issue with the home minister, but not with the interlocutor. He is doing his job. After I became chief minister, I have met Ravi twice. Though he has asked for advice for a peaceful solution, no particulars have been discussed with me. My stand is that to solve the NSCN(IM) issue, we cannot sacrifice our land.

Do you think it is time for Manipur to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act?

There is a suspension of operations agreement in force with the militaries of most underground groups in Manipur. Today, Imphal has a buzzing night life. A major part of the hills is also peaceful. So I think it is time to remove AFSPA so that people feel more secure. We will definitely discuss it.

If the Centre pushes the Naga deal promising that boundaries will not be redrawn, will you agree?

The Central government may have powers to take certain decisions, but we are saying let us discuss it within the state for a consensus to emerge. But if the Centre still pushes it, the Manipur government will not remain. They will have to impose president’s rule.

Are there any demands you want to put before the Centre?

We want to regulate the movement of people coming into the state from outside. We do not want an inner line permit, but we need a regulatory mechanism to protect the rights of the indigenous people.

Was it a communication gap with the BJP that brought you to Delhi?

We are not here for an agitation. We are here to remind the Central government of its promises. All my young legislators wanted to meet the prime minister and share their concerns. We believe in our leader.