By Yambem Laba
This article was originally published by The Statesman and later by the Imphal Free Press on 18 July 2012

When the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation was enacted by the British in 1873 for “peace and Government of certain Districts on the Eastern Frontier of Bengal” and to pave the way for the introduction of the “Inner Lines” in what is today the North-eastern region of India, Manipur did not figure as it was an independent entity and a trusted British ally. The first notification under Section 2 of the said regulation was issued on 8 March 1876, whereby the Governor General in Council was pleased to “prohibit all British subjects from going beyond the ‘Inner Line’ hereby notified without a pass under the hand and seal of the Deputy Commissioner of the concerned district”.

The motive was to insulate the various tribes of the then North East Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh, and the then Lushai Hills and Naga Hills districts of undivided Assam, now Mizoram, and Nagaland from encroachments by the plains people of Assam and mainland India. This regulation is still in vogue in these three states.

As mentioned, Manipur was a separate entity till 1891 but lost its sovereignty following the Anglo-Manipuri war that year. The British did not annex Manipur but retained it as a princely Indian state. That was when the “permit system” for outsiders wanting to visit Manipur was introduced by the state durbar, whereby any outsider (read Indian) had to pay a foreigner’s tax of five rupees. This tax was abolished in 1947 following Independence by Captain Pearson, the British Political Agent, who also headed the Manipur State Council then, according to Professor Gangmumei Kamei, noted historian and former minister of the state. He added that the permit system continued even after Manipur merged with India in 1949, following the now much-debated Manipur Merger Agreement. It continued till 1950 when the then Socialist Party in the state, headed by the late Laishram Achaw Singh, ex-MP, took exception when the permit was warranted for the visit of Ram Manohar Lohia and launched an agitation. Then on 18 November 1950,
Himmat Singh, then chief commissioner of Manipur, issued an order scrapping the permit system, thereby opening the floodgates for outsiders to swamp Manipur.

The foreigners’ problem in the state was first raised by the All Manipur Students’ Union in 1980, taking a cue from the All Assam Students’ Union. The seeds of Manipuri discord over losing indigenous identity were sown by the Poramlen Apunba, formed in 1991, with Nameirakpam Bisheswor Singh, founder-chairman of the proscribed People’s Liberation Army as its advisor. The Poramlen Apunba provided a platform for former insurgents belonging to various groups to come together and take up social issues. When Bisheswor started raising questions about the functioning of the PLA, he was shot dead and the Poramlen Apunba was disbanded, but not before the issue of introducing the Inner Line Permit system was raised in the Manipur Assembly in 1993 by the late Hidam Bidur Singh, ex-rebel and then legislator. It has subsequently been raised by many legislators, including the present public health and engineering department minister Irengbam Hemochandra Singh.

Then came Sapam Cha Jadumani, now 58 years old. The founder-president of the Poramlen Apunba, he reappeared on the scene as one of three conveners of the United Committee Manipur, which was formed in June 2001 following the uprising against the extension of the NSCN(I-M) ceasefire in Manipur. He later became its president. He left the UCM in 2005 and founded the Federation of Regional Indigenous Societies (Friends) and one of the first issues he raised was the threat to the identity of the indigenous people and the need to protect this from being swallowed up by the swelling tides of outsiders from mainland India and neighbouring Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Quoting from the 2011 statistics, Friends contends that Manipur’s population today comprises 780,000 outsiders while indigenous Meiteis and tribals account for 751,000 and 760,000 respectively. Muslims comprising the indigenous Meitei Pangals now mixed with illegal Bangladeshis number 160,000. Compared to India’s population of 1.17 billion, Manipur accounts for only 0.22 per cent of this number but an influx of a mere 0.50 per cent of the country’s total population would reduce Manipur to another Tripura, where of a 3.2 million population outsiders account for 2,5 million and just 700,000 indigenous people, whereby its administration lies with outsiders, namely immigrants from Bangladesh. In fact, Tripura has become India’s second Bengal, sources say.

The present agitation began on 23 June, coinciding with the ongoing budget session in the Manipur Assembly. It began with street corner meetings, sit-in protests, rallies by students’ bodies, cease work protests by people belong to various trades and meiras or torch rallies at night by womenfolk. Then came the fast unto death by 72-year-old Kakchingtabam Birahari Sharma, launched on 5 July, demanding implementation of the Inner Line Permit system in Manipur. A Friends’ advisor, he has since been taken into custody and is said to be still refusing glucose saline drips at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital. Then came the formation of the Joint Committee on the Inner Line Permit system.

The Ibobi government has not been keeping quiet over the issue, having discussed it at length and reportedly seeking the opinion of the Union home affairs ministry, which is said to contended that all Indian citizens have the right to settle anywhere in the country as per the Constitution.

Speaking to The Statesman, Friends president Sapam Cha Jadumani contended that it was not required for the state government to seek the Centre’s approval on the extension of the provisions of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation to Manipur. He likened it to the deployment of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Manipur where the Centre’s prior approval was not required. He hoped that the ongoing Assembly session would pass a resolution whereby the Inner Line Permit system would be implemented in the state. He added that Ibobi Singh, who is known to have taken stands against the wishes of the Centre on many occasions, including the visit of NSCN(I-M) supremo Th Muivah to his village in Ukhrul, would act in the interest of Manipur and its indigenous people.

Jadumani said the ILP movement has the support of all the ethnic groups of Manipur, including the Kuki Impi Manipur and the Zeliangrong Union, the Kabui Mothers’ Association and the Tangkhul Katamnao Sakhlong (Tangkhul Students’ Union). The prospects of the Railways coming to Manipur had further aggravated the fear of an increase in influx, he said, and warned that “we will stop the ongoing plans of extending railway lines to Manipur if the ILP system is not implemented”.

Time seems to be running out for the Ibobi government. On one hand it cannot be seen to be an idle spectator as its indigenous people get drowned in a sea of outsiders, and on the other it is wary of possible rubbing the Centre the wrong way. However, if the Railways is stopped, then the prospects of India’s Look East Policy will take a beating and Ibobi will have a law and order situation on his hands.

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