Imphal: The year just ending was another of violence and more violence in Manipur, one of the most troubled states in India’s northeast.
In a place where militancy never seems to abate, there was little to cheer, with Naga insurgents massacring 20 soldiers in Chandel district in June, inviting a rare but deadly Indian Army retaliation in Myanmar.
The violence has only been compounded by the never ending strikes that have made life very tough for the mass of people all across the landlocked state.
The violence and unrest resulted in the extension of the Disturbed State status till October 2016, preventing the central government from repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
The AFSPA is probably the most hated legislation in Manipur, where many say it gives security forces sweeping powers – without any accountability.
Amid the persisting unrest, the 595-km India-Mandalay bus service was kick started to boost the northeast’s trade with neighboring countries and Southeast Asia.
At the start of 2015, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh drew flak after human rights activist from Sharmila, who was fasting for 15 years demanding the repeal of AFSPA, was released from judicial custody but rearrested for continuing her hunger strike.
Sharmila, better known as the Iron Lady, completed 15 years of hunger strike on November 1, with no hopes of her demand being met.
On June 4, a deadly ambush by militants left 20 soldiers of the Dogra Regiment dead in an attack blamed on the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) led by S.S. Khaplang, which has refused to accept a peace pact signed by the government and the dominant NSCN-IM faction.
Interestingly, in the last few months, the other Manipur-based armed groups, including the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), the Peoples Liberation Army(PLA) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) have become dormant and have been taken over by the NSCN-K. These groups have also witnessed a lot of their cadres quitting and joining civilians life.
The attack led to a sneaking surgical strike by the Indian Army in Myanmar territory, an operation that threatened to sour ties between the two countries.
Then came massive protests by the Imphal Valley-based Meitei community demanding Inner Line Permit (ILP) for the state on the lines of ILPs in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
The government was compelled to pass a bill after the agitation and the death of a teenager, Saipam Robinhood.
But this only caused outrage and revolt among the tribals, who said the Meiteis are trying to destabilize the already marginalized tribal population.
The tribal belts of Manipur spread over five districts — Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel, and Churachandpur — constitute 75 percent of the state area with a population of 500,000 to 600,000 while more than 1.4 million Meiteis are packed in an area of 5.5 sq km.
Tribal Lok Sabha member Tangso Baite’s house was burnt after he was accused of not taking up the tribal issue. The turmoil in Churachandpur district left nine tribals dead.
Amid the tumult, the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) trilateral highway became operational. And the Imphal-Mandalay bus service was flagged off on December 10.
The bus journey between Imphal and Mandalay will be covered in 14 hours. It is the first bus link to provide direct connectivity between India and Myanmar.(Rupesh Dutta, IANS)