9 August 2004
Manipur situation turning volatile
By Siddharth Varadarajan
IMPHAL, AUG. 8. The ongoing Manipur-wide mass agitation against the
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is likely to escalate this week with
the 32 organisations spearheading the campaign calling upon all
Government offices to shut down indefinitely from Monday. Also being
contemplated in the run up to the August 15 `deadline' for revocation
of the Act: a complete `ban' on public transport, traffic on the
highways and the arrival and departure of flights. The aim, one of the
leaders of the agitation told The Hindu , is to cut off Manipur from
the `mainland' until the Centre agrees to withdraw the draconian law.
Though essential services have been exempted from the bandh call, even
a partial shut down of Government offices will mean a huge erosion of
authority for the Congress-led O. Ibobi Singh administration.
Disciplinary action has been threatened but public sentiment on the
issue is running so high after the custodial killing last month of
Manorama Devi by the Assam Rifles that Government employees will find
it hard to defy the movement's call. This is, after all, a State where
even Marwari and other shopkeepers whose forefathers migrated here
from elsewhere in India, downed their shutters to stage a noisy dharna
against the AFSPA on Saturday.
After flirting with the popular demand for revocation of the AFSPA and
promising some relief by August 15, the Chief Minister appears now, in
the face of the Centre's steadfast refusal for any change in the
status quo, to be having second thoughts. A close aide of the Chief
Minister told this reporter on Sunday that "the conditions prevailing
in the State at the present time are not conducive to the lifting of
Until last week, it seemed as if Mr. Ibobi Singh was thinking of
defying the Centre and removing the tag of `disturbed area' from all
or some parts of Manipur, thereby rendering the AFSPA defunct. Under
the Act, the Centre can over-rule the State.
On the street, there is a general expectation that the situation will
rapidly deteriorate once the August 15 `deadline' comes and goes.
Asked what form the mass movement would take, one of the leaders of 32
organisations campaigning against the APSPA told The Hindu , "Until
now, people have only been calling for withdrawal of the Act, and of
the Army. The next stage will be to call for independence."
State officials share this assessment, arguing that the insurgent
groups are taking advantage of the Centre's apathy to further their
own demands. "The situation is very, very volatile," said one senior
officer. "I hope the Government has a plan. I hope they can offer the
people something before August 15."