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Manipur Assembly Session Begins Amid Tight Security; Previous Session Had Lasted 11 Minutes

This is the second time the House has met since ethnic violence broke out in the north-eastern state in May last year. The previous session was held on August 29, 2023.
Manipur Assembly. Photo: https://www.assembly.mn.gov.in/

New Delhi: Amid tight security, the winter session of the Manipur assembly began Wednesday, February 28, in Imphal. This is the second time the House has met since ethnic violence broke out in the north-eastern state in May last year.

The previous session, held on August 29, 2023, ended after just eleven minutes of business. Neither the 10 Kuki MLAs nor the majority of the 10 Naga MLAs took part in that session.

Significantly, the session had ended without putting on record the ongoing violence that had led to the absence of so many MLAs from the House. Therefore, the session turned into an exercise by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) merely to keep the Opposition’s demand for the President’s Rule in Manipur at bay.

As per a constitutional norm, a state assembly has to be in session every six months, unless there is direct central rule in that state due to the failure of the law and order situation or some other pressing reason. Prior to the August session, the Manipur assembly had met in the first week of March 2023.

This time, too, in order to keep Manipur out of the President’s Rule, a session had to be held within the last week of February. As per the Speaker’s announcement, the winter session will go on until March 5. It’ll have a total number of five sittings.

While only one Kuki MLA has written to the Speaker seeking leave of absence from the session, the rest of the nine MLAs from the community, too, are likely to skip it. The MLA who has written to the Speaker a day before the session is Haokholet Kipgen. He represents the Kuki-dominated Saitu constituency in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district.

It is not yet clear how many among the 10 Naga MLAs will attend the current session. On February 23, an informal meeting of the Kuki and Naga MLAs had taken place in Guwahati. Since it was a closed door meeting, it is not clear yet what exactly was discussed in it. However, a Kuki leader, speaking to The Wire on condition of anonymity, said attempts were made by some Naga leaders at the behest of the Centre to break the ice between the Kuki legislators and chief minister N. Biren Singh so that they attend the current session and also help find a solution to the ongoing Manipur violence.

“However, a Kuki MLA from the BJP, Paolienlal Haokip, got angry as the meeting was not to take (sic) any concrete decision on a separate administration for the Kukis, and he eventually walked out of the meeting,” said the person cited above.

In the run-up to the earlier assembly session, Haokip had told The Wire, “Who would give assurance of safety and security of the Kuki MLAs going to Imphal to attend the assembly session? At this point, I would say it is not possible and also not necessary to participate in it as the separation of the state is complete.”

Speaking to the Sangai Express soon after the February 23 Guwahati meeting, a Naga MLA had said, “Chief minister N. Biren Singh has knowledge of them (the Naga MLAs) attending the meeting. (sic)

Meanwhile, coinciding with the start of the session Wednesday, the powerful civil society group from the Meitei community, COCOMI, or the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity, has asked all women groups of the valley areas to stage a protest for an hour during the day in their locality, and to wear red outfits and carry out a torch rally each in the evening.

The COCOMI protest is aimed at pushing the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to not renew the suspension of operation agreement with the Kuki armed groups. On February 29, the six-month extension of the ceasefire with the Kuki groups will come up for an extension with the MHA. The Biren Singh government has already walked out of the ceasefire last year, weeks before the ethnic strife unfolded between the Meiteis and the Kukis.

COCOMI has also submitted a memorandum to the MHA seeking an end to the extension of the ceasefire agreement with the Kuki groups. Note that the Centre is in peace talks with the Kuki groups. The argument of the Meitei group has been that Kuki militants have been breaking the suspension of operation agreement and taking part in the ethnic fight.

In last week’s arson at various offices of civil society groups in Imphal, the COCOMI office was also torched. Calling the incidents unfortunate, COCOMI coordinator Somorendra Thokchom told reporters in Imphal, on February 27, “What is more disappointing is that no one has claimed responsibility for the series of attacks (one journalist was also attacked) and the complete silence of the government over the matter.” He added, “The 2,470 affidavits gathered by COCOMI in connection with Manipur violence were also gutted in the fire.”

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