Is New Delhi in charge of Manipur? Why has the Prime Minister not spoken?
Both questions are gaining currency as Manipuris increasingly voice their suspicion that not enough is being done by the Centre to douse the flames
Law and order is a state subject and the responsibility of the state government. President’s Rule, demanded by a section of the people, politicians and scholars in Manipur, has not yet been imposed. The state government under chief minister N. Biren Singh, has not been dismissed. But the union home ministry appears to be engaged in back-seat driving.
There is confusion around Article 355 under which the union government can take over law and order from the state government without dismissing the state government. In such a case, the state government continues to function normally in all other spheres of administration, like health, education, transport and rehabilitation, but the law and order is administered directly by the union government.
Also Read: Why Manipur is Burning
While the home ministry has appointed a security advisor and made him head the unified command of the army, para-military forces and the police, the security advisor Kuldip Singh has denied that Article 355 has been applied in Manipur. The notification to bring a state’s law and order under the union government should have been issued by the President, but notifications about the security advisor heading the unified command has apparently been issued by the Governor.
What it means is that while officially the state government and the chief minister are still in charge of administering Manipur, it is the union government which is running the show. This suspicion has been further strengthened following the home ministry forming a ‘peace committee’ with the governor heading it and the chief minister as just a member.
Is this backseat driving constitutional, asks academic Prof Bimol Akoijam in a conversation with Karan Thapar for The Wire. If the union government is allowed to sneak into Manipur and take over its law and order, he warns, then it is setting a bad precedent for federalism and it can be repeated in the case of other states too, he warns.
He also echoes a question that more and more Manipuris are raising. Why is the Prime Minister silent? The Prime Minister visited Balasore on 3 June following the train accident the previous day. But although ethnic violence broke out in Manipur a month before that, PM has neither visited the state nor spoken even as the state teeters on the brink of a civil war.
Prof. Akoijam says that Modi’s deliberate silence about the crisis in Manipur, “hurts” and the silence suggests the Prime Minister is unconcerned and indifferent.
To make the situation even more muddy, constitutionally and otherwise, the union home minister asked Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to visit Imphal and speak to the Manipur chief minister. Himanta Biswa Sarma is of course BJP’s troubleshooter in the North East and has an opinion on everything, but it is not clear whether his role is that of an advisor or an emissary. At Imphal on Saturday, he described his visit as a goodwill mission.
Meanwhile, in Imphal drop boxes have appeared, asking people to surrender arms and ammunition looted from armouries. There is little sign of the bitterness and distrust between the two ethnic groups, Meiteis and Kukis, weakening and people are still looking for answers to their questions, one of them being why the two double-engine governments failed to manage a small state like Manipur.