Manipur: How can we single out and deport post-1961 immigrants?

Experts question the feasibility of chief minister N. Biren Singh's new strategy

Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh of the BJP (photo courtesy @NBirenSingh/X)
Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh of the BJP (photo courtesy @NBirenSingh/X)


A day after Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh said that those who entered and settled in the state after 1961 would be identified and deported, experts on Tuesday, 13 February, raised doubts over the viability of the move.

They said that while the identification of illegal immigrants was a "welcome step", their deportation would be difficult unless the foreign countries of their origin recognised them as bonafide citizens.

The northeastern state has been rocked by ethnic strife since May 2023 and the government has of late accused a section of immigrants from neighbouring Myanmar of fomenting trouble.

Speaking at the launch of Project Buniyaad on Monday, 12 February, the chief minister said, "Those who entered and settled in the state after 1961, irrespective of castes and communities, would be identified and deported."

The chief minister's assertion comes after the Manipur cabinet had, in June 2022, approved a proposal to adopt 1961 as the base year for determining the "native status" of residents of the state for effective implementation of the inner line permit.

However, political analyst Pradip Phanjoubam told PTI: "In order to deport illegal immigrants, the foreign country concerned must accept them as their bonafide citizens. If the foreign country does not recognise the immigrants as their citizens, how will they be deported?"

Naga leader and Forum for Restoration of Peace convenor Ashang Kashar told PTI that deportation cannot be done by the Manipur government alone.

"Identification of immigrants is crucial. Those who would be identified as illegal immigrants should not have the rights enjoyed by the original inhabitants. For instance, they should not have voting rights," Kashar, however, added.

The decision to adopt 1961 as the base year for ILP implementation is a "welcome step towards solving issues confronting the state," Phanjoubam too added. "But many of those are living in the state over several decades. They have become naturalised citizens. In case of deportation, there are legal implications that need to be considered," he said.

A Manipur government official had last year said that 2,187 people were staying in the state after Myanmar's military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi there in February 2021.

The Centre has since initiated steps to stop the free movement regime along the India–Myanmar border.

The Coordinating Committee (COCOMI), a joint body of several Imphal valley-based organisations, said the chief minister's statement shows that the government has acknowledged the issue of illegal immigrants who settled in the state.

"This is the core of today's conflict. We can learn from Assam's NRC experience. The first thing to do is to identify the illegal immigrants," COCOMI spokesperson Khuraijam Athouba told PTI.

Notably, Manipur has been witnessing recurring bouts of violence since ethnic clashes first erupted in May last year. More than 180 people have been killed since then.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal valley, while tribals, which include Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 per cent of the population and reside mainly in the hill districts.

The clashes have occurred over a number of grievances that both sides have against the other, however, the flashpoint of the crisis has been a move to give Meiteis the Scheduled Tribe status, which has since been rolled back, and various attempts to turf out tribals living in the protected forest areas.

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