Manipur Assessment - Year 2016
On December 22, 2015, a 55-year-old Assamese man, identified as Dinbashis Boro, was shot dead by unidentified assailants inside his rented house at Thangmeiband Thingel Maru under the Imphal Police Station in Imphal West District. An unnamed Police official associated with the investigation disclosed, "We are looking into the possibility of some militant group being responsible for killing the businessman for not paying as demanded by them. We learnt that the victim had paid some militant groups once or twice in the past. We are looking into all angles."
On August 22, 2015, a civilian identified as S. Walunglua Aimol aka Manglun (45), was shot dead by suspected armed cadres of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) at Aimol Ngairong village under the Tengnoupal Police Station in Chandel District. He was allegedly opposing attempts to co-opt the Aimol tribe within the Naga identity.
On May 12, 2015, two labourers identified as Abung and Premanand, were killed during ‘interrogation’ by an unidentified militant group at Maipou Khullen in Senapati District.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), civilian fatalities, at 17 in 2015, declined by 15 per cent from the 20 registered during the corresponding period of the preceding year (all data till December 27, 2015). This the lowest number of civilian fatalities recorded in the first 361 days of a year in the state since 1992 [the year since which SATP data is available]. Civilian fatalities have been declining since 2008, when they stood at 131. Civilian fatalities peaked in 1993, when 266 were recorded. The decline is indicative of improvements in the general security environment of the state.
The visible improvement is largely due to the more active role played by the Security Forces (SFs). Thus, SFs eliminated 23 militants in 2015, as against nine in 2014, an increase of 155.55 per cent. Some of the militants killed in 2015, included, ‘sergeant’ Phakuiring Khongyo aka Akhui of Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front (MNRF), on May 23; ‘sergeant’ Prem of Revolutionary People's Front (RPF) on March 31; 'home secretary' of the Lanheiba faction of the United Revolutionary Front (URF-Lanheiba) Puyam Ruhinikumar aka Mongyamba (50), and its 'finance secretary' Keithelakpam Tiken (45) on January 7. Overall fatalities among militants in 2015 stood at 53, as against 24 in 2014, an increase of 120.83 per cent. Other than those killed by the SFs, the remaining fatalities in both these years resulted from factional clashes.
SFs also arrested 478 militants through 2015, adding to 536 in 2014. The highest number of arrested militants belonged to the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), at 65; followed by the KCP, 62; Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), 59; People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), 55; People's Liberation Army (PLA), 40; the Progressive faction of PREPAK (PREPAK-Pro), 35; the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K), 21; the Nehlun faction of the Kuki National Front (KNF-N), 13; different factions of the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), 10; nine each of the Kuki Revolutionary Front (KRF) and the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF); eight of NSCN-IM; seven of the Vice-Chairman faction of PREPAK (PREPAK-VC); six each of the Kuki National Liberation Front (KNLF), United Liberation Front (URF) and Re-unification Kuki Army (RUKA/KNA-I); five each of the Kuki National Army (KNA) and URF-Lanheiba; four each of the Coordination Committee (CorCom), Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), Liberation of Achik Elite Force (LAEF), RPF, Maoist Communist Party-Manipur (MCP-M), Naga National Council (NNC) and National Revolutionary Front of Manipur (NRFM); three each of Hmar National Army (HNA), the Reformation faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-R) and People's United Liberation Front (PULF); two of MNRF; one each of United Tribal Liberation Army (UTLA), Kuki Unification Frontal Organisation (KUFO), National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification (NSCN-U), Kuki People's Liberation Front/Army (KPLF/A) and United Naga People's Council (UNPC); and 13 others, whose affiliation was unconfirmed.
Unsurprisingly, with aggressive counter-insurgency operations across the State, SF losses have also mounted. In 2015, fatalities among the SFs stood at 24 as against 10 in 2014, an increase of 140 per cent. This is the highest number of fatalities among SFs since 2007, when the number stood at 40.
With multiple factions operating, factional clashes among militant formations in Manipur have always been a significant aspect of violence. While the SFs killed 23 militants in 2015, 30 were killed in factional clashes (in 20 incidents). In 2014, out of 24 militants killed, 15 were reported killed in 14 such fratricidal incidents. Manipur Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam, speaking at the 124th Raising Day of the Manipur Police in Imphal on October 19, 2015, observed that there were more than 40 insurgent groups operating in the State. Gaikhangam noted that, apart from the violence of underground outfits and their numerous frontal organizations, small groups of armed mercenaries were also resorting to abduction for ransom, extortion and other unlawful activities.
Not surprisingly, total insurgency-related fatalities, at 94 in 2015 increased by 74 per cent over the 54 recorded during the corresponding period of 2014. 46 incidents of killing were recorded in 2015, as compared to 40 in 2014. The number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) in 2015 also increased two-fold, with eight such incidents resulting in 45 killed and 33 injured, as against four incidents in 2014, with 11 fatalities and four injured.
There was a downturn in incidents of explosion, of which 54 were recorded in 2015, resulting in eight killed and 40 injured, as compared to 66 in 2014, with 15 fatalities and 76 injured. Incidents of violence were reported from eight out of the nine Districts in the State, both in 2015 and 2014. On December 1, 2015, the Manipur Government extended the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, in the State by another year. Manipur Government spokesperson M. Okendro Singh stated that the decision to extend the Disturbed Area status of Manipur for another year was taken after collecting data from Police and Central Forces. AFSPA is enforced in areas designated as Disturbed Areas.
The State also recorded an increase in the number of extortion and abduction incidents registered during the current year. 46 extortion cases were reported during 2015; as compared to 31 in 2014 [actual incidence is likely to be much higher as a large proportion of cases go unreported]. An October 29, 2015, media report indicated that NSCN-IM was allegedly charging INR 2,000 every month from each Government employee working in the Chandel District Headquarters. There were at least 29 incidents of abduction registered in 2015, with 51 persons abducted; in 2014, 34 incidents resulting in 50 abductions are on record.
The United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWSEA), a newly formed platform of four militant outfits of the Northeast region, is trying to rope in at least another nine outfits of the region into the platform, to launch a united struggle against the Government of India (GoI). So far, four outfits – NSCN-K, United Liberation Front of Asom–Independent (ULFA-I), IK Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-IKS) and the Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) – are the constituents of UNLFWSEA.
On October 15, 2015, Paresh Baruah, ‘commander-in-chief’ of ULFA-I, pointed out that seven militant outfits of Manipur have already formed a common platform called CorCom and were likely to join UNLFWSEA, of which six were ready to join ‘immediately’: “But we want the entire CorCom to join us. They have some problem with one of the constituents and we are hoping that they can settle their problems soon so that the entire CorCom can join us. We are expecting that the seven outfits of Manipur will be joining hands with us within this year.” Baruah also claimed that one Tripura group would also be joining the front ‘soon’.
In another adverse development, the current year saw a slowdown in the surrender process. Only two militants surrendered in 2015, as against 93 such surrenders in 2014. A ‘sergeant major’ of KYKL, Ningthoujam Chinglen aka Budha, surrendered before the State Police at Moreh in Chandel District on February 19, 2015; and KYKL militant Takhelchangbam Madhumangol Sharma aka Eiga Khumbongmayum surrendered before SFs in Imphal West District on September 11, 2015.
The surrender of the militants has taken a hit due to the Government’s poor rehabilitation record. A December 19, 2015, report revealed that surrendered militants of PULF had threatened to return to militancy if the Manipur Government failed to extend the benefits of the surrender and rehabilitation policy to them by January 10, 2016. Fourteen PULF militants had surrendered with weapons to the State Government in 2012, along with 100 other militants of various groups. Claiming that PULF cadres were yet to get any benefit of the Centre's surrender and rehabilitation scheme even three years after their surrender, Md. Kaji Umar, former ‘chairman’ of PULF, warned, "We are setting the deadline for extending all the benefits to my cadres by January 10 next year (2016). If there is no response from the Government, we may launch an agitation or go back to the jungles."
Interestingly, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) on February 26, 2015, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had stated that the Government of India (GoI) had been implementing a scheme for surrender-cum-rehabilitation of militants of the Northeast region since 1998. The scheme provided for a one time grant of INR 150,000, a monthly stipend/remuneration of INR 3,500 per cadre, and incentives for weapons, etc., to be given to the surrenderees. In Manipur, he added, the one-time grant was INR 250,000 and the monthly stipend/remuneration was INR 4,000 per cadre, under a special surrender-cum-rehabilitation scheme formulated in 2012. During the financial year 2013-14, INR 155.5 million was released to the northeastern States towards payment of stipend/remuneration to cadres under the Suspension of Operations (SoO) and surrender schemes.
In a related development, in September 2014, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) had announced the raising of one battalion each of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB), comprising surrendered militants from Manipur and Assam. The UMHA plans to recruit 750 former militants each for the two battalions in BSF and SSB. Earlier, on February 13, 2015, Union Home Minister (UHM) Rajnath Singh, during his two-day visit to the State, had disclosed, "We will soon be recruiting surrendered militants. However, I cannot give you a time frame."
Meanwhile, a series of developments in the northeast, especially in Manipur, since the August 3, 2015, Peace Accord between the Centre and the NSCN-IM, raised serious concerns that the security situation in the region could dramatically worsen in the coming months. Reports estimate that 400 Nagas may have been recruited by NSCN-IM since then. There were also reports of the group recruiting more cadres from parts of eastern Nagaland. NSCN-IM is believed to have had about 2,500 cadres before the Accord, and is believed to be targeting recruitment of another 1,000 cadres, mostly from Manipur. Sources in the security agencies are also reported to have indicated that NSCN-IM has probably set up training camps in the Manipur Hills to accommodate fresh cadres and is contributing to possible new flare-ups in inter-tribe tensions in this fragile State. Media reports further suggest that, since the Accord, reports of extortion, arms and drugs smuggling have registered a rising trend in Manipur, with an unnamed official quoted as asserting, “Most of it is being done by I-M (NSCN-IM) cadres.”
The issue of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) continued to trouble the State through 2015. In June, the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), a pro-ILP movement which has been agitating for long to implement the system in Manipur, restarted its agitation demanding withdrawal of "The Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenants & Migrant Workers Bill 2015". The stir intensified with the killing of a youth in Police firing on July 8, 2015. The State faced a complete blockade on numerous occasions. Buckling under pressure, the Government of Manipur was forced to sign an agreement with the JCILPS on August 25, 2015. Subsequently, on August 28, 2015, the Manipur Legislative Assembly passed the Protection of Manipur Peoples' Bill, 2015, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2015 and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015. These Bills place restrictions on the entry into and exit from Manipur for Non Manipur persons and tenants; prohibit the sale of land belonging to a Scheduled Tribe person in the valley areas to a non Scheduled Tribe person without the prior consent of the Deputy Commissioner concerned; and make it mandatory for all shop owners to register their employees, respectively. As expected, the move was protested, with the Joint Action Committee against Inner Line Permit (JACILP) leading the stir. The agitation intensified as nine tribal youths were killed on August 31, 2015, in Police firing at Churachandpur District. According to reports, the bodies of the victims are still being kept at a morgue as a mark of protest. H. Mangchinkhup, the convener of the JACILP, declared, on December 9, 2015, “We will not bury the bodies till the three Bills are repealed. They will be kept in the morgue in Churachandpur till our demands are met.” Meanwhile, JCILPS has threatened to re-start its agitation from January 3, 2016, claiming the State Government has done nothing over the three Bills once they were referred to the President. A serious confrontation is building up.
The security profile in Manipur has improved enormously over the past years, but potentially destabilizing issues and trends persist. A multiplicity of militant formations continue to exert efforts to restore their dominance across ethnically polarized populations, even as a move for unification of many of these groups with the violent armed formations in other Northeastern States appears to be consolidating. SFs have done extraordinary work to bring back an approximation of normalcy to the State, but it will take enormous (and as yet unlikely) political sagacity to ensure that the gains they have secured through untold sacrifices are not frittered away, as they have repeatedly been in the past.