Manipur’s Separate Administration Demand and Future Challenges

The recent proposal for a separate administration in Manipur has aroused significant debate about the sanctity of boundaries and the state’s geographical integrity. The demand, which is supported by some Kuki-Zo MPs, exposes the Manipur government’s alleged covert backing for violence against the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi hill tribals. The counter-response from Meitei groups arguing for the state’s territorial integrity complicates matters even more.

Manipur’s Riots: What Caused Them?

  • The refusal of the state government to recognise and accommodate the territorial claims and identities of the state’s many communities is the primary cause of the riots in Manipur.
  • The aggressive integrationist effort of the state, which tries to destroy tribal land rights in valley areas, has been a major source of conflict between the Meitei and tribal populations.
  • Furthermore, the Manipur High Court’s ruling in April 2023 to accelerate the recommendation for giving Meiteis ST status exacerbated tribal emotions, leading to the large demonstration on May 3.

Factors leading to Manipur’s growing demand for a separate governance

  • Ethnic Tensions and Divisions: Manipur is home to a variety of ethnic groups, including the Kuki-Zo and Meitei. For years, ethnic tensions and historical divisions have fueled feelings of marginalisation and a desire for different governmental arrangements.
  • Previous Arrangements Failed: Previous attempts to address tribal populations’ concerns, such as the idea for a Union Territory or inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, were viewed as insufficient or non-serious. The lack of concrete progress has heightened calls for a more comprehensive and distinct administrative structure.
  • Demographic Changes and Displacement: Recent violence, population displacement, property devastation, and loss of life have substantially affected Manipur’s demographic landscape. These developments have widened the gap between communities and generated a sense of irreversible alienation.
  • Economic Considerations: Manipur’s Kuki-Zo-dominated areas, such as Pherzawl and Churachandpur, are rich in natural resources and serve as important gateways to Southeast Asia. Proponents of a separate administration claim that a unique administrative framework would be better suited to utilising these resources and leveraging the region’s economic potential.
  • Lack of Trust in the Current System: The demand for a separate administration stems from a fundamental distrust of the present political and administrative organisations. Some communities consider that their interests and problems are not adequately represented or addressed by the current system, prompting a proposal for the creation of a distinct administrative entity.
  • Popular backing and Mobilisation: Among the Kuki-Zo factions, the current demand for a separate administration has unparalleled popular backing. This widespread support has galvanised community members and driven a persistent mobilisation effort, transforming the demand into a strong political force in Manipur.
  • Allegations of Government Support for Violence: The demand is based on allegations that the Manipur government has tacitly encouraged violence against the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi hill tribals. Dissatisfaction among impacted populations has been fueled by the perception of government inaction or disinterest.

Constitutional Obstacles to the Establishment of a Separate Administration in Manipur

  • Article 3 of the Constitution reads as follows: According to Article 3 of the Constitution, the central government has the authority to amend a state’s boundaries. This provision gives the centre unilateral authority to change state borders.
  • Granting a separate administration for Kuki-Zo in Manipur’s hill areas could attract pushback from certain Naga factions. These communities may be unwilling to give up their territorial ambitions, particularly the Naga’s claim for a sovereign ‘Nagalim.’ Finding a solution that meets the needs of both communities is a major task.
  • State Government and Meitei Groups May Oppose Separate Administration: The Manipur state government and Meitei groups may strongly oppose the call for a separate administration. They may campaign for Manipur’s territorial integrity and oppose any changes to the administrative structure.
  • Revisiting Constitutional Arrangements: In order to establish a separate administration in Manipur, the existing constitutional arrangements would have to be revisited and possibly amended. This could include dismantling unequal sub-state constitutional frameworks such as Article 371C, district councils, and tribal land rights.
  • Overlapping Ethnic borders: Manipur’s ethnic characteristics make identifying the territorial borders of a distinct administration difficult. Some districts, such as Chandel, Kamjong, and Tengnoupal, have mixed populations and a history of Kuki-Naga territorial struggles. It is a delicate task to resolve these jurisdictional complications while also considering the needs of all populations.
  • Economic viability: Critics may express concerns about the proposed administrative entity’s financial sustainability and resource distribution. To counter these arguments, it is critical to demonstrate the economic possibilities and strategic benefits of a distinct administration.

Way ahead

  • Dialogue and Negotiation: It is critical to facilitate dialogue among the various parties, including the Kuki-Zo groupings, Meitei communities, Nagas, and the state administration. Open and constructive debates can aid in the identification of common ground and potential areas of compromise.
  • Constitutional Reforms: Given the constitutional complications involved, it may be important to investigate constitutional reform possibilities. This could entail revising Article 3 to ensure more involvement of affected states in border-change decisions, so addressing concerns about the Centre’s unilateral power.
  • Devolution of Power: Given the overlapping ethnic boundaries of Manipur’s districts, a focus on devolving power and extending autonomy to local communities within a framework of non-territorial and territorial autonomy should be considered.
  • Resource Management and Economic Development: Strategically leveraging the region’s rich natural resources and strategic gateways, such as the natural gas belt and access to Southeast Asia, can contribute to the region’s economic development and provide incentives for a separate administration.
  • Inclusive government: Any solution must prioritise inclusive government, which recognises and respects the rights and aspirations of all Manipur communities. Ensuring equitable representation, minority rights protection, and procedures for peaceful coexistence are critical components of a sustainable path forward.
  • Learning from International Examples: Drawing lessons from successful territorial divisions in federal polities such as Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland might provide significant insights. Understanding their experiences and practises in accepting territorially mobilised groups will help Manipur chart a course forward.
  • Constructing Trust and Reconciliation: Addressing past grievances, establishing social harmony, and encouraging community healing are critical for long-term stability. Efforts should be taken to foster trust, bridge gaps, and improve understanding among Manipur’s various ethnic groups.

@the end

Manipur has constitutional obstacles in carrying out this demand, notwithstanding enormous popular support and the crossing of the Rubicon of Division. The unsolved discussion over Manipur’s administrative future is dependent on coordinating goals, ideas, and interests across India’s multi-level federal polity and processes.

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