The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that Constitutional authorities must exercise restraint when it concerns their local situation. The apex court’s observation which was reported in the Bar and Bench today was in reference to a pointed reference by lawyer Nizan Pasha who said “The CM is speaking about Kuki foreigners and you destroyed Manipur in the name of Christianity, etc and this is from the CM official handle.”
The Apex Court made this observation while hearing a slew of petitions concerning directions to the Central and State governments to ensure safety of Manipuri Tribals after a judgement by the Chief Justice of Manipur High Court triggered violent clashes in Manipur from May 3 onwards.
Manipur has witnessed which is perhaps one of the worst forms of violence of all times when clashes broke out between tribals and non-tribals. As many as 50 people have lost their lives, several hundreds injured and around 23000 people displaced.
Today, as the petitions came up for hearing at the Supreme Court, advocate Nizam Pasha pointed out that the Chief Minister’s official Twitter handle has been putting out provocative tweets.
The report states that the Apex Court judges responded by saying that it won’t enter into a political arena, but nevertheless asked Solicitor General of India (SGI), who was representing the government, to ensure that “constitutional authorities act with restraint.” The report further quotes the Apex Court as saying, “Mr SG, there must be restraint on part of the authorities.. please advise the constitutional authorities to act with restraint and not make such statements.”
The CJI is reported to have further added saying, “This is not a very legal proceeding now.. We will not allow our forum to be dragged into areas which are politics and policy. We know the remit of the constitutional court.”
In fact, over the past few days after Manipur erupted in violence there have been repeated assertions in the media by Kuki and Zomi political representatives which accused C Singh of alluding to the community that resides in Churachandpur as being “foreigners”.
Meanwhile, regarding the issue of illegal Burmese migrants in Manipur, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta stated during the proceedings at the Apex Court today that the influx of illegal migrants from Myanmar is a genuine concern and that the “State is alive to that fact.”
In fact, the issue of illegal migrants from Myanmar has of late been highlighted as an issue the government which also finds resonance mostly in the valley. However, these have been at best based on theatrical extrapolations, the issue gaining some currency after the Biren-led government began discussing the “illegal influx” from Myanmar and linking it to activities such as poppy cultivation and drug trade, etc.
According to reports, so far, there are around a total of 10000 Burmese refugees in Manipur who have crossed over owing to the violence in Myanmar following the February 2021 military coup. Most of these refugees are in fact, Bamar-speaking residents from across Tamu and some are Chin from Kalay and other areas. Further, most are looking for an opportunity to return, given that one or other of their relatives are part of the democratic resistance movement in Myanmar.
During an interview with some these Bamar refugees in Moreh soon after the coup, it was evident that most have been settled temporarily as they were constantly negotiating with the People’s Democratic Force (PDF) inside Sagaing and with the Chin National Defence Force (CNDF) and the Chin National Front (NF)/ Chin National Army (CNA) to return back. Some had in fact returned.
However, in Manipur, there have been calls from various civil society organizations like the United Naga Council (UNC) and Coordination Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) to push back the refugees from Myanmar citing permanent changes in demography and political clout. To this end, a protest has been held demanding the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Manipur.
The Manipur government has initiated a process of identification of Burmese nationals who have crossed over to the State mostly believed to be through Moreh and Behiang for refuge. In fact Ministers of the Biren led Manipur Government composed of Letpao Haokip, Awangbow Newmai, and Th Basantakumar Singh visited the Singngat area in Churachandpur District on March 26, 2023, and picked out a site for the building of shelter homes for those fleeing Myanmar. This is the third shelter home, proposed for Myanmar refugees. The other two shelter homes are in Chandel and Tengnoupal districts.
In fact, there have been other media reports which corroborate the fact that Burmese residents who have been caught as illegals were actually seeking temporary asylum to escape the brutal violence in Myanmar.
Now, the question that remains to be answered is whether people who are involved in the poppy cultivation in the hills of Manipur are actually illegal Burmese nationals who have infiltrated into the country over a period of time. As per media reports, the Manipur government recently released a report on the arrests of drug traffickers’ and poppy cultivation areas from 2017-2023. The report clearly shows that people who were arrested in connection with drug-trafficking belong to various ethnicities, albeit the areas under poppy cultivation within the Kuki-Chin dominated areas have shown a steady increase.
However, until a thorough investigation is conducted to ascertain on whether there is an actual involvement of illegal Burmese nationals, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fix the blame on anyone one group or community. Though it is true that the Kukis and Chins of Myanmar share historical, linguistic, and cultural ties with their Zomi, Kuki, and Mizo brethren on the Indian side. But that also goes for many other communities that reside along the international borders with Myanmar.