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Borders worrying Manipur voters
Published on 13 Apr. 2009 1:14 AM IST
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Political parties in Manipur are trying their best to prove who can protect the state’s territorial integrity - an emotive issue dominating the Lok Sabha election campaign. The special powers given to the armed forces is also a key campaign theme. Elections for the two parliamentary seats in Manipur will take place April 16 and 23. With 16 candidates in the fray, no party or political formation has emerged as the frontrunner yet. Safeguarding the boundaries of Manipur has been a sensitive issue ever since the state saw widespread violence in 2001 when then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to extend the truce with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) beyond Nagaland into Manipur. At least 20 people were killed in the unrest. The state assembly was set on fire by mobs belonging to the majority Meitei community, angry over Vajpayee’s decision to allow the NSCN-IM a free run in Manipur. While the estimated 400,000 Nagas in the state of 2.4 million are siding with the demand for a ‘Greater Nagaland’, a concept mooted by the NSCN-IM, the majority Meiteis are opposed to any fragmentation of their state. The NSCN, a rebel group in adjoining Nagaland, wants a ‘Greater Nagaland’ by slicing off parts of neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh that have sizeable Naga population. The United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body of the Nagas residing in four districts in Manipur, favours integrating Naga-inhabited areas with ‘Greater Nagaland’. “The Congress party’s stand is very clear and firm. We are not going to part with even an inch of our land. It was during the NDA’s (National Democratic Alliance) time that the centre announced extension of NSCN (I-M) ceasefire without any territorial limit,” Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told IANS. With the Congress harping on the theme of safeguarding the territorial integrity and accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of compromising the state’s boundary, the BJP is having a hard time. Almost all the parties have highlighted the issue of territorial integrity in their manifestoes. Another important issue pertains to repealing the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), an anti-terror law aimed at quelling insurgency. The 1958 act provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot on sight and arrest anybody without a warrant. “We are committed to repealing the act by voicing the sentiments of the people of Manipur in parliament,” Nationalist Congress Party leader Purno Sangma said after releasing the party manifesto here. Chief Minister Okram said his government had already withdrawn the act from the Imphal municipal areas. “We also want an end to the act as soon as possible, but before we lift it completely we must ensure that killings and extortions stop,” he said. Human Rights Watch describes how the act has become a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination.

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