‘We must learn to live peacefully’: Kuki leader Ch. Ajang Khongsai

Published : Jun 27, 2023 17:41 IST - 7 MINS READ

Ch. Ajang Khongsai

Ch. Ajang Khongsai | Photo Credit: SUSHANTA TALUKDAR

The Kuki Inpi president insists that Manipur’s territorial integrity cannot be protected without emotional integration of its different communities.

Kuki Inpi, Manipur, the apex body of all Kuki tribes in the State, has been in the forefront of defending constitutional rights of the Kuki people. In an interview with Frontline, Ch. Ajang Khongsai, president of Kuki Inpi, Manipur, insists that the territorial integrity of Manipur cannot be protected without the emotional integration of the people of the State—Meiteis, Kukis, Nagas, and other communities. He says all these communities must learn to live peacefully as neighbours as there will never be an area dominated completely by one particular community. Excerpts:

What according to you is the genesis of the current conflict situation?

I have no idea at all. From time immemorial we have been settling together with the Meitei people. We have been living as good neighbours, as friends, for many years. History tells us that when they were in trouble, the Kuki people saved them. Such a long history we have had together, and we been living together peacefully. It is unfortunate that they are waging a war against the Kukis.

Also Read | Mayhem in Manipur: The State burns while the Centre looks away

What is the Kuki Inpi’s position on the demand of Meitei organisations for NRC for identification of undocumented Kuki people from Myanmar and Bangladesh allegedly settling and residing in Manipur?

We don’t have any issues with NRC or ILP [Inner Line Permit] as per Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873. Those who have been settling down in Manipur are indigenous people of the State. They are talking about illegal immigrants. May be there are a handful. Government of India should have looked after the border.  Let them go ahead with the identification of those who recently entered Manipur, instead of branding the whole community as illegal. It can be done immediately. Whether it is possible to do this, whether it is acceptable or not, is another question.

Let the illegal immigrants in certain parts of Manipur be deported to their respective countries. But accusing the whole community as poppy cultivators is not acceptable. If there is illegal immigration or infiltration, why doesn’t Government of Manipur take steps? It is not the responsibility of the Kukis, Meiteis or Nagas to keep a watch on infiltration. Even now, they [the authorities] can examine whether suspected immigrants possess Aadhaar cards, or voter identity cards, how and when these people settled in border towns. Anybody who is found to be an infiltrator can be deported, what is wrong with that?

Because some people are infiltrating into Manipur, can the blame go to the Kuki community or Meitei community or any other community in Manipur? It is the duty of the State and Central governments to take care of all those important things. Why do they keep on blaming the Kukis? Let them find out who has entered illegally and deport such people, we are not concerned about them.

Kuki community members at a protest against the killing of tribal people in Manipur, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on May 31.

Kuki community members at a protest against the killing of tribal people in Manipur, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on May 31. | Photo Credit: SHRIKANT SINGH/ANI

Why are Kuki-Zo organisations demanding a separate administration?

The Meiteis have been forcing us to leave the valley. We are now completely separated from the valley physically. The physical population of the Kukis has been transferred in the hill areas and we no longer have any connection with the valley people. So, under such circumstances, what do you expect us to do but ask for a separate administration under the guidance of the Central government? The State government is forcing us to leave the valley. As bona fide citizens of India we have the right to ask the Central government to provide us a separate administration.

Also Read | ‘We are defending ourselves’: Meitei leader Kh. Athouba

What kind of administration are you asking for? An autonomous council?

We haven’t yet had an opportunity to spell out what we mean by separate administration. When the Central government asks us what type of separate administration we want, we will tell.

  • Ch. Ajang Khongsai insists that the territorial integrity of Manipur cannot be protected without the emotional integration of the people of the State.
  • He says that while there may be some infiltrators, the Kuki community in Manipur as a whole cannot be seen as illegal immigrants and that the Kuki population has merely been shifting around the State.
  • He also says that the Kuki community as a whole cannot be branded as poppy cultivators.
  • About the Kuki demand for a separate administration, he says the Kukis have little option but to demand this because they have been physically driven off from the valley and have little connect with Imphal.

Land is a core issue. The hill people have the right to buy land in the valley, but the valley people are not allowed to buy land in the hills without the Hill Areas Committee’s permission.

This issue is raised by our valley brothers. When Manipur attained Statehood in 1972, Article 371C of the Constitution provided for a Hill Areas Committee comprising 19 of the 60 members of the Legislative Assembly. This committee of tribal legislators from the hill areas has the right to elect its chairman and vice chairman. The committee was entrusted with 13 departments. Yet, all this is not being followed. For many years, an MLA who is not accommodated in the Council of Ministers is given the chairmanship of the Hill Areas Committee by the Chief Minister. This is completely against the Constitution. The committee is a constitutional body in which the 19 MLAs from the hill areas have the right to elect their chairman and vice chairman. That is the authority that has been given only to Manipur’s tribal legislators. But even then nothing has happened.

As for the extension of the Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue Act, 1960, to the hill areas, it is not acceptable. The Manipur Land Reforms and Land Revenue Act was passed by Parliament in 1960, and it clearly said that the law would apply to the entire State of Manipur except the hill areas. The Constitution provides that certain areas belong to tribal people and non-tribal people are not allowed to purchase land there. Blaming tribal people for this protection provided by the Constitution is a very funny thing.

The other side’s argument is that the increasing population of all communities requires rationalisation of land holding.

Following the Kuki-Naga conflicts in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, Kukis living in Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong districts took shelter in Churachandpur, Kangkokpi and Tengnoupal districts. The population that shifted from Kangkopi or Ukhrul or Senapati or Tamenglong settled in their respective community areas. Where is the question of increase in the population? The same population is residing in the State of Manipur. Yes, the Kuki population may have increased in Churachandpur district, but that is not because Kukis are coming in from Myanmar or Bangladesh or somewhere else. The same population is shifting from one place to another within Manipur.

Also Read | What is really behind the violence in Manipur?

What are the measures, according to you, that should be initiated by the State government and the Central government to resolve the conflict and restore peace?

I am nobody to advise the Government of India or the State government.  The Government of India knows exactly what is happening in the tiny State of Manipur. Without taking any side, the Central government has the authority to take an initiative and bring about a solution at the earliest. Firing is taking place, burning of houses is continuing. The government has the solution. We as bona fide citizens of India, as bona fide citizens of Manipur, have been depending on the Centre.

Our forefathers fought against the British in the Anglo Kuki war from 1917 to 1919. Our forefathers fought for India’s independence following in the footsteps of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Many of the INA [Indian National Army] soldiers are still alive. Our forefathers gave their blood for the independence of India, and now some communities are calling us foreigners, poppy planters.

The Kuki people live hand to mouth, are they in a position to run poppy plantations? Helpless people running from pillar to post have been accused of cultivating poppy. It is not true at all. Why don’t they catch the kingpins? I am not going to defend anyone who does something wrong. Let the Central and State governments take steps to check the problem.

About the prevailing situation, I do not blame only the Meiteis or only the Kukis. The government so far is only watching the situation. My heart is burning. I cannot do anything for my people, including the Meiteis. All Meiteis, Kukis and Nagas are my brethren, they are bona fide citizens of India. Why should we be segregated from one another? I have been telling valley-based organisations that they will never find a particular area where only Meiteis live, and Kukis, too, will not find a place where only Kukis are settled. We must learn how to live peacefully together with our neighbours. 

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