Days after news of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) – the apex body representing the Kuki-Zo community in Manipur – announced "self-rule" in at least three tribal-dominated districts, its spokesperson Ginza Vualzong refuted the media reports.
On 15 November, a few media outlets had reported that the ITLF had declared "self-rule" in Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi, and Churachandpur, adding that "they will have a separate chief minister and government officials from the community."
However, Vualzong claimed to The Quint that the body is "mulling on adopting a local governing body" in line with the Constitution of India to govern the tribal areas (primarily the hill areas).
"It is just a plan... and has not been adopted yet," he further added.
Elaborating on the logic behind such a proposal, he referred to the fact that the 10 Kuki MLAs, who are part of the Biren Singh-led Manipur government, could not travel to the capital city Imphal when a special Assembly session was convened on 29 August 2023 as "it was too risky for them."
"Our MLAs have not been able to carry out any business or work for the people since the violence broke out on 3 May. We do realise that carving out a separate administration will take time, so we have come up with a plan for local governance because the state government will not think about our welfare as their resentment is evident against us."Ginza Vualzong
Condemning the reports of "self-rule," in a press note dated 16 November [of a copy of which The Quint has accessed], the Directorate of Information & Public Relations, Government of Manipur, noted, "The recent statement by the ITLF has no legal or constitutional basis. This irresponsible statement appears to be motivated and aimed at vitiating and disturbing the law and order situation in the state," adding, "Appropriate legal action is being initiated against the ITLF and persons concerned."
'Centre's Selective Justice Has Angered Kuki-Zo Community'
Another ITLF member, general secretary Muan Tombing, added:
"The demand for a separate administration in Manipur to govern the tribal districts is not a recent one. It is our ultimate goal."
Tombing further added that the Centre's "selective justice" has angered the Kuki-Zo community.
Among other things, he accused the probe agencies, including the National Investigation Agency and the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the police of "cherry-picking" cases to appease the majority Meitei community.
"Cases blamed on Kuki-Zo tribals are quickly taken up and arrests promptly made. However, cases involving tribal victims are either not taken up or are delayed indefinitely. If this is not selective justice, then what is this?"Muan Tombing, general secretary, ITLF
Speaking to India Today in October 2023, Chief Minister Biren Singh had refuted the allegations of "slow progress in the probe into the case where Kukis are victims."
Commenting on the investigation by central agencies, he had said they are "doing their job," adding, "We appreciate the central government's support, but we expect more."
He had also noted that Churachandpur was returning to normalcy, as well as the roads and highways in Kangpokpi were open, adding, "I urge those who say Manipur is still burning to come down and see for themselves."
'Development Process Has Been on Standstill'
Alleging "resentment of the Manipur government" against the Kuki community, Vualzong pointed out that the state's Education Minister Basanta Kumar Thounaojam had vowed to remove the chapter The Kukis from the book 'History of Manipur' written by M Kaoba Singh and B Sm Sharma.
On Thursday, 16 November, a social activist – Maheshwar Thounaojam – had raised concerns about the book prescribed by the Council of Higher Secondary School, Manipur, for Class 11, alleging that it contains a "fabricated" history of the Kuki community. Having raised the issue with the education minister, the social activist added that the minister had assured him that "he will review the book, and appropriate action to ban it will be taken in two to three days."
Vualzong added that "an ideal situation would be if another secretariat is set up in the hill district so that our MLAs can start working for our people again – and the development processes that has been on a standstill can be resumed."
Vualzong also dismissed the media reports which claimed that the supposed "self-rule" will be imposed in two weeks.
"It is just a proposal at this stage as there are a lot of things to consider, including legal aspects and funds. Any form of self-governance will require support from the Centre," Vualzong added.
In May, days after the violence broke out, the 10 Kuki MLAs in the Manipur government had demanded a separate administration, stating that the state of Manipur had "miserably failed to protect" the Chin-Kuki-Zomi tribals. In a statement, they had said that living amid the Meiteis after these clashes "is as good as death for our people."
In the last six months, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has on various occasions ruled out a separate administration in the violence-torn state.