Imphal: In a significant development, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, has underscored the pivotal role of the State Government in the inclusion or removal of tribes from the Scheduled Tribes list. This clarification comes in response to a resolution seeking the delisting of “Nomadic Chin Kuki” from the list, adding a new layer of complexity to the tribal dynamics in Manipur.
Ashish Kumar Agrawal, Under Secretary to the Government of India, in a letter emphasised that Scheduled Tribes (STs) are identified under Article 342 of the Constitution, necessitating the endorsement of the concerned State Government for any modifications. Proposals must obtain approval from both the Registrar General of India (RGI) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) before being considered for legislative amendments.
The call to delist Kukis from the ST list has triggered heightened tensions in Manipur, with organisations such as Meitei Leepun and World Meetei Council arguing against the inclusion of Kukis, asserting that they are non-indigenous to Manipur. Meitei Leepun, in particular, contends that only Meiteis and Nagas have the constitutional right to demand ST status in the region.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, addressing the issue on January 9, emphasised the need for a thorough re-examination of the inclusion process of Nomadic Chin-Kuki in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list of India before offering any comments or recommendations. CM Singh disclosed the formation of a committee comprising all recognised tribes in the state, highlighting the importance of collective input before forwarding recommendations to the Centre.
In Manipur, there are currently 34 government-recognized tribes contributing to the complexity of the tribal dynamics in the region. The Union Tribal Affairs Ministry’s response to a representation seeking the delisting of “Nomadic Chin-Kuki” from the ST list, submitted by Maheshwar Thounaojam, National Secretary of the Republican Party of India (Athawale), based in Imphal, underscores the ongoing deliberations and considerations surrounding this contentious issue.
The issue takes on added significance against the backdrop of tribal dynamics in Manipur. While Nagas and Kukis are officially recognised as Scheduled Tribes, the Meiteis, a dominant tribe, have been excluded from the list since Manipur’s merger with India, sparking a prolonged demand for ST status.
The conflict has intensified following a February 27, 2023 Manipur High Court order directing the State Government to recommend the inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list. This directive is identified as the trigger for violent clashes between Kuki protesters and Meiteis in May, resulting in a prolonged period of unrest.
However, the root causes of the violence extend beyond the ST demand, encompassing the State Government’s decision to withdraw from the Suspension of Operation (SoO) Agreement with Kuki militant groups. Additionally, efforts against poppy cultivation, and actions to identify illegal immigrants, have further fueled the tensions in the region.
Surprisingly, despite being a concerned party in the ST demand issue, Nagas have maintained distance from the conflict. In contrast, the Kukis, demanding a separate administration for Chin-Kuki-Zo people, add another layer of complexity to the regional dynamics.
The grievances of the Meiteis go beyond the ST demand, citing gradual marginalisation in tribal areas. They highlight a reduced population percentage from 59% in 1951 to 44% in 2011. The Meiteis express concerns about illegal immigrants from Myanmar, advocating for the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify and deport them.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s recent statement on the emergence of around 900 new villages between 2006 and 2018 adds yet another dimension to the complex socio-political landscape of Manipur.
As Manipur grapples with these multifaceted issues, the delicate interplay between tribal identities, constitutional recognition, and regional aspirations continues to shape the unfolding narrative in this northeastern state. It remains to be seen how the State Government’s role in tribal listings will impact the ongoing unrest and whether a comprehensive resolution can be achieved to address the diverse concerns of the various communities involved.