Imphal, Sept. 26: A mob baying for blood today came within sniffing distance of Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh while he was inspecting a site chosen for a firing range against their wishes.
Ibobi Singh’s guards whisked him away from danger in the nick of time, but some members of his entourage were assaulted. One of them sustained serious head injuries and had to be evacuated from Maha Koireng in Imphal West, where the incident took place, to a hospital in the capital town.
The chief minister blamed security lapses for the incident. An infuriated Ibobi Singh took the police and Manipur Rifles officials who oversee his security to task in full view of everyone present there. “I could have been mauled by the mob. Where have all the security personnel gone'” he asked.
The mob had showed the first signs of becoming violent when the chief minister, accompanied by several ministers and senior officials, went about inspecting the area without paying much attention to their protests. On noticing the mob closing in, two bodyguards shielded Ibobi Singh and escorted him to safety.
Those assaulted by the mob were mostly villagers who had accompanied the chief minister to the spot. Sources said a section of farmers had been opposing the proposal to set up a firing range for the Assam Rifles at Maha Koireng on the premise that they would be deprived of a vast tract of cultivable land. The site is 23 km from the state capital.
The proposed firing range is to be used by the Assam Rifles after its units stationed at the historical Kangla fort are shifted to the new cantonment that is being set up at Maha Koireng. Assam Rifles is at present using the firing range at Chingmeirong, on the outskirts of the city. The site of the proposed range is between the cantonment and Maha Koireng Kabui.
Trouble was brewing in the area before the ministerial team had reached there. Slogan-shouting women awaiting the chief minister’s arrival at the gate to the Assam Rifles camp were shooed away by security personnel, making the protesters angrier.
On reaching the area, Ibobi Singh asked senior officials of the Assam Rifles how much land was required for a firing range. He then instructed revenue minister E. Biramani, public works minister Gaikhangam, higher education minister Meinya Singh and tribal development minister Ngamthang Haokip to survey the area and earmark a plot for the Assam Rifles.
Revenue commissioner Ch. Birendra Singh, PWD secretary P. Kipgen, Imphal West deputy commissioner H. Imocha Singh and his Senapati counterpart T. Panmei were part of the entourage.
As the ministers and officials were busy surveying the area, the chief minister and some villagers who supported his decision climbed the hill a little further. It was then that the group of protesters turned violent.