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Ibobi walks June uprising tightrope

Imphal, June 18: Wiser from the experience of a Naga backlash last year, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh today stayed away from all Integrity Day programmes but sent a ministerial team to the main event, lest he fall foul of organisations in the valley.

A team of ministers paid floral tributes at the memorials to the 18 people who died in police firing during the upheaval over the extension of the Delhi-NSCN (I-M) ceasefire to Manipur in June 2001.

Last year, Ibobi Singh was accused of “legitimising” the June uprising through an official holiday on June 18. So furious was the Naga community that it enforced a 52-day economic blockade on the state’s two lifelines, national highways 39 and 53.

But the United Committee of Manipur (UCM) and the All Manipur United Clubs Organisation have been organising programmes on this day every year. One commemorates the anniversary of the 2001 movement as Uprising Day and the other as Unity Day.

Yesterday, Naga students warned the state government against participating in any commemoration programme. The apex Naga student union of the state said government endorsement of the programmes would be deemed “unconstitutional” because protesters had burned the Assembly building, the chief minister’s secretariat and several other government structures during the anti-ceasefire uprising.

Manipur had perceived the erstwhile NDA government’s attempt to extend its truce with the NSCN (I-M) beyond Nagaland as a threat to its territorial integrity.

Led by Thoudam Debendra Singh, the second-in-command in the Secular Progressive Front ministry, a ministerial team reached Kekrupat, near Kangla Fort, around 8 am to participate in the UCM-organised programme.

Kekrupat is the place where the bodies of the 18 protesters killed in police firing were cremated.

“The people are observing the day in memory of the uprising. I think there is nothing wrong or unconstitutional in holding the programme. This is to protect the territorial integrity of Manipur,” Debendra Singh told the media, albeit without any reference to the warning from Naga students.

Lok Sabha member Thokchom Meinya Singh and Speaker Maniruddin Shaikh were part of the team.

As calls for “unity and peaceful co-existence” rent the air in the state capital, Nagas of Manipur spent the day in churches, praying for “Naga unity” and a “speedy agreement” between the NSCN (I-M) and Delhi. Mass prayer sessions were held in response to a call from the United Naga Council, the apex organisation of the tribal community.

On the other hand, speakers at two programmes in Imphal cautioned Delhi against making any attempt to break up Manipur in its bid to “appease” one community. “Delhi should not break up Manipur. It should not try to burn Manipur. If Manipur burns, Delhi will also burn,” said Prof. N. Sanajaoba of Gauhati University’s law department at the programme organised by the All Manipur United Clubs Organisation.

UCM president K. Langamba reaffirmed the decision taken by the people to resist any bid to change the boundary.

“We will never compromise on the issue of territorial integrity. All communities should live together and progress equally. The UCM will work towards this end,” he said.

Elaborate security arrangements were made in Imphal and other parts of the state. All shops remained closed in the state capital. There was no untoward incident.

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