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Molest fallout worries govt

New Delhi, Dec. 25: The alleged assault on Manipuri actress Momoco last Tuesday has become a cause for concern for the Centre, which fears that the incident may widen the rift between the hills and the valley in the state.

The Centre has warned the state of a threat to ethnic relations following continuing protests in the Imphal valley against the alleged molestation by NSCN (I-M) “lieutenant colonel” R.P. Livingstone.

As the already strained relations between the largely hill-based Nagas and valley-based Meiteis come under more stress, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has warned Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh that the protests need to be reined in.

“We have told the Manipur government that we need to prevent any escalation of this situation,” a senior home ministry official said.

Tension between the two communities becomes palpable whenever the Nagas iterate their demand of distancing themselves from the political entity of Manipur. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had to intervene at least twice to assure the valley population of territorial integrity of Manipur. Stress in relations between the two communities also means tension between the hills and the valley, and problems for smooth economic transactions.

If Ibobi Singh attends the National Development Council meet in Delhi on Thursday, he will be reminded about the urgency for peace once again, sources said.

The government is more worried because a political solution is being worked out with the NSCN (I-M) whose general secretary Th. Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur’s Ukhrul district and enjoys the support of the Naga population in the hill districts.

The NSCN (I-M) has reportedly ordered a “probe” into the matter. A functionary said the group is sad the incident occurred and promised action. “We will take action but we are conducting an inquiry.” The group, however, added the issue might have been blown out of proportion.

Experts here said the matter should remain a gender issue instead of assuming a political colour. “This just plays into the valley-hill divide. The NSCN should have acted in a more determined manner,” said Sanjoy Hazarika of the Centre for Northeast Studies at Jamia Milia Islamia. He stressed the need for more people with goodwill on both sides to begin a dialogue.

With Muivah stepping up pressure for a better deal in lieu of an integrated Naga homeland, the government feels the current crisis should not be allowed to be used as a handle by the rebels. Political entities often use identity politics to further their political goals. The Assembly election in Nagaland, scheduled for February, is also a matter of concern for the government.