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Duggal set for Manipur

- Ethnic, rebel groups challenge for new governor

New Delhi, Dec. 25: Attention to ethnic relations in a complex scenario will be a priority for Vinod Kumar Duggal when he takes over as governor of Manipur, the most troubled state in the Northeast.

The state’s complicated politics of ethnic groups and rebel outfits will be a challenge for the former Union home secretary and current member secretary of the National Disaster Management Authority. Relations between the state’s three major communities — the Meiteis, Kukis and the Nagas — are often in flux but in the past few years, the dynamics have stood in relief more than ever.

“The relationship between ethnic communities is priority number one but that will be putting the cart before the horse,” Duggal told The Telegraph. “I will speak to former governors Gurbachan Jagat and S.S. Sidhu who are not only friends but former colleagues,” he said.

On November 23, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had expressed concern over the law and order situation in Manipur. “The increasing targeting of non-Manipuris in Manipur is an area of considerable concern,” he had said at the annual conference of directors-general of police in New Delhi.

The governor-designate will meet chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh here tomorrow to discuss the affairs of the state.

Duggal will take over from Nagaland governor Ashwani Kumar who is holding additional charge of Manipur since July 29.

Duggal had not only dealt with the Northeast as Union home secretary in 2006; he had also seen the situation on the ground in his heydays. “I was in Mizoram at the height of insurgency (in the 1970s) and have been to Manipur many times,” he said.

As a Union Territory cadre IAS officer, Duggal, who has served in the Northeast for almost a decade, will perhaps see a changed scenario but no less complicated. Manipur today has some 64 outfits in the hills and plains and insurgency is inextricably linked to land, politics and ethnic relations. Under Article 371C of the Constitution that specifically addresses concerns for Manipur, the governor periodically prepares reports for the President regarding administration of the hill areas of Manipur. Meanwhile, the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) talks are at a crucial juncture, making politics in the hills sensitive around elections.

Another aspect the governor’s office often keeps a hawk’s eye on is the issue of relations between the Meiteis and the Nagas that are, at times, precariously poised. Several Kuki militant groups are engaged in talks with the government while some Meitei groups are also attracted to the peace pipe.

However, many Meitei and Naga rebel groups continue to maintain bases and operate from neighbouring Myanmar with which Manipur shares a boundary, despite democratisation of the neighbouring country.

“I am doing my bit, let us hope we are able to deliver the goods,” said Duggal, as he readies for swearing-in by the yearend.