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‘Brothers’ on Ibobi lips

New Delhi, Feb. 10: In a rare departure from combative politics, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh today struck a conciliatory note towards the NSCN (Isak-Muivah).

He termed the United Naga Council (UNC) and the NSCN (I-M) as “our brothers and sisters” while interacting with reporters today.

“Whether UNC or NSCN (I-M), we have been living together and we will live together. They are our brothers and sisters,” Ibobi Singh said when asked about the tripartite dialogue with the UNC held in Senapati on February 6. The UNC is seeking an “alternative arrangement” for Nagas outside the purview of the Manipur government.

The chief minister’s departure is significant because he is known to have turned down requests from the Prime Minister, the home minister and the defence minister to allow NSCN general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his native village Somdal only a few years ago.

Following that, Ibobi Singh also insisted that he would go ahead and not just prevent Muivah from entering the state but also press for police action against him. The NSCN leader belongs to Ukhrul district dominated by Tangkhul Nagas.

The astute politician said “...will live together (with Nagas)”, foreclosing a possibility of any agreement to break the state.

“Without sitting together, it is not possible to resolve (differences),” Ibobi Singh said today, sending a message to the Naga rebel outfit currently awaiting progress in its negotiation with the Centre. “They can approach us,” he said, when asked if the Manipur government was willing for a one-on-one dialogue with the outfit’s leaders who are in talks with the Centre.

The chief minister, however, said the state government was not planning to approach the Naga rebels.

Ibobi Singh’s gesture is significant because Manipur is the most affected party in the talks focused on a united Naga homeland. Imphal valley has weathered storms on more than one occasion on the issue of territorial integrity, which is threatened by the NSCN’s demand of a unification of “Naga areas,” including Manipur, Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

Political observers see Ibobi Singh’s gesture as a tactical step ahead of the general elections. The Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat has a substantial population of different Naga tribes.

The chief minister even refused to agree to the Centre’s opinion that fault lines among communities in Manipur were deepening. “Relationship between different people is normal,” he said, when asked about the Union home ministry’s view that relations among Nagas, Meiteis and Kukis were not normal. The three communities’ aspirations, particularly about ownership of land and administrative boundaries, overlap and clash.

Ibobi Singh said his government was talking with Kuki groups and trying to get the valley-based Meitei militant groups to the negotiating table. He, however, added that the outfits still indulge in extortion and intimidation.