| A legislator carries a placard as he disembarks from a police bus after Opposition members were arrested for violating prohibitory orders near the Manipur Assembly in Imphal on Wednesday. Picture by Eastern Projections
Imphal/New Delhi, Aug. 4: Emotion-charged Manipur reacted violently to reports of Delhi’s reluctance to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, forcing the harried administration to re-impose curfew indefinitely in the twin districts of Imphal East and West.
Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who was in the capital for nearly a week seeking advice on how to deal with the situation, returned to a barrage of protests on the streets of Imphal. Nearly 100 people were wounded in the police crackdown.
An elderly man collapsed and died during the commotion on an Imphal street after curfew was re-imposed. He was identified as 65-year-old Elangbam Surja from Thoubal district.
As Manipur convulsed in anger over reports suggesting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had rebuffed Ibobi Singh’s request to withdraw the armed forces act, Union minister of state for home Sri Prakash Jaiswal claimed that the state government had made no such proposal.
“Though it is a central act, it is implemented by the state governments, and we have not received any request from Manipur for its withdrawal,” he told the media.
The minister said Delhi was planning to constitute a committee to review the situation in Manipur and suggest a long-term strategy to deal with the problems there. Jaiswal visited Manipur a couple of weeks ago and submitted a report on the crisis to Union home minister Shivraj Patil.
An official source said the proposed committee was likely to examine the possibility of amending certain provisions of the act, including the powers vested on security forces to arrest somebody without a warrant and exemption from producing the suspect before a magistrate within 24 hours.
Sources in Imphal said the Ibobi Singh government was considering lifting the act from some areas of the state. He had announced last month that the government would take a decision on the legislation by August 15. The fallout of the agitation in Manipur was today discussed in Delhi at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Sources said the committee stressed the need to approach the problems without compromising national security and easing the army offensive against militant groups. Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh, the home minister, and top army and intelligence officials attended the meeting.
The Prime Minister yesterday met leaders across the political spectrum in a bid to evolve a consensus on the crisis. National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders L.K. Advani and George Fernandes were among those whom the Prime Minister consulted during the daylong consensus-building exercise.
Opposition leaders in Manipur took exception to Fernandes’ statement that the NDA wanted the government to retain the armed forces act.
Ibobi Singh, who met the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Patil last evening, returned to Imphal along with outgoing governor Arvind Dave and immediately went into a huddle with his ministry colleagues.
Before the chief minister’s arrival, several students courted arrest in front of the gate to his office. Security personnel deployed along the route from the airport to Ibobi Singh’s residence were attacked by protesters at several places. The police used stun bombs, teargas and rubber bullets to disperse them.
Opposition legislators held a sit-in demonstration at the gate to the Assembly complex. They were demanding a special House session to adopt a resolution to withdraw the armed forces act. The police took the legislators to Imphal West police station on a bus and freed them shortly after.
The Political Parties’ Forum, comprising seven Opposition parties, said a special Assembly session was necessary because the Ibobi Singh cabinet did not appear to be inclined to take a decision on the act. “As the government refuses to take a cabinet decision on the people’s demand, we have no option but to seek a special session of the House,” Chandramani Singh said.
Manipur has been in the throes of a law and order crisis since the death of Thangjam Manorama in Assam Rifles’ custody on July 11. The force claims she was a member of the outlawed People’s Liberation Army.