Imphal/New Delhi, Sept. 3: Army chief General N.C. Vij today made a whistle-stop trip to Manipur, avoiding any interaction with the organisations leading the agitation but promising to ensure strict punishment to any Assam Rifles jawan found “culpable” in the Thangjam Manorama custody death case.
“Should any culpability be established, the guilty will be most severely dealt with in keeping with the ethos and discipline of the army,” a defence release simultaneously issued in Imphal and New De-lhi quoted Gen. Vij as saying.
The army chief reached Kangla Fort, the Assam Rifles base in Imphal, by helicopter and immediately proceeded to chief minister Ibobi Singh’s office. The duo discussed the situation in Manipur for about 20 minutes.
The army chief met governor S.S. Sidhu, too. He was accompanied by Eastern Command general-officer-commanding Lt Gen. J.S. Verma and 3 Corps commander Lt Gen. Daljeet Singh.
Gen. Vij returned to New Delhi after a meeting with army and Assam Rifles commanders at Kangla Fort. The army chief did not make an official statement on the demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Manipur.
Union home minister Shivraj Patil is scheduled to make a two-day visit to Imphal, beginning Sunday, to placate a state that has been in turmoil since Manorama was arrested and shot by an Assam Rifles team on July 11.
The Apunba Lup, a working committee of the 32 organisations leading the agitation, has planned a dawn-to-dusk strike on the day of his arrival. The banned Revolutionary People’s Front, too, has called a strike on that day.
As Gen. Vij was taking stock of the situation this afternoon, the Apunba Lup urged the people of Manipur not to be swayed by promises made by the state government or the Centre. “Instead, people should continue to agitate and organise torch rallies at night on Sunday and Monday.”
Sources said Patil was likely to announce an economic package to raise a police commando battalion, implement employment schemes and set up industrial units in the troubled state.
The organisations spearheading the protests were, however, not impressed. “Economic packages will not cut any ice,” the committee said.
The state home department wrote to the committee later in the day, urging its leaders to air their views before Patil. A source said the group would meet tomorrow to discuss the subject.
Delhi is keeping its options open on what step it should take in Manipur. Senior leaders will meet to assess the situation after Patil returns from his proposed visit to the state.
The security establishment has already assessed that withdrawing the Assam Rifles will not be possible.