Article 355, A Step Away From President’s Rule, In Manipur Now: Opposition

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Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh chairs a meeting of 10 political parties in Imphal

Imphal/Guwahati:

An all-party meeting in crisis-hit Manipur has asked the Centre and the state government to scrap the tripartite suspension of operations (SoO) signed with 25 Kuki insurgent groups.

The security forces will be able to launch a full-scale operation against the Kuki insurgents once the SoO is removed, the parties said in the meeting chaired by Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who belongs to the BJP.

The all-party meeting including the Opposition criticised the Centre and the state government for not telling the public that Article 355 of the Constitution has been applied in Manipur since ethnic clashes broke out in May 2023 between the hill-majority Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis over disagreements on land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies.

Manipur Congress chief K Meghachandra Singh said the Chief Minister, for the first time, told all the parties in the meeting about the Article 355 matter. The Congress leader expressed concern over why the state and the Centre never revealed this before.

“It reflects the insincerity of both the Centre and the state government,” Meghachandra Singh said. “The Chief Minister told us Article 355 has been enforced in Manipur. There was no clarity on this before. It is unfortunate that the Chief Minister took so long to tell us this. Both the Centre and the state government are not sincere, we know now, it is confirmed. Both external aggression and internal disturbance are covered under Article 355,” he told reporters in Imphal.

Article 355 of the Constitution says the Centre must protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance to ensure government stability. It allows the Centre to take charge of a state’s law and order enforcement without dismissing the government, and is considered a step below the President’s rule, which give full control to the President.

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Last week, Manipur Security Adviser Kuldiep Singh told reporters the Chief Minister can call a meeting anytime of the unified command that’s looking after law and order in the state. However, the Chief Minister’s name was missing from the list of names who are part of the unified command.

This led to speculation that Article 355 was in effect, and the Chief Minister laid the matter to rest by confirming it in the all-party meeting.

The Kuki-Zo tribes have been demanding President’s rule in Manipur. They say President’s rule will ensure neutrality of security forces and government policies. However, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament last year the state government was cooperating and there was no need for President’s rule.

The all-party meeting asked the Chief Minister to ask for an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They plan to send an all-party delegation to brief PM Modi about the situation in Manipur.

The parties that attended the meeting chaired by the Manipur Chief Minister inclues Janata Dal (United), Aam Aadmi Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray), and the Trinamool Congress.

The Manipur Chief Minister has said the violence has shifted from clashes between two communities to a battle between the security forces and insurgents. The Security Adviser last week told reporters there was a possibility of insurgents from Myanmar attacking security forces in the border town Moreh, but there was no evidence yet. His comments came after two police commandos were killed in action in Moreh. The Security Adviser had confirmed the involvement of “Kuki militants” in the attack on state forces.

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