New Delhi: Nagaland's lone Lok Sabha member Neiphio Rio has justified urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not give consent to three controversial legislation passed by the Manipur assembly ostensibly to safeguard the rights of indigenous people.
"I think good sense will prevail on the prime minister and he will not allow this kind of manipulation in the state or in the country if we want to have a good and harmonious society," Rio said in an interview to be published in the forthcoming issue of the North East Sun magazine.
His comments came after, what he called, "Meitei nationalist parties" of Manipur condemned his writing to the prime minister and termed it interference in the internal affairs of the state.
The three legislative measures passed include the Protection of Manipur People Bill, Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (Seventh Amendment), and the Manipur Shops and Establishments Bill (Second Amendment).
The passing of the legislations on August 31 brought to an end months-long mass agitation by people living in the valley districts of the north-eastern state, demanding an inner line permit system on the lines of those in force in three other northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
However, tribes like Nagas, Kukis, Zomis and Hmars have claimed that the three bills would directly undermine the existing safeguards for the tribal hill areas regarding land ownership and population influx as the primary threat for the tribal people came not from outside the state but the Meitei people from the valley itself.
The day the bills were passed, protestors, mainly from tribal organisations in the hills of the state, torched five houses belonging to Congress lawmakers.
These included the houses of state Health and Family Welfare Minister Phungzathang Tonsing and Lok Sabha member from Outer Manipur Thangso Baite in Churachandpur district.
The violence and resultant police action left at least nine people dead.
"Considering the volatile situation and the possibility of more violence and disturbance in the overall scenario in the state of Manipur, I urge the government of India to not give its consent to the three bills passed by the Manipur legislative assembly as the bills are directly against the welfare, desire and will of the tribal people," Rio, a leader of the Nagaland People's Front, said in his letter to the prime minister earlier this month.
Speaking to the North East Sun, Rio said that, on the contrary, it was the Manipur chief minister and the state government who were interfering in the affairs of the tribal people living in the hills.
"This is a secular country. We have to protect everybody and not just one community," he said.
According to Rio, the bills "antagonise and (render) outcast" Manipur's own citizens.
"Strong apprehension is there. So, particularly the Nagas, Kukis, Zomis, Hmars have reacted sharply and rightly so because this is their ancestral land," he said.
"I think if, at all, they wanted to pass such bills, they should have gone through consultations, discussions and debate in the house. Why rush things and pass the bills by voice vote and that too in an emergency session. There is something very fishy about it."
Asked about the time when he, as chief minister of Nagaland, was prevented from visiting Senapati district in Manipur that is dominated by Nagas, he described the incident as "unfortunate".
"The chief minister of Manipur obstructed my visit which was very unbecoming. Even the union home minister requested me not to go. I said nothing doing because I am not going to quarrel.
"I am going with peace and we must all co-exist. How can anybody prevent a chief minister of one state in the Indian union from visiting another state, particularly my neighbouring state for my Naga people," he asked.