New Delhi: Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla has defended his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the violence in Manipur over its state assembly passing three controversial bills, and said he wanted to help his people in the neighbouring state.
"I don`t want to antagonise anybody. I simply want to help my people in Manipur enjoy their rights within the Constitution of India," Lal Thanhawla said in an interview that will be published in the forthcoming issue of the North East Sun magazine.
His remarks came after Manipur`s Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam said Lal Thanhawla, a fellow Congressman, should have consulted his party first before writing to the prime minister.
The Manipur unit of the Congress has also complained to the party high command.
Following a months-long agitation by people living in the valley districts of Manipur, the assembly on August 31 passed the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill (Seventh Amendment), and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill ostensibly to protect the rights of the indigenous people.
The day the bills were passed, protesters, mainly from tribal organisations, 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.
According to the tribes in the hills of Manipur, the bills would directly undermine the existing safeguards for the 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.
Lal Thanhawla, in his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requested that the central government should "not give its consent to the three bills passed by the Manipur legislative assembly as they are directly against the tribal people of the state".
In the interview, the Mizoram chief minister said the tribal people have been living in the hills of Manipur for ages and they have their rights.
"I was told that if the bills are passed as they are, many tribal people, those who have been living there for ages, would be deprived of their citizenship and their other rights," he said.
"That is why, at the request of the people, I thought it was my duty to write to the prime minister to see that all citizens of the country, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion, should live in complete harmony."
He, however, said that though as a Mizo, he was concerned about his own people, "we don`t want to do anything against the Manipur government".
"I don`t want to play any blame game but my only concern is how to restore peace in the state and protect the rights of each citizen of the state. Now that the three bills have been passed, the Kukis and Mizos feel these are anti-tribal," the Mizoram chief minister said.
According to him, the Nagas living in the hills of Manipur had asked their legislators not to attend the assembly session and the Kukis and Mizos too did likewise.
"I am told that the Nagas abstained from the session but not the Mizos and the Kukis. That is why this trouble has erupted in Churachandpur, which is very unfortunate," he said.
Lal Thanhawla pointed out that the Meiteis and subsequent governments of Manipur have been living in complete peace with the tribal people for ages.
"But how it could erupt in such a way, I am surprised. It is good that the Naga area (in Manipur) is peaceful," he said.
Hoping that law and order would be restored soon, he said leaders of various political parties of Mizoram were visiting Manipur to help restore peace and normalcy in the troubled area.
"They (Mizo leaders) want to meet all sections of Mizos and Kukis and appeal for peace and calm," the chief minister said.
Asked what he felt about the demand for an inner line permit system in Manipur, he said it was a good protection for tribal people from the bigger communities.
"But it should not be misused and also should not be misjudged by people of other parts of the country," he said.
Nagaland Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang has also written to the prime minister on the situation in Manipur.