When RK Ranjan was sworn in as Union Minister of State and given the all-important portfolio of External Affairs along with Education, Manipur public was elated. Besides his experience in educational administration, he had been taking keen interest in issues relating to our borders.
So naturally people were optimistic that Manipur’s boundary dispute with Myanmar would be resolved and people had high hopes in Ranjan. When the leaders of the United Committee Manipur (UCM) met him, RK Ranjan reportedly assured them that a Central team would visit Manipur in October to verify the location of disputed boundary pillars on the Indo-Myanmar border Manipur sector.
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Besides requesting Central authorities to invite Myanmar authority during the verification, the Union minister was also urged to immediately halt the ongoing construction work of border fencing until the verification is done.
The other day, when UCM leaders visited the border they found border fencing works still going on. They are furious as the dispute is yet to be resolved while the fencing line was well into India’s territory.
Frequent border incursions by Myanmar villagers backed by their authorities along the Manipur sector of the international border and cases of missing boundary pillars or shifting of the pillars has been happening now and then since Manipur’s merger with the Indian Union, besides the controversy over subsidiary boundary pillars.
Territorial integrity and boundary had been an emotive issue for the Manipuris with it losing the Kabaw valley, a 22,210 sq km large area to Burma (now Myanmar) through the Treaty of Yandaboo. After annexing Manipur, the British had leased Kabo Valley to the Burmese after at that time in lieu of sicca rupees 500 monthly as compensation to the king of Manipur.
The loss of Kabaw valley through the machinations of the British rulers shocked Maharaj Gambhir to such an extent that he died soon after. After the Indian Independence in 1947, as the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel began a process of bringing princely states within the fold of Indian Union, Manipur was in his radar because of its ‘strategic location.’
Thus, Manipur became a part of India in 1949 and thereafter the monthly compensation for Kabaw valley was done away with. Then on 13th January 1954, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru finally handed over the rights of this valley to the Burmese.
Herein lies the irony. The Indian establishment cares only for the state of Manipur, but not its territories. While the BJP government is busy congratulating itself for its ‘Act East Policy’ instead of ‘Look East Policy’ of the then Congress government, it seems to have forgotten the importance of maintaining its borders.
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In 2013, the Minister of State for External Affairs denied in Parliament about any existing boundary dispute between India and Myanmar. The minister however said, there are nine unresolved Boundary Pillars (BP) along the India-Myanmar Border in Manipur sector.
The same lackadaisical attitude on the part of the Indian government is still there regarding the Manipur sector on the Indo-Myanmar border. A controversy once erupted in late 2017 against border fencing work at the India-Myanmar border on grounds that the fence was being constructed deep inside Indian Territory near Boundary pillar No 81.
Following widespread protests by civil society organisations, a Central Team came and conducted site inspection of the BPs near Moreh, Manipur, along with representatives of the Manipur Government and the political parties. The External Affairs ministry once again came out with a statement that this sector of the international boundary is settled and there is no confusion as to its alignment and that only the “construction of subsidiary pillars in between already settled main boundary pillars 81 and 82 along zero line” has taken place.
The decision to build the subsidiary pillars was taken during a meeting between Indian and Myanmarese officials in Myanmar’s Tamu in October 2017. Now, another controversy has erupted. We have to wait and see how Chief Minister N Biren Singh and Union minister Dr Ranjan tackle the situation.