Except for a lone Kuki MLA from Churachandpur district voicing support for the protest march by Kukis in some districts against what they call interventionist forest laws as against tribal rights, almost all other MLAs from the Kuki-Chin groups are silent. This is indeed strange, as these MLAs actually do represent the people and they are sworn by the Constitution and bound to protect and preserve its various laws. And again, this group of MLAs are on the side of the BJP-led government either by being with BJP or as by supporting it. Yes, we understand that many of the legislators elected to the state assembly are beholden to militant groups for the help during elections.
Regardless of the SoO agreement, Kuki militant groups were found engaged in its regular mischief of forced taxation, kidnappings and abduction and intimidation during elections. Yet, tribe leaders from Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups herded by respective MLAs and leaders had given pledges to join the War on Drugs campaign. In spite of the pledges, poppy cultivation still continues while new settlements and villages continue to spring up in the reserve forest and protected forest areas mainly in the Kuki-Chin dominated areas.
In the Kuki areas, all of the village land is solely owned by the chief and the villagers are his tenants living under his patronage, who are given temporary rights for tilling the land on the condition that a portion of the produce should be given to the chief, the landowner. It is simply because of this factor that new villages keep cropping up in Kuki dominated areas as the brothers of the chief want a slice of the pie.
According to a former bureaucrat, over and above a total number of 2083 villages in the state 966 new villages are seeking fresh recognition. The new villages are reported to be 308 from Kangpokpi, 281 from Churachandpur, 205 from Chandel, 130 from Tengnoupal, 27 from Senapati 14 from Pherzwal, and 5 from Ukhrul district. One will notice the high number of new villages seeking recognition from Kuki-Chin areas. These new villages are mostly inhabited by a few families.
Perhaps that is why, the Tribal Affairs & Hills Minister Letpao Haokip said that no new recognition would be given to villages having less than 50 households while also suggesting a separate land holding system in the hill areas. Again, the Naga Youths Forum Manipur has demanded identification and deletion of bogus identity cards, and to derecognise chieftainship heading multiple villages besides framing of appropriate laws for new village recognition.
In recent times, widespread poppy cultivation has been detected mostly in Kangpokpi and Saikul constituencies besides Churachandpur district. Well this time, the Chief Minister N Biren Singh seems serious enough to take on those supporting the widespread poppy cultivation and facilitating drug smuggling from across the border. His cabinet had recently taken the decision to withdraw from SoO with some militants who are engaged in poppy cultivation and flaring up rowdy elements in the hill areas against the implementation of forest laws. So, the stakes are high as many of the SoO groups are more or less involved with the leading politicians of the state. It requires political will and resolve if he is to confront these groups.
It is indeed a bold decision of his government and his commitment towards protection of forest lands and against poppy plantation in hill areas is reflected. The state cabinet on Friday decided to withdraw the State Government from SoO agreements with three hill-based insurgent groups, namely the Kuki National Army (KNA), the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) and the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA). Now, it remains to be seen whether the MLAs from Kuki-Chin groups are on the side of the government or not. They cannot remain silent forever with the frenzy going on in the social media.