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Battle lines for the three contentious bills passed by the Manipur state assembly has now shifted from Imphal to Delhi

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New Delhi/ Imphal: Battle lines for the three contentious bills passed by the Manipur state assembly has now shifted from Imphal to the national capital even as Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju assured the state BJP leaders from Manipur on Saturday night that if the three pending bills -aimed at regulating migrants  and are not against any community in Manipur he would extend support to the bills.

The three legislative measures are awaiting presidential assent. Rijiju told the state BJP president Khetrimayum Bhabananda and others that several persons had approached him to say that the Bills are against certain communities.

Meanwhile, an indefinite shutdown was enforced from Saturday midnight on Manipur’s anti-migrant bills even as the battleground shifts to Delhi. The Singjamei area of Imphal West district was closed thereby hitting the Indo-Moreh legalised border trade, since the Trans Asian Highway No.1 passes through it.

Several women’s groups staged a sit-in protest demanding withdrawal of the “cooked up” charges against Khomdram Ratan, the former convenor of Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System, alleging that the government’s plan was to suppress the popular movement. However, the people’s agitation is going on in full swing even after Ratan’s resignation.

Meanwhile the outlawed insurgent group, the United National Liberation Front of Manipur (UNLF), has clarified that Ratan is not its member. Publicity secretary M. Shakhen said: “The UNLF has no connection with the Inner Line Permit movement in Manipur. The objective of the UNLF has no connection with the protection of the indigenous peoples.”

However, the Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi also held a protest in the national capital against the passage of the three Bills.

In an interesting turn of events, the Manipur lawyers have condemned police action against the convenor of the JCILPS K Ratan. Manipur Police have termed him “absconder” within hours of a picture of his appeared, professing his loyalty to the UNLF flag. The UNLF is a banned militant outfit of Manipur.  They said the police could have easily arrested him while he was leading the movement all this while.

Khaidem Mani, a high court lawyer and former president of the All Manipur Bar Association, told the media that Ratan has been booked as a criminal on the basis of a Facebook photograph which is a “mockery of law”. The picture, which went viral on Wednesday, purportedly shows Ratan taking an oath of allegiance with the flag of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a banned insurgent group that has been fighting for an “independent” Manipur.

Ratan, who has been the convener of the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), said on Friday that the picture was doctored and was meant to sabotage the movement for enactment of a constitutional safeguard for protection of the indigenous people of Manipur. He said he never took part in any gathering where he held the UNLF’s flag and pledged allegiance to the outfit. Ratan also resigned on Friday as the convener of JCILPS which has been demanding the enactment of three anti-migrant bills passed by the Manipur Assembly on August 31, 2015. The police not only declared Ratan an absconder, but also announced a reward of Rs five lakh for information leading to his arrest.

Retired IPS officer and now high court lawyer Ahanthem Romenkumar said a Facebook picture cannot be the basis of filing a first information report (FIR). “The Karnataka high court had quashed an FIR based on a Facebook photograph since the veracity of the picture could not be established,” Romenkumar said. “Besides in case of Ratan, police flouted procedures. At least two attempts should be made to arrest the accused. If they fail, the court should issue a public notice and 3 to 6 months should be given before declaring a person a proclaimed offender.” In Ratan’s case the matter was settled within 24 hours even though the accused was not fleeing the law but addressing press conferences, he said.

Many people are of the view that the intention of the government is not to arrest Ratan who is very much around but to deflect the anti-migrant campaign. The JCILPS has been demanding an inner line permit (ILP) system for Manipur which has been encapsulated in the three anti-migrant bills passed by the Manipur assembly that now await presidential assent. The ILP is a special permit required to enter certain restricted areas in the country. The system is already in place in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.

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