ST demand for the Meiteis
Constitutional protection. Chief Minister N Biren is obviously worried that there is no Constitutional protection for the Meitei community but yet at the same time the BJP led Government at Imphal is yet to send a recommendation to the Centre seeking the same. And under what criteria can the Meiteis seek Constitutional protection is the natural question that follows. To the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur the answer is plain and simple. Forward a recommendation to the Centre seeking Scheduled Tribe status for the Meiteis. Seems rather straight forward, especially in the backdrop of the fact that the Centre has agreed to grant ST status to six communities of Assam. Yet it is not as simple as this for this cannot be an open and shut case, as opposing voices have been raised from certain quarters, most notably from among the Meiteis themselves who are under the impression that a community with more than a 2000 year old history, having its own script, its own civilisation cannot come under the tribal tag. Other than this, strong voice of opposition to the ST demand for the Meiteis too have come from some tribal groups of Manipur, most notably from the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur. Readers of The Sangai Express must still remember the series of debates that went on between the student body and champions of the call that the Meiteis be included in the ST category of the Constitution of India. This is obviously what the Chief Minister was referring to when he said that there is as yet no consensus among the people on the demand that the Meiteis be included in the ST list. Still too early to say which way the wind will blow, but significant to note that the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM) has already upped the ante and no sooner did the Chief Minister admit on the floor of the House that a recommendation is yet to be sent, the Committee came out strongly against the ‘inaction’ of the Government.
The very fact that the Centre extended the provisions of the Inner Line Permit System to Manipur may perhaps give an inkling of an idea on how it would respond to the demand that the Meiteis be included in the ST list. The very fact that the Chief Minister noted that the ILP has been extended to Manipur while discussing the ST status demand for the Meiteis should underline the importance of extending the same to Manipur. It is also significant to note that the Chief Minister acknowledged the need for some sort of a Constitutional protection for the Meiteis and the STDCM may take comfort from such a posture. If at all the State Government takes the decision to put forward the recommendation to the Centre, it will need to convince the tribals of Manipur, that such a move should not be seen as a step which can rob them of their rights. Tougher will be to take along the different opinions of the Meitei people and it remains to be seen how the State Government, the STDCM and those who back the ST tag for the Meiteis take along all the people along with their stand. How things turn out remains to be seen, but as the Chief Minister himself admitted, the Meiteis too need some sort of a Constitutional protection and this is best exemplified by the demand for ILP and subsequently its extension to Manipur.