In Manipur the movement for the introduction of the inner line permit (ILP) system is gaining momentum. On 5 July, a public interest litigation (PIL) that had been pending in the Gauhati high court was withdrawn, the ILP Demand Committee formed in 2006 by Federation of Regional Indigenous Societies (FRIENDS) was superseded and a Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit (ILP) was formed. The Joint Committee, according to the convenor and president of FRIENDS Sapamcha Jadumani, is an achievement as a result of above 400 public awareness demonstrations consistently carried out since 2005.
It must be noted that the ILP demand is ‘protectionism’ and a pre-emption construed on the threat perception that unrestraint immigration of outsiders will outnumber ‘indigenous’ population and dominate economically. ILP is aimed at defending a ‘homeland’ by checking immigration in general and prohibit the ‘outsiders’ from purchasing land in particular. In fact, ILP was a burning issue during the 10th assembly elections in Manipur (February–March). Several political parties had promised to introduce ILP if they were elected. Since a stable government was formed by the Congress, the current state assembly has been selectively pressurised for more coordinated, consistent, and widespread demand.
The ILP demand has been looming over the last few months. Not surprisingly, on July 4 (significantly one day before the formation of the Joint Committee) women vendors of the women markets carried out a massive rally at the heart of the capital raising slogans such as "Save Manipur" and "Implement Inner Line Permit". There were also simultaneous demonstrations at several other strategic areas in Imphal.
The symbolic significance of the Joint Committee is the apparent inclusiveness and coordination on a supposedly common issue cutting across party and community affiliations; such as FRIENDS, National Identity Protection Committee, Ethno Heritage Council, Information Centre for Hill Areas Manipur, LIPUL, Kuki Inpi, Tangkhul Katamnao Saklong, Komrem Union, Zelianrong Union, All Manipur Students’ Union, Democratic Students Alliance of Manipur, Kangleipak Students’ Association, Students’ Union of Kangleipak, and Students’ Welfare Association of Kangleipak. There are other localised organisations and party fronts that were also raising the demand.
To add to the momentum, FREINDS advisor Kakchingtabam Birahari Sharma, 72, had launched a fast unto death from July 6 demanding the Manipur government to adopt a definite resolution over the demand in the current assembly session. He was picked up by police and charged with the attempt to commit suicide.
To recollect, in a discussion held in June in Delhi Sharma had expressed commitment to carry out extreme forms of struggle in his capacity to introduce IPL system in Manipur. Following his arrest which invited people’s ire and coupled with the mounting public pressure, the state cabinet on July 7 decided to convene a special cabinet meeting on July 11 and in the meantime to seek the opinion of the union home ministry to address the issue.
The demand gains mass appeal as many fear unrestraint immigration after the completion of railway line and the onset of Look East Policy. However, it interplays with local dynamics and the leadership will be responsible for either winning support or exasperating negation in the long process. Firstly, it is yet to clearly lay out the exact modified version of the British ILP system that it may wish to introduce. Secondly, it hasn’t come up with the criterion of outsider so that the boundaries between ethnicity and territorial citizenship / denizenship are not confused. Thirdly, since ILP is in principle protectionism, the leadership must answer if they will reconcile or confront with the principle of protectionism embodied in the demand for VI schedule within Manipur. Lastly, since the government may not urgently address the demand as it must not be an obstacle to the Indian integrity, it remains to be seen if the ILP demand is able to withstand challenges or get overtaken by other emotive and sensitive overlapping issues.