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Another border row?

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At a time when our border rows with Pakistan and China are hogging the limelight, what’s going on in the north-eastern State of Manipur is...

At a time when our border rows with Pakistan and China are hogging the limelight, what’s going on in the north-eastern State of Manipur is little noticed. A few months ago, it raised a hue and cry to attract national attention – as well as that of the Central government – about Myanmar troops advancing and occupying chunks of land in Manipur. While the country did not take notice of the far off State’s assertion, Delhi, with its usual characteristic indifference, pushed it under the carpet saying it would deal with the issue at diplomatic level.

Apparently, the central government did not think it was a border violation by Myanmar forces and let things pass despite continued protests and requests by Manipur to act. Now, the government has recognized that there is ‘some activity’ near border pillar 76 amidst reports that Myanmar is staking claim to over a dozen villages and an ancient Hindu temple deep inside Manipur, a few miles away from the India-Myanmar border.

Complicating the situation further is border fencing by the Indian government along with the international border with Myanmar. The Communist Party of India which has considerable influence in Manipur State has demanded immediate halt to border fencing without resolving the contentious issues and without assessing the damage that will do to the border villages that are feared to go the other side if Delhi goes ahead with the work. A picture carried by The Hindu newspaper on the border area underscores villagers’ plight when they have to cross the fencing to fetch water.

What the Central government is doing is thoughtless since it is giving away to Myanmar swathes of land that belongs to Manipur on a platter. Not surprisingly, both Manipur government and people are livid over New Delhi’s actions. Of particular concern is a small portion near border pillar 76 that is un-demarcated. While Delhi insists that the issue will be sorted out with Yangoon since both countries enjoy good relations, the question being asked is whether this side of the border is going China and Pakistan way. Even if one gives the benefit of the doubt to Delhi’s confidence in dealing with the border situation in Manipur, the complacence with which our government reacts and take things in its cool stride, one wonders whether the UPA government is giving too much leeway to ‘our friend’ to take advantage of the current situation.

We should not forget, despite Delhi’s bid to improve relations with the military-run Myanmar government, that Beijing is an ally of Yangoon and both enjoy closer relations which go beyond diplomatic ties. Prudence dictates that the Centre should not paper over the border incidents, however mild they may be, and treat them as serious border violations and sort them out as early as possible. Precipitating them won’t do any good either for the government or the people living in the border areas of Manipur. On the other hand, Myanmar intrusions make Manipuris feel insecure. More important is, New Delhi should address their concerns and take immediate measures to assure them that the country would stand by them.
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