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No organised system for militancy in Meghalaya, extortion racket to blame for unrest: CM Sangma

Meghalaya CM tells ThePrint Shillong situation peaceful now, but no action will be taken against police over ‘fake encounter’ of ex-militant before judicial panel report.

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Shillong: The two low-intensity IED blasts in Meghalaya over the last couple of months were signs of an extortion racket and not of a rising militancy, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma told ThePrint in an interview days after violence broke out in Shillong following the killing of a former militant.

“There is absolutely no organised system for militancy in the state as such. However, in the last two-three months, some extortion notes started coming out where business leaders, politicians and citizens were targeted, which was then followed by two low-intensity IED blasts in July and August,” Sangma said.

The CM’s comments came after the state capital was rocked by arson and stone pelting on Independence Day in the aftermath of the 13 August killing of Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, founder of the outlawed separatist outfit Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), by police. Following the violence, curfew and mobile internet restrictions were imposed.

Curfew was eased Wednesday, while mobile internet restrictions were lifted completely.

Sangma said the situation has become peaceful now as the government is communicating with social and religious leaders, village headmen and welfare organisations. 

He said the killing took place amid government efforts to neutralise and arrest separatist outfit members who have remained underground. During the arrest of Thangkhiew, about whom there was “credible information” on links with the extortion racket, an “unfortunate incident” took place, said the CM.

“The police’s intention was to arrest him,” Sangma said.

“These are operations that take place under many circumstances. There is no scripted way of moving forward. There is a plan, there is an intention. But sometimes, on the ground situations could be different,” he said, adding how the police have been successful in such operations in the past.

Following the Independence Day violence, when some youth took over a police vehicle, which was later torched, and their rifles, Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui resigned. However, the CM is yet to accept this.

“Right now, the law and order situation is of paramount importance to us. We are examining the matter but haven’t accepted the resignation yet,” Sangma said.


Also read: Shillong returns to markets ‘hoping for calm’ after violence, curfew over ex-militant’s killing


No action before judicial panel report, CM says

Thangkhiew’s supporters have demanded the suspension of top cops involved in the alleged fake encounter, namely SP East Jaintia Hills and SP Shillong City.

However, the CM maintained that a decision will be taken once the report by the judicial enquiry committee — which has been set up to probe the incident and is headed by a retired judge and Meghalaya Human Rights Commission Chair Justice T. Vaiphel — is submitted.

“Before the report, on what basis do we identify who was responsible for the mishap? It would not be appropriate to take action without proper enquiry. We have given the committee a maximum of three months to come out with a report,” he said.

Underlining the way forward, Sangma stressed the importance of involving the society in decision-making.

“There also has to be confidence-building at the grassroots level through economic activities, social programmes and policy-making. I am very sure that in the long-term we will be able to bring back normalcy in Meghalaya,” he said.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma at his office in Shillong. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma at his office in Shillong. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

On border issues in Northeast

Border issues have been on the boil in the Northeast in the recent past. 

Last month, major clashes on the Assam and Mizoram border injured 50 people and killed seven, including Assam Police personnel. This week, a fresh firing incident was reported from the border as tensions flared again.

Highlighting how these issues have persisted since the seven sisters in the region came into being, Sangma expressed concern about those in the border areas who are suffering.

“Some states have tried to find the way forward by looking at historical facts and documents from each other and have always concluded that the status quo should remain because both have enough proof. We need a slightly broader mindset to find an amicable solution,” he said.

On issues between Meghalaya and Assam, which also have disputes over the border, Sangma said things are going very well. 

“We may not be able to resolve everything, but we will try to move forward and work very hard to find a solution acceptable to both sides,” he said.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma at his office in Shillong. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma at his office in Shillong. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

Also read: Assam, Meghalaya to set up regional committees to resolve inter-state border disputes


CM’s priorities ahead of polls

Meghalaya will be going to polls in 2023. Speaking about his focus in the next year-and-a-half, Sangma said few core sectors — infrastructure, farmers’ issues, women’s health, education and youth — will see a push.

“When we came to power, we ensured that we focused on the delivery mechanism… ensuring that the impact of the money that is spent is maximum,” he said. 

In January 2022, Meghalaya will complete 50 years of statehood. To commemorate this, Sangma said his government will inaugurate 50 infra projects in the state.

Currently, Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP) has 19 seats, along with six from United Democratic Party, four from People’s Democratic Front, two each from the Hill State People’s Democratic Party and the BJP, and an Independent in an assembly of 60. 

On possible alliances for the polls, he said the NPP has “always maintained that we always fight elections on the principles and ideologies that we believe in”. 

“Therefore, if there are other political parties that stand by our ideologies, then that’s a discussion,” he said. “We fight most elections on our own, be it here or in other states. Post election, we see the political situation and decide how to move forward. In all likelihood, we will be having our own way forward.”

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)


Also read: Modi govt wants all Northeast capitals connected by rail. Here’s how many are linked now


 

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