In a midnight crackdown at the Manipur University campus in Imphal on Thursday night, Manipur police commandos apprehended around 90 students and six staff members, including five professors. According to eyewitnesses, security forces poured into the five student hostels in the campus just after midnight, knocking on doors, waking up sleeping students.

In the melee, said a resident, students assembled outside the hostels where the police allegedly manhandled them. “The police fired tear gas, it went on all night” said an eyewitness. “It was like a war zone.”

As of Friday night, the university has been sealed off, and movement to and from the campus is restricted. Mobile internet services have been suspended in the state. “There are around 10 police commando vehicles in front of each hostel,” said a resident.

A complaint

The state police department refused to comment, but Manipur Chief Secretary J Suresh Babu insisted that the police acted on the basis of a complaint lodged by the university’s pro vice chancellor, Y Yugindro Singh. In his complaint, seen by, the pro vice chancellor had stated that he and the university’s registrar-in-charge, M Shyamkesho Singh, were “forcibly kidnapped” and made to sign a “printed paper” in the university earlier on Thursday. The complaint lists 23 people: 17 students and six staff members.

The printed statements, which has seen, are an apology letter of sorts for the “unpardonable act” of “sudden and unwarranted entry into the MU [Manipur University] campus”.

“When a vice chancellor of a central university files an FIR, we have to act,” said Babu. He played down the scale of the arrests, saying “most people will be released”. “The police had only gone to arrest the ones named in the FIR,” he said. “But the students started pelting stones.” Only the people mentioned by Y Yugindro Singh in his complaint would be arrested for forcible detention and intimidation, said the chief secretary.

Appointments and suspensions

Manipur University has been the site of intense protests over the last few months. The university was shut between May 31 and August 23, as the Manipur University Students’ Union, backed by the Manipur University Teachers’ Association, agitated for the removal of Vice Chancellor Adya Pandey, whom they accused of “administrative ineptitude” and “saffronisation”.

In the wake of the protests, Pandey was sent on leave for a month on August 2. On August 16, a memorandum of agreement was signed between the students’ union, the teachers’ association, the staff association and the representatives of the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development and the state government. According to the agreement, Pandey was supposed to remain on leave till an inquiry against him is completed.

But, earlier this month, Pandey announced that he would “resume” his duties, following which he even suspended the university students’ and teachers’ unions for “subversive activities”. On September 17, however, the Union ministry again suspended Pandey till the completion of the inquiry against him. This came after the state government told the Centre that the agitation against Pandey has led to serious law and order problems and an administrative crisis in the university.

Days before his suspension, Pandey appointed Y Yugindro Singh as the university’s pro vice chancellor on September 10, and reinstated M Shyamkesho Singh as the registrar-in-charge. M Shyamkesho Singh had been removed by W Vishwanath Singh, who took charge of the university for the month of August, when Pandey was asked to go on leave.

The students’ union and the teachers’ association had objected to Y Yugindro Singh and M Shyamkesho Singh’s appointments, claiming that they amounted to violation of the memorandum of understanding that they signed with the government to end their agitation. Subsequently, W Vishwanath Singh had suspended both of them.

However, a human resource development ministry order dated September 19, signed by an under secretary, upholds the appointments made by Pandey.

‘Government trying to save Pandey’

Y Yugindro Singh said that he had gone to the university on September 20 on the basis of that order. “In the morning, a high-ranking official of MHRD [ministry of human resource development] asked me to go take charge as pro-vice chancellor and send a compliance report,” he said. “So, I went along with some teachers and the registrar-in-charge”. After seeing the overall condition of the university’s administrative block, he added that they “photographed the locked and sealed rooms”.

After that, he claimed that he and the registrar were held hostage in a room by leaders of the students’ union and representatives of the teachers’ association. “They pushed us around, they forced us to sign printed statements,” he said. “I never felt so insulted in my life.”

Amar Yumnam of the teachers’ association said Y Yugindro Singh and M Shyamkesho Singh were “not allowed entry into the office” because “they are trying to sabotage the inquiry against Pandey”. Both of them, Yumnam said, were acting on the behest of the suspended vice chancellor and wanted to disrupt the normal functioning of the university.

Yumnam also accused the government – both at the Centre and the state – of trying to “save Pandey”. “They have arrested almost all of the students’ union,” said Yumnam.

Babu defended the police’s action. “[If] they have a problem, they can do a silent protest, but they cannot kidnap someone and force them to sign something,” he said. “Also the government has conceded to most of their demands so far, the VC [vice chancellor] has been suspended, they cannot decide who will be his substitute also now.”