Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Sunday said that he and the people of the poll-bound state wanted the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, reported PTI. In an interview to the news agency, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, however, added that national security was still the top priority.

“I believe AFSPA can be lifted gradually with the consent of the central government,” Singh said. “But, we must remember there is no political stability in Myanmar and we share the border with that nation.”

Over the last couple of months, civil societies and tribal bodies in northeastern states have started pushing afresh their long-standing demanding of repealing AFSPA, which gives Army personnel sweeping powers to search, arrest, and to open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”.

The demand resurfaced after 14 civilians were killed by members of security forces in the Nagaland’s Mon district in December. However, imposition of the law has been extended till June in Nagaland and till December in Manipur.

On Sunday, Singh said that “as a Manipuri and as chief minister of Manipur”, he wanted that the law be repealed from the state.

“But at the same time, it is not possible to do so without assessing the ground situation,” Singh added, pointing out the political instability in Myanmar.

Since a military coup in the neighbouring country in February last year, several Myanmarese citizens have sought refuge in Mizoram and Manipur. Last month, five militants of the banned Manipuri insurgent group People’s Liberation Army were also found in Myanmar, who were later handed over to the Manipur government.

In his interview to PTI, Singh stressed on the importance of national security and claimed that insurgency in Manipur had come down by 90% since he took over as the first BJP chief minister of the state in 2017.

In the last Assembly elections, the BJP had bagged just 21 seats in the 60-member state Assembly, while the Congress had won in 28 constituencies. However, the saffron party had managed to form the government with support from regional outfits National People’s Party and Naga People’s Front.

On Sunday, Singh confirmed that the BJP had pre-poll alliance going into the state elections, but the party was open to allies after the results are announced, PTI reported.

The 60 seats of Manipur will go to polls in two phases on February 27 and March 3. The results will be announced on March 10.

Withdrawal of AFSPA in BJP ally’s manifesto

In its election manifesto released on Sunday, the National People’s Party has said that it would work towards repealing AFSPA from Manipur, reported The Indian Express. The party’s chief Conrad Sangma, Manipur Deputy Chief Minister Y Joykumar Singh and other leaders of the National People’s Party released the manifesto virtually on Sunday.

The party is currently part of the BJP-led government in Manipur, but has not entered into an alliance with it for the upcoming polls.

Joykumar Singh said that the party will field candidates in at least 40 constituencies and was confident about winning around 20 of them.

“As of now, the NPP has no plan to make a post-poll alliance with other parties,” the deputy chief minister said. “However, the final decision will be taken only after the announcement of the election result.”

Singh added that he believed no party will be able to get a clear majority in the elections, The Indian Express reported.