Manipur king fasts against palace eviction move

Sana Konung palace in Imphal
Image caption Manipur's royal family faces eviction from the Sana Konung palace

The titular king of India's north-eastern state of Manipur is on hunger strike, aides say, in protest against the state government's decision to evict him from his ancestral palace.

Aides to Leishemba Sanajaoba say the decision was taken without his consent.

They say it is in violation of a 2006 agreement between the once powerful royal family and the state government.

The authorities say they want to take over the palace and surrounding land to develop it as a heritage site.

King Sanajaoba began his fast on Monday, two days after the Manipur cabinet decided to take over the Sana Konung palace in the state capital, Imphal.

"The king feels betrayed because the government is violating a 2006 memorandum between the two that clearly said no decision would be taken about the palace without his consent," said his adviser Puyam Tomcha.

State officials say they want to renovate the palace and turn it into a tourist attraction.

"The government will arrange for alternative accommodation for King Sanajaoba," a spokesman said.

"We are taking over the palace to turn it around and preserve royal artefacts in it so that the future generations will know about the glorious past of Manipur."

Another big palace in Imphal - the Kangla palace - is being turned into a museum.

'Relive the olden times'

The government argues that much of the land around Sana Konung palace has lost its traditional character because it was sold by former King Okendra and used for the construction of high-rise buildings.

"This is why we have appealed to the residents to let the government take over the land around the palace so that we can relive the olden times," the official said.

Image caption King Sanajaoba feels let down, aides say

The Manipur royal family occupied the Kangla palace after the 1891 Anglo-Manipur War and built the Sana Konung for the royals to live in.

Later, it became a military headquarters, housing the paramilitary Assam Rifles after the state joined the Indian federation.

However, the royals, who now have little real power or influence, continue to live in Sana Konung.

In the neighbouring state of Tripura, the royal family has been living in a part of the Ujjyanta palace in the state capital, Agartala, ever since the government acquired most of the building to house the state legislative assembly.

Both Tripura and Manipur became parts of India on 15 October 1949.

But while Tripura's royals have been influential in state politics and are financially much better off, their counterparts in Manipur have struggled to make ends meet.

In recent years they have often been forced to sell land to meet their expenses.

While friends, family and attendants have joined King Sanajaoba's protest over the move, many others in Manipur say the government should have taken the royal family into its confidence before announcing the renovation project.

Manipur has been in the news for another highly publicised hunger strike. For 13 years, Irom Sharmila has refused to eat in protest at the special powers which she, like many Manipuris, feel have been grossly abused by Indian security forces during counter-insurgency operations in the state. She is force-fed through her nose.

Although King Sanajaoba's fast may not continue for that long, it has created ripples in the state where many feel his forefathers were forced to join India.

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