North East

Amit Shah’s Meeting On Manipur Exposes All That’s Wrong With New Delhi’s Handling Of The Troubled State

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 18, 2024, 06:34 PM | Updated Jun 19, 2024, 09:49 AM IST

Union Home Minister Amit Shah
Union Home Minister Amit Shah
  • Union Home Minister's meeting on Manipur exposes the government’s failures in addressing the state's issues, revealing deep flaws in its handling.
  • Union Home Minister Amit Shah chaired a meeting on Monday afternoon to review the security situation in Manipur. 

    The meeting, held at Raisina Hill’s North Block (which houses the Ministry of Home Affairs), was attended by Army Chief General Manoj Pande, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Intelligence Bureau (IB) Director Tapan Kumar Deka, among others. 

    The glaring omission from this list was Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh. Or, for that matter, any Manipuri. 

    A meeting on Manipur in which no Manipuri — Meitei, Kuki, Naga or Pangal — was present, obviously because no Manipuri was invited, underlines the basic problem with the Union government’s approach to solving the raging ethnic conflict in the northeastern state. 

    The MHA has, over the past one year since ethnic clashes erupted in the state on 3 May 2023, tried and failed to curb the violence that has claimed 225 lives so far and displaced over 50,000 people. 

    The primary reason for this is that the MHA has viewed the issue only as a law and order one, whereas it is anything but that. Monday’s meeting in New Delhi also, unfortunately, adopted the same failed approach. 

    Soon after Manipur was engulfed in ethnic turmoil last year, the then DGP, P Doungel (a Kuki) was unceremoniously removed and replaced by a Tripura cadre IPS officer, Rajiv Singh, who had no experience in Manipur. 

    Another retired IPS officer of the West Bengal cadre who retired as the DG of the CRPF, Kuldeip Singh, was pulled out of retirement and made the security advisor to the Manipur government. He, too, had no experience in Manipur and his only qualification for the job was that he was trusted by Home Minister Amit Shah. 

    Kuldeip Singh had caught Shah’s attention for  successfully leading the offensive against Maoists in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh while he was the DG of CRPF from March 2021 to September 2022. 

    But the ethnic issue in Manipur is vastly different from the Maoist issue that is being successfully resolved through a combination of intelligent anti-insurgency tactics and a development push in the Maoist-infested areas. 

    Manipur’s current troubles are not just a law and order issue, but a much deeper one with multiple players, some of them based outside India, involved in a sinister, high-stakes game. 

    That’s why Kuldeip Singh, who is in charge of the security apparatus in Manipur and frequently overrides the Chief Minister, has failed to end the violence. As has his protege — Rajiv Singh — who was brought in from Tripura at Kuldeip Singh’s behest. 

    A lasting solution to the Manipur issue can only happen with the deep involvement of all stakeholders — all the ethnic groups in the state — as well as the state’s elected representatives, all its political parties and civil society groups. 

    According to this handout by the Press Information Bureau (PIB), Home Minister Shah “directed (the security forces) to ensure that no further incident of violence takes place in Manipur”. Nothing could be more inane; were security forces awaiting such a directive from the Home Minister to bring an end to violence in the state? 

    Another directive by Shah (as per the PIB handout) was to “take strict action as per law against the perpetrators of violence”. “Does this mean that till now, the security forces were lax in acting against perpetrators of violence?” asked former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh. 

    The security forces deployed in Manipur — the Manipur police, Assam Rifles, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) and even the army — face a crisis of credibility among the warring Meiteis and Kukis. 

    While the Meiteis acutely distrust the Assam Rifles, CAPFs and the army and accuse them of siding with the Kukis, the Kukis harbour a strong dislike for the Manipur Police which they accuse of helping the Meiteis. 

    The distrust among the Kukis and Meiteis runs very deep and has only become more acute over the last 13 months. In fact, this ethnic schism is widening with each passing day. 

    The MHA has failed to get the Meiteis and Kukis to sit across the table to talk peace. Intermittent and half-hearted efforts made towards this end by senior IB officer A K Mishra have, expectedly, not yielded any results. 

    That’s because the country’s political leadership has not had the time, and perhaps even the inclination, to get the two warring ethnic groups to start talking to each other. Even Meitei and Kuki MLAs belonging to the BJP have sat across a table to start a dialogue. 

    “It is quite surprising that our central leadership never took the initiative to get prominent MLAs of both the communities to start a dialogue with each other. The Union government ought to have made serious efforts to get not only politicians, but also prominent NGOs and civil society organisations as well as prominent individuals of both the communities to  start talking to each other,” said a BJP leader who belongs to the Tangkhul Naga community that is concentrated in the Ukhrul district of Manipur. 

    A number of civil society leaders, academics, retired bureaucrats and politicians from both the Meitei and Kuki communities who spoke to Swarajya said that the Union government did little over the past 13 months to get all stakeholders on board and set the process of resolving the ethnic crisis to an end. 

    “It would not have been difficult for the Union government to get prominent people from the two communities to start talking to each other. The Nagas and Pangals (Meitei Muslims) should also have been roped in to facilitate this dialogue between the Kukis and Meiteis and broker peace between them. This should have been initiated at multiple levels involving all stake-holders and that would have led to rebuilding trust between the two communities. Had this exercise been pushed seriously by the Union government, ethnic violence would have ended by now,” a former IPS officer who belongs to the Tangkhul Naga community told Swarajya

    A senior BJP leader who is also a cabinet minister told Swarajya that Monday’s meeting, where the security situation in Manipur was discussed without the presence of the Chief Minister, “is nothing new”. 

    “The Chief Minister has been kept out of the security loop ever since the appointment of the security advisor. The Chief Minister does not have much say in security operations in the state, especially in the hill districts. The army, Assam Rifles and CAPFs follow instructions of the security advisor, and not the Chief Minister,” he revealed. 

    This has led to acute resentment among Meiteis. “Everyone knows that the Union government is not giving any importance to the Chief Minister, and this has become a major grouse among the people of the (Imphal) Valley,” the minister said. 

    A BJP MLA belonging to the Meitei community told Swarajya that “keeping people’s representatives out of the security loop has been counterproductive and has failed miserably”.

    “That is also why Meiteis voted against the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections,” he added.  

    “One would have expected the Union government to realise that its handling of the Manipur crisis has been a complete failure and has only deepened the ethnic divide. The security forces under the command of the security advisor and the state police under the command of the advisor’s protege have failed to end violence. Hence, the Union government ought to have tried a new approach by involving all stake-holders. Monday’s meeting has proved that the Union government will continue with its old approach,” said the former IPS officer. 

    Kuki community leaders also harbour similar feelings. A former IAS officer belonging to the Kuki community told Swarajya that there are many among the Kukis who desire an end to the bloodshed. 

    “I would have expected the Union government to seek out these voices which are prominent within the community and prevail on them to start a dialogue, maybe away from the public gaze, with the Meiteis. That has not happened, at least not in a serious manner. So far all such efforts have been perfunctory and half-hearted. And the continuing violence is making the chances of a reconciliation more and more difficult,” said the officer who retired as additional chief secretary. 

    Leaders of both the communities say that the first priority of the security forces should be to disarm all groups — militant outfits as well as community militia and resistance groups — simultaneously and without any bias.

    Also, the security grid needs to be strengthened and all security forces should demonstrate their impartiality while dealing with both the communities in an even-handed manner.

    The biggest task, however, is to get all sides to start talking immediately. All stakeholders, including elected representatives, have to be involved, and the Nagas and Pangals should be motivated to play the role of peace brokers. 

    Above all, people with little knowledge and understanding of the complex issues in Manipur should be kept at bay.

    Also read: Why Manipur Deserves A Direct Intervention From Modi Himself

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.