It’s been 52 days since violence gripped Manipur (on 3 May), and blood continues to spill in the trouble-torn state.
Worse still, there is little chance of peace dawning on Manipur in the immediate future. The Northeastern state seems destined to suffer for now.
The reasons for that are many, and quite complex. The primary among them are:
1. The Meitei-Kuki Divide Has Become Too Deep
The endless rounds of violence by militants, militias and miscreants belonging to both the communities has caused a deep, and perhaps irrevocable, divide between the two communities.
The attacks, brutal killings, destruction of properties and religious places and other forms of violence have generated intense animosity between Meiteis and Kukis.
Reconciliation seems to be a distant and dim possibility. Too much blood has been spilled, too much pain has been inflicted by the two communities on each other and too many hate speeches made against each other for reconciliation to happen anytime soon.
2. All Sections Of Meiteis And Kukis Are Deeply Polarised
The polarisation between Meiteis and Kukis has not only become very deep-rooted, but also cuts across all sections of the two communities.
Even civil society, intellectuals, academics and prominent personas from the two communities have been bitten by the ‘hate bug’.
Usually, in ethnic or communal conflicts, these sections of society — civil society, academic and intellectuals — play a major role in facilitating a reconciliation.
In fact, these sections of society play a crucial role in ushering in peace and harmony through a process of reconciliation.
But with all sections of Meitei and Kuki societies deeply polarised against each other, there are few, if any, who can intervene and bring the warring sides together.
Unfortunately, the few sane voices in the two communities have been suppressed and silenced, or forced to the sidelines and irrelevance.
3. Easy Availability Of Arms
While the Kuki militants possess arms, including Chinese-made rifles and ammunition, a lot of it smuggled in from Chin rebel groups in Myanmar — a number of Kukis also have licensed and unlicensed (country-made) arms.
Meitei militias now have sophisticated arms that have been looted by them from state police armouries.
According to Army and Assam Rifles sources, nearly 4,000 rifles (INSAS, AK-47s and M16; the AK and M16 rifles being the ones confiscated from or surrendered by various militant groups and kept at police armouries), along with lakhs of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of explosive devices, were looted from police armouries.
These weapons and explosives are being widely used by Meitei militias against Kukis. Efforts by security forces to seize their weapons have not yielded any appreciable results.
It is widely alleged that the police simply opened the doors of the armouries to Meitei mobs. It is significant that not a single policeman or officer has faced any disciplinary action for allowing this unprecedented looting of weapons.
4. Lack Of Faith In Police And State Machinery
The Manipur Police is perceived to be an indisciplined and biased (in favour of Meiteis and against Kukis) force. The Kukis have no faith in the police, and also the state administration.
The Kukis harbour a sense of hurt over the sidelining of top Kuki police officers, including the then police chief P Doungel (a Kuki) who was shunted out of the police force.
Soon after violence erupted in the state, the union government appointed a former chief of the CRPF, Kuldiep Singh, as security advisor to the Manipur government. The entire police force was virtually placed under the command of Singh.
Also, additional director general of police (intelligence) Ashutosh Kumar Sinha was made the overall operational commander of the force bypassing the DGP, P Doungel.
Earlier this month, a Tripura-cadre IPS officer who was serving as IG of Border Security Force (BSF), Rajiv Singh, was made the Manipur DGP in place of Doungel who was shunted off to an irrelevant post of officer on special duty (OSD) to the home department.
These changes left the top echelons of the Manipur Police demoralised. And the import of an IPS officer from outside the state as the DGP after the state security apparatus was placed in the hands of another retired IPS officer (Kuldiep Singh) bred resentment not only among the top brass of Manipur police, but also in all other ranks.
The Meiteis also have lost faith in the state administration headed by Chief Minister N Biren Singh because of what they say is the failure of the state machinery to protect them from attacks by Kukis.
Moreover, the Meiteis accuse the security forces, especially the Assam Rifles, of siding with the Kukis. This accusation, though baseless and unfortunate, has compounded the issue and adversely affected the effective function of the security forces.
5. Federal Security Forces Not Being Able To Operate Freely
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that accorded a protective shield to the armed forces to effectively engage in counter-insurgency operations had been lifted from Imphal Valley a year ago.
Without this protective shield, the Army and the Assam Rifles have not been able to go all out against Meitei militias who have been carrying out a series of attacks on Kukis in the peripheral areas of Imphal Valley.
Without the protective shield of AFSPA, the Army has been forced to tread with caution and is operating with virtually one hand tied behind its back.
Also, the Army, Assam Rifles and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) have been rendered ineffective since they cannot carry out operations to nab miscreants, criminals and militias in Imphal Valley independently and have to act in ‘close co-operation’ with the Manipur Police.
The Manipur Police, as mentioned above, is widely accused of favouring Meiteis and, thus, will not want all Meitei miscreants and militias to be disarmed and neutralised.
6. Powerful Vested Interests Do Not Want Peace And Reconciliation
Powerful vested interests among the Kukis, namely Kuki drug lords and an influential section of politicians and civil society, do not want peace to return and a reconciliation with Meiteis.
These vested interests want to keep the pot boiling so that the Meitei-Kuki divide is complete and goes beyond the point of no return. That will strengthen the narrative that Kukis cannot live alongside Meiteis under a common administrative set-up and, thus, a separate state for Kukis is an absolute necessity.
The Kuki drug lords, one section of Kuki politicians and influential groups as well as sections of Kuki civil society have deep vested interests in the creation of a Kuki state. This demand (for a separate Kuki state) is also being encouraged by powerful organisations and persons in neighbouring Mizoram.
Some influential Meitei organisations also do not want peace to return before the ‘task’ of ‘punishing’ the Kukis and driving them away from the entire Imphal Valley (including its peripheries) as well as many areas in the surrounding hills is complete.
These Meitei organisations want to ‘free’ many Kuki-inhabited areas of the hills surrounding Imphal Valley of Kukis.
It is with this objective in mind that armed Meitei miscreants and militias — the Arambai Tenggol and the Meitei Leepun — are carrying out attacks on Kukis.
Kuki vigilante groups as well as members of Kuki militant groups are not only trying to hold off the Meitei onslaught, but also carrying out counter-attacks on Meitei villages.
This is exacerbating the ethnic conflict.
7. Opposition Parties Fishing In Troubled Waters
A couple of Opposition parties are fishing in troubled waters. These parties also want to keep the pot boiling in order to discredit the BJP governments in the state and at the centre.
A few senior leaders are reportedly instigating both the Kukis and Meiteis to keep up the offensive against each other.
The attacks by Meitei groups on properties belonging to BJP MLAs and Ministers, including the house of Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, are said to have been the result of provocations by some Opposition leaders.
It is because of all these complex reasons that peace continues to elude Manipur. Resolving these issues will be a difficult and time-taking task, and will require statesmanship, farsightedness and equanimity.
And, also, all sides rising above their narrow self-interests.
But that’s a tall order in Manipur right now.
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