North East

Perceived Mollycoddling Of Kuki Militants By Central Forces Triggers Political Crisis In Strife-Torn Manipur

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jan 22, 2024, 11:46 AM | Updated 11:46 AM IST

Ethnic violence has singed large parts of Manipur
Ethnic violence has singed large parts of Manipur

Manipur, which has been wracked by fierce and continuing ethnic violence for more than eight months since May last year, is now facing a deep political crisis.

Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who lambasted central forces for their "failure" to act against Kuki militants, has hinted that the BJP-led coalition government that he heads may step down.

The state government has come under tremendous pressure over the past few weeks from powerful civil society groups and even Meitei radical groups for failing to act decisively against Kuki militants.

The majority Meitei community has been outraged over the continuing attacks by Kuki militants not only on Meitei civilians, but also Meiteis in the state police and India Reserve Battalion (IRB). 

The Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley has been witnessing angry protests ever since Kuki militants launched an offensive against IRB and Manipur Police commandos in Moreh along the Indo-Myanmar border, resulting in the deaths of a few police personnel (read this).

The attacks on state police camps and posts in Moreh, which also has a heavy presence of central forces, coincided with the killings of Meiteis living in the peripheral areas of the Imphal Valley by Kuki militants over the past two weeks.

Why Meteis are angry

Meiteis feel that the central forces, especially the Assam Rifles, are soft towards Kuki militants.

Ever since the start of the ethnic conflict in the state in May last year, Meiteis have been alleging that the central forces have sided with the Kukis.

There have been allegations of the Assam Rifles providing firearms to Kuki militants and even giving them cover during their attacks on Meiteis. 

Even the army has been accused by the Meiteis of looking the other way while Kuki militants have stockpiled weapons and launched.

Videos of Kuki militants armed with sophisticated weapons and launching attacks on Meitei settlements have gone viral on social media many times, causing outrage in Manipur.

That the state police has openly clashed with the Army and Assam Rifles when the latter attempted to prevent the police from pursuing Kuki militants or armed vigilantes has reinforced the impression among Meiteis that the central forces are biassed.

What has also fuelled Meitei anger is the harsh action against Meitei civilians, including women, by central forces during protests staged by them (the Meiteis).

Meiteis staging protests against the depredations of Kuki militants and the failure of security forces to crack down on the militants have been lathi charged and tear gassed by central forces.

In stark contrast, there has been no visible action against Kuki militants who have even mustered the courage to openly display their arsenal in the hill districts that they control. 

The Assam Rifles, which guards the India-Myanmar border, has been accused of failing to prevent infiltration of illegal immigrants belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group into Manipur from Myanmar. 

The Assam Rifles has also, in the perception of Meiteis, failed to prevent entry of Chin-Kuki militants from Myanmar as well as arms and drugs from the neighbouring country. 

The Kukis, on the other hand, accuse the state police of bias and have repeatedly demanded the withdrawal of the police, including Manipur police commandos, from the Kuki-inhabited hill districts. 

The Kukis want only the Assam Rifles (AR), Army and other central forces, to remain in the hill districts. This has also strengthened the perception among Meiteis that the central forces (including Army and AR) are soft on the Kukis. 

Pressure on state government

The Biren Singh government is widely perceived to have zero control over the central security forces. 

The appointment of a security advisor (Kuldeip Singh, ex-Director General of CRPF) with full control over the security apparatus in May last year has rendered the Chief Minister, who controls the home department, powerless. 

Chief Minister Biren Singh and his ministers have reportedly told Meitei civil society members who met him over the past few months that he has no control over the central forces who have been placed in charge of security of the hill districts. 

An elected state government being kept out of the security loop in the hill districts inhabited by Kukis, who want a separate state, has justifiably infuriated the Meiteis. 

That is why Meitei organisations have urged Biren Singh to resign. Powerful civil society organisations who have met Singh over the past few days have told him that if he cannot wrest back control of the security apparatus all over the state, the entire council of ministers should resign. 

Singh met BJP MLAs in groups over the past few days and they all agreed that it would be better for the entire ministry to resign. The other partners in the ruling alliance--the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have also concurred. 

Meitei MLAs belonging to other parties--there are 40 Meitei MLAs in the 60-member Assembly--have sunk their political differences and backed the Biren Singh government.

Buoyed by their support, and frustrated over his lack of control over security forces in his own state, Singh lashed out against the central forces Sunday (January 21). 

The Chief Minister said that the central forces have been deployed in Manipur not to act as mute spectators in the ongoing conflict, but to protect the lives and properties of innocent civilians. 

He said that if the central forces fail in their task, they should leave the state. 

What can happen now

The Chief Minister told legislators of the ruling coalition Sunday that he has sought an appointment with Prime Minister Modi. 

He said that as soon as the appointment is fixed, all MLAs of the ruling coalition can go to Delhi. 

According to at least two senior ministers, the possibility of all ministers, including the Chief Minister, resigning en masse is very strong. 

“There is no point in the government continuing if it cannot govern large parts of the state. We feel this is strengthening the demand for a separate Kuki state. To all Meiteis, the territorial integrity of Manipur is sacrosanct and no sacrifice is too great to preserve this integrity,” the Minister told Swarajya

It is learnt that the possibility of the entire council of ministers resigning has set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. 

Top BJP leaders have urged Biren Singh and senior ministers to have patience and wait till the events in Ayodhya are over. Biren Singh and other ministers have been assured that a solution would be found. 

But the Chief Minister and all ministers are under tremendous pressure to resign. The powerful civil society groups have told Biren Singh that he has to act within a couple of days. 

If Singh and his ministers succumb to pressure and step down, Manipur will plunge into a political crisis. And that will result in the state sliding towards anarchy. 

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