North East

Why Manipur Deserves A Direct Intervention From Modi Himself

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 09, 2024, 06:06 PM | Updated 06:06 PM IST

Vehicles set ablaze in Manipur.
Vehicles set ablaze in Manipur.
  • Setting things right in Manipur should be PM Modi’s topmost priority immediately after he is sworn in for the third time today (9 June). 
  • More than 14 months since ethnic violence broke out in Manipur, the blood-letting continues unabated in the restive state. 

    The last few days have seen Kuki militants killing and attacking Meiteis in Jiribam district, looting and torching Meitei houses and forcing a few hundred Meiteis to take shelter in relief camps. 

    The Union government’s, especially Prime Minister Modi’s, perceived inaction in resolving the issue has cost the BJP dear not only in Manipur, but also beyond it. 

    The Congress inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the BJP in the Meitei-dominated Inner Manipur seat and its ally — the Naga People’s Front (NPF) — in the Naga and Kuki dominated Outer Manipur seat.

    Poll statistics show that all communities in the state — the Meiteis, Nagas and Kuki-Chin groups — voted majorly for the Congress which, just two years ago, posted a dismal performance in the (2022) assembly elections by bagging just five of the state’s 60 assembly seats. 

    The Meiteis, including the Meitei Pangals (Muslims), form 65 per cent of the electorate while the Nagas form 20 per cent and the Kuki-Chin people form 13 per cent of the electorate. 

    The Union government’s mishandling of the situation in Manipur, and its failure to resolve the year-long conflict, has affected the image and standing of the BJP in the rest of the region and outside it as well. 

    The clashes between the Kukis and Meiteis since 3 May last year has claimed more than 220 lives and displaced tens of thousands of families. Violence between the two communities continues. 

    The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been handling the situation directly from New Delhi through the state security advisor — former CRPF Director General Kuldeip Singh who was appointed to the post immediately after largescale violence broke out in the state last year. 

    The MHA under Amit Shah virtually took over the security apparatus of the state. In late May last year, the state DGP, P Doungel, a Kuki, was removed and a Tripura cadre IPS officer, Rajiv Singh, appointed in his place. Rajiv Singh had never served in Manipur and knew little of the state, especially its ethnic dynamics. 

    A huge number of central armed police forces (CAPFs) were deployed in the state. Along with the army and Assam Rifles, they have been struggling to keep peace between the two communities, but with mixed results. 

    While almost all Meiteis left the Kuki-dominated swathes of the hill districts that ring the Imphal Valley and took shelter in dozens of squalid camps in the valley, the Kukis who were living in Imphal Valley also fled to the hills. 

    Kuki militants entered the fray and carried out a number of brutal killings of Meiteis who they abducted at will. This led to the rise of two Meitei radical groups — the Armabai Tenggol and the Meitei Leepun — which armed themselves with weapons looted from police armouries. 

    Meitei militant groups which had been dormant also received a fresh lease of life and started fresh recruitments and procuring arms. 

    To prevent clashes between the two communities, the security forces created buffer zones in the periphery of Imphal Valley. But sporadic killings continue to this day due to militants and militias from both the communities sneaking into each others’ villages and carrying out targeted killings. 

    The creation of these buffer zones was in itself a foolhardy idea and triggered fear that it would lead to eventual division of the state. 

    The two sides do not trust each other and the ethnic divide between the Meiteis and Kukis is deep and appears to be irreconcilable, at least in the immediate future. 

    And while the Meiteis have little faith in the central security forces, including the Assam Rifles, the Kuki-Chin people are implacably opposed to the deployment of the Manipur Police in their areas. 

    The Union government has also failed to acknowledge that some Kuki groups are playing a sinister game in Manipur. Unabated illegal immigration of Kuki-Chin people from Myanmar has led to an exponential increase in their population in the hill districts of Manipur over the last two to three decades. 

    The lakhs of illegal Kuki immigrants from Myanmar have cleared hundreds of acres of reserve forests and settled down there; they are also engaged in illegal cultivation of poppy in thousands of acres. The proceeds from poppy cultivation, and the resultant drug trafficking, are funding the Kuki terror groups which have gone on a recruitment and arms procurement spree. 

    The ranks of the Kuki terror groups in Manipur have been bolstered by Kuki militants from Myanmar who have come in with sophisticated weapons. 

    The Meiteis accuse the central security forces, especially the Assam Rifles, of siding with the Kuki-Chin people and even arming and training Kuki militants. 

    Recently, Naga groups have also accused the army and Assam Rifles of arming and training Kuki militants in order to use them in a proxy war with Naga and Meitei militant groups. 

    Their allegations are perceived to be true. Many videos of Assam Rifles soldiers engaged in apparent bonhomie with Kuki militants, of Assam Rifles looking the other way while Kuki militants fire at Meitei villages and of Assam Rifles and central security forces doing nothing to stop Kukis from attacking Meiteis, have made the rounds over the past one year. 

    The Kuki-Chin people, on the other hand, accuse the Manipur Police of being partisan and participating in attacks on Kukis by Meiteis. 

    Chief Minister N Biren Singh has been rendered powerless and has no control over the state security apparatus. Central security forces and even top police officers are learnt to be taking orders directly from the MHA. Security advisor Kuldiep Singh briefs the Home Secretary and top officers of the MHA, and also interacts directly with Amit Shah. 

    But this arrangement has, clearly, not worked. If anything, Manipur has sunk into a quagmire of conflict and administrative paralysis with all development work grinding to a complete halt and a sense of fear and foreboding enveloping the state. 

    Prices of all commodities have shot up, medicines are in short supply, the healthcare infrastructure is in shambles, government schools and colleges are barely functioning and even routine administrative work has been in a state of suspension over the last 14 months. 

    Tens of thousands of people, especially the young men and women, have left the state for higher studies and in search of employment. Many businesses and small enterprises have shut down and unemployment has risen sharply. Woes of the people have increased manifold and there seems to be no solution in sight. 

    All sides, naturally, blame the Union government for failing to take steps to resolve the situation and restore peace and normalcy in the state. The BJP government at the Centre is widely perceived to be disinterested in Manipur. This has alienated people cutting across the ethnic divide. 

    To make matters worse, Prime Minister Modi has remained silent on Manipur, except on one occasion when he condemned the disrobing and rape of two Kuki women after videos of the heinous act went viral. 

    Modi’s silence on Manipur is deeply resented by the people of the state. More so since he is known to speak on all subjects concerning the nation and even the world. That he found no time to talk about Manipur over the past one year is seen as his, and the BJP’s, complete disinterest. 

    This inaction has to end immediately. The violence has to be halted and all forces, including the Manipur Police, have to be given a free hand to crack down hard on all militant and radical groups. 

    The MHA has been allowed to handle the situation for these past 14 months, and has created an intractable mess. It is high time the Prime Minister takes matters in his own hands and initiates immediate corrective action.

    The law and order machinery in Manipur cannot be remote-controlled from New Delhi’s North Block. Manipur has an elected government and elected representatives of the state should be handling affairs there, not some babus sitting in New Delhi. 

    It is high time the control over the law and order machinery in the state is handed back to the Chief Minister, and he is made responsible for restoring order in the state and putting a stop to violence. 

    There’s no denying that if the government acts decisively and in a fair and transparent manner, it can disarm and neutralise terror and radical groups, and bring the violence to an end. Only after the ongoing cycle of violence ends and militancy is curbed can the process of reconciliation begin. 

    It is also important for the Union government to start the process of updating the National Register of Citizens in Manipur so that the Kuki-Chin illegal immigrants are detected, their biometric data recorded and they are ultimately deported back to Myanmar. That will set right the recent demographic imbalance in Manipur’s hill districts, something that the Meiteis as well as the Nagas have been demanding. 

    The drift in Manipur has continued for far too long and the continuing violence there, as well as deepening ethnic divide, is a blot on India. Setting things right in Manipur should be Prime Minister Modi’s topmost priority immediately after he is sworn in for the third time on Sunday (9 June). 

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