Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh staged an on Friday (30 June) to retain his post in defiance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central leadership.
He was reportedly asked to step down by Home Minister Amit Shah Thursday (29 June) evening.
Shah, it is learnt, gave Singh two options: resign voluntarily or the Union government will intervene.
Singh is said to have assured Shah that he will abide by the wishes of his party’s central leadership and submit his resignation to Governor Anusuiya Uikey on Friday.
Biren Singh started his political games on Friday morning.
About 20 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) and ministers who are close to him congregated at his residence and started urging him not to resign.
The Chief Minister also got some of his trusted Meitei civil society organisations to muster a crowd of a couple of hundred women (all Meiteis) who ringed his residence at the high-security Babupara in the heart of Imphal and vowed not to let him resign.
Meanwhile, Singh’s meeting with the Governor was postponed thrice even as the crowd built up outside his residence. Simultaneously, people (Meiteis) started staging demonstrations in many parts of Imphal Valley urging Singh not to resign.
This purported ‘show of solidarity’ was said to have been staged by MLAs and ministers close to Biren Singh. The crowds also threatened to lay siege to the Raj Bhavan if the Governor accepted Biren Singh’s resignation.
Ultimately, at around 2.20 pm, Singh staged another show of moving out of his residence along with his loyalist Ministers and MLAs to go to the Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation.
But the huge crowd of women gathered outside his residence prevented his convoy from moving out. After waiting inside his SUV for a few minutes, Biren Singh returned to his quarters from the main gate.
A couple of ministers who re-emerged to address the crowd were met by "We want Biren” slogans. Public Health Engineering Minister Leishangthem Susindro Meitei then read out the Chief Minister’s resignation letter over a loudhailer.
He (the Minister) then handed over the letter to a lady in the crowd who tore it to pieces. Susindro Meitei took the note back and declared he would give it (the torn and crumpled letter) to the Chief Minister and convey the sentiments of the crowd to Singh (watch ).
Drama over, the crowd dispersed. A minute past 4 pm, Biren Singh tweeted that he will not step down.
He later said he did not resign out of respect for the sentiments of the masses.
“People didn’t want me to resign. I respected their sentiments,” he said blithely.
By staging this elaborate drama, Biren Singh strengthened his position as a hero to the Meitei community and made things difficult for the BJP central leadership.
It will now be very difficult, if not impossible, to replace Singh or impose President’s Rule on the state.
If Singh is now forced to resign, he will become a martyr in the eyes of the Meiteis, who will quickly turn against the BJP and the Union government.
That, in turn, will be taken advantage of by Meitei terror outfits like the PLA, KYKL, and KCP (see ), who have been on the back foot in recent years and have lost a lot of public support.
There are genuine apprehensions that if the Union government replaces Singh or imposes President’s Rule, the situation in the state will take a turn for the worse.
“The entire Meitei community will turn against the Union government and construe such a step (replacing Biren Singh or imposition of President’s Rule) as an authoritarian measure. And it will reignite the latent animosity among Meiteis against the Indian state.
"That can easily translate once again into support for the terror outfits. Manipur will then slip back to its earlier status of a severely insurgency-affected state,” warned a retired senior army officer, a Meitei, who is settled in Imphal.
Singh has emerged as a hero to the Meiteis precisely because of his many acts of omission after violence gripped the state on 3 May.
The Chief Minister stands accused of presiding over a police force that is biased against the Kukis while overtly favouring the Meiteis.
Manipur Police, under Biren Singh (who also holds the Home portfolio), is accused of inaction when Meitei mobs targeted Kukis and their properties in Imphal Valley.
The police remained mute bystanders to attacks on and killings of Kukis by Meitei mobs and the destruction of properties belonging to the Kukis.
The police also did nothing to stop Meitei mobs from looting police armouries and decamping with nearly 4,000 INSAS, AK-47, and M16 rifles, and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and sophisticated explosive devices.
In fact, according to some reports, the police opened the gates of the armouries to allow the loot of weapons and ammunition.
Biren Singh ought to have taken strong and exemplary action against the police officers and men who could not thwart the looting of the armouries.
The Chief Minister also failed to order the police to launch all-out operations to recover the looted arms and ammunition. He only limited himself to issuing meek appeals to the criminals to return the arms.
Obviously, that appeal was hardly heeded by the Meiteis who looted the police armouries.
Singh also did not act against Meitei radical and supremacist groups like the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, who carried out attacks on Kuki villages.
The Chief Minister is accused of sitting on intelligence reports suggesting that Meitei militias have developed links with Meitei terror outfits and that a good number of arms looted from police armouries have been handed over to the Meiti terror outfits (read ).
Singh, through his provocative statements against Kukis, also endeared himself to large sections of the Meitei community that have turned against the Kukis.
In fact, say many in Manipur, Singh’s alleged covert patronage of Meitei militias has further radicalised large sections of Meiteis.
All this has made Biren Singh a hero to Meiteis. He is looked up to by the Meiteis as the only politician who can resist and thwart the Kukis’ demand for a separate state carved out of Manipur.
Manipur’s territorial integrity is close to the heart for all Meiteis, and even a hint of a compromise with or threat to that integrity inflames passions in the community.
Singh, by resisting the pressure exerted upon him by the Union government to resign and by refusing to bow down to diktats from New Delhi, has become a bigger hero to the Meiteis.
If any move is made to replace him or dismiss his government through the imposition of President’s Rule, it will be construed by Meiteis as a punitive measure by New Delhi against a man who stood up for the Meiteis and for the territorial integrity of Manipur.
It will be construed as an act to appease the Kukis. And that will further inflame passions in Imphal Valley, leading to more trouble in the state.
There will be the real danger of the hydra-headed monster of insurgency rearing its head once again in Manipur because of renewed support for the terror outfits by angry Meiteis.
What Can Be Done Now
Given this state of affairs, the Union government’s options are limited. It cannot risk the situation in the state turning more grave than what it is now by sacking Biren Singh.
At the same time, the Union government cannot allow Manipur Police to continue playing a biased role and the Meitei militias to continue with their attacks on Kuki villages.
The Union government also has to take strong action to recover the looted arms. It simply cannot allow Meitei miscreants and militias to hold on to the arms they have looted from the police.
There is also the urgent need to launch intensive operations against the Meitei terror groups that have started becoming active once again. The need to nip the budding insurgency in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley is immediate and cannot be delayed.
But as long as Singh retains control of the state police, all this will not be possible.
The state police will continue to sabotage the efforts of the Army, Assam Rifles, and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) to recover looted arms, disarm the Metei militias (the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun) and render them toothless, and also eliminate members of the Meitei terror groups.
The Union government ought to take away control of the entire law and order machinery from Biren Singh’s hands.
Through covert means, New Delhi needs to empower the new police chief, Rajiv Singh, to wield overall authority over the force without any interference from the Chief Minister, who holds the Home portfolio.
Singh wields a lot of control over the police through his trusted officers, who follow his diktats rather than those of the DGP (Director General of Police) and other senior officers.
These officers (who are loyal to Singh) need to be identified and removed from their posts. They have to be shunted off to insignificant posts where they do not wield any authority over the state police force.
The new DGP, Rajiv Singh, who was specially appointed to the post by the Union Home Ministry, has to be told to do some urgent clean-up of a force widely perceived to be biased (towards Meiteis), corrupt, and undisciplined.
Rajiv Singh, a Tripura-cadre Indian Police Service (IPS) officer who was serving as an Inspector General (IG) in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), was given an inter-cadre transfer and made the DGP of Manipur, superseding many other officers.
A former DG of the Border Security Force (BSF), Kuldeip Singh, was made the security adviser to the Chief Minister soon after trouble broke out in Manipur.
Kuldeip Singh is known to enjoy Amit Shah’s confidence. He has to be asked to assert himself and prevent the Chief Minister from wielding influence over the police force.
Nothing much, however, can be expected from the middle and lower ranks of the force at the police-station level. These men in khaki are accused of being completely biased in favour of Meiteis and it will be impossible to reform them right away.
Hence, the mid-level and lower-ranked cops need to be kept out of operations to recover looted arms and disarm the Meitei militias.
The Army and Assam Rifles, who have good knowledge of the local terrain and good ‘humint’ (human intelligence) and ‘sigint’ (signals intelligence through electronic surveillance) capabilities, need to be given a free hand to recover looted arms and disarm the militias.
Right now, the Army and Assam Rifles need to take the police into confidence while planning such operations and have to take the assistance of the police while conducting raids.
But the Manipur police often leak information about such operations to the militias and those who possess the looted arms and, thus, sabotage the operations.
The police should, hence, be kept away from such operations. The Army and Assam Rifles need to be given a free hand to conduct intensive operations against Meitei terror groups that are reorganising themselves now.
Biren Singh needs to be rendered powerless now. The Union government has its trusted officers in Manipur to make Singh toothless.
But this entire exercise — of sidelining Biren Singh — should be carried out covertly and subtly without making a noise. The exercise to clean the Augean stables of Manipur Police should also be carried out silently, without attracting public attention.
Disarming the Meitei militias, recovering looted arms, and snuffing out the terror groups are prerequisites for Manipur’s return to peace. As long as Biren Singh controls the state law and order machinery, those objectives cannot be achieved.
Hence, it is important to prise away the state law and order machinery from Biren Singh’s vice-like grip.
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