Manipur Faces Civil War-Like Situation; Decisive Action Needed

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 15, 2023, 05:51 PM | Updated 05:50 PM IST

Security forces in a combing operation in Manipur
Security forces in a combing operation in Manipur
  • The first and foremost step right now is to restore the rule of the law in Manipur.
  • Violence continues unabated in Manipur and the latest killings of nine people at a village in the periphery of Imphal Valley proves decisively that the state has descended into civil war. 

    The prevailing situation in Manipur fits the copybook definition of a civil war.
    Two major ethnic communities in the state--Kukis and Meiteis--are at war with each other. Heavily armed groups from both the communities are attacking each other, and the divide between the two seem to be complete and irreversible. 

    All Kuki residents of Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley, including government employees posted there, have fled to the Kuki-majority areas in the peripheries of Imphal Valley and the surrounding hills since the outbreak of hostilities on 3 May. 

    Similarly, all Meiteis have also been forced to leave Kuki-dominated areas and seek refuge in Imphal Valley. 

    Thousands of Kuki and Meitei government employees have sought transfers to their own areas. All categories of employees, including even senior officers, posted in areas they consider ‘hostile’ (like Meiteis serving in the Kuki-dominated hill districts or Kukis serving in Imphal Valley) have gone on mass leaves pending the acceptance of their requests for transfers.

    Kuki employees, even top officers, don’t feel safe in Imphal Valley and Meitei employees vow never to return to their postings in the Kuki-dominated hill areas. The transfer of population--Kukis from Meitei-dominated areas and vice versa--is complete.  

    Kukis have zero faith in the state police, which is widely perceived to be biassed in favour of the Meiteis. The constabulary and the lower and middle ranks of the force are dominated by Meiteis.

    The Manipur police is, anyway, looked down upon as corrupt and undisciplined by a majority of the civil populace of the state.

    What will appear shocking is that even top Kuki police officers, including the then state DGP, sought protection from CAPFs because they had no faith in their own men in uniform who were tasked with protecting them when violence broke out in the state in early May. 

    When Meitei mobs started attacking Kukis in Imphal Valley, senior Kuki police and civil administration officers sought refuge in Army, Assam Rifles and CAPF camps because they did not feel secure in their official quarters guarded by Manipur Police ‘commandos’. 

    Official and private residences of Kuki legislators and ministers were looted and set afire in state capital Imphal. 

    The latest such incident was the torching of the official residence of Manipur’s industries & commerce minister, Nemcha Kipgen, in Imphal Wednesday (June 14). Kipgen, a Kuki, is the only lady in the state cabinet and a senior BJP leader. 

    Kipgen and her family were, of course, not at the residence. They had long fled to the Kuki-majority areas in the hills where they had found safety in numbers.   

    The Army, Assam Rifles and the central armed police forces (CAPFs)--the CRPF and BSF--deployed in Manipur are looked up to as the saviours by the Kukis. 

    But Meitei civil society organisations and radical groups have been demanding that the Army and Assam Rifles be sent back to their barracks. Meitei women have often stopped Army and Assam Rifles troops from venturing out of their camps or going to areas where Meitei groups were attacking Kukis. 

    Kuki militants, who are armed with Chinese-made sophisticated weapons--have been targeting Meiteis living in areas with a mixed population in the outskirts of Imphal Valley. 

    Meitei radical groups--the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun--are also well-armed, mostly with weapons looted from police armouries. 

    And they enjoy widespread support within the Meitei community. This can be gauged from the fact that even prominent Meitei civil society organisations, besides prominent Meitei intellectuals, litterateurs, academics and others, have opposed moves to disarm the two radical outfits. 

    The attacks carried out by the two Meitei radical groups, and other smaller Meitei vigilante groups, on Kukis are lauded by Meiteis in Imphal Valley. Meitei civil society is strongly opposed to operations by the Army, Assam Rifles and CAPFs against Meitei radical and vigilante outfits. 

    The Kukis have also lost faith in state chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh, a Meitei, who they perceive as anti-Kuki. 

    Singh’s recent actions--ordering eviction of Kuki villagers from recently-declared reserve forests, branding many Kukis as illegal immigrants from Myanmar and unilaterally withdrawing from a suspension of operations (SOO) agreement with Kuki militant groups--is seen by Kukis as evidence of Singh’s animosity towards their community. 

    Singh’s advocacy of an exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is viewed by the Kukis as a ploy to divest them of their Indian citizenship. 

    Kukis want dismissal of the Biren Singh government and imposition of President’s Rule in the state. A small group of level-headed Meiteis who want peace to return to their state also endorse this demand. 

    The security forces (Army, Assam Rifles, CAPFs and Manipur Police) have not been able to prevent violence because of two factors: they have met with limited success in disarming Kuki militants and Meitei radical and vigilante groups and also because these armed groups enjoy the confidence and support of their respective communities which harbour and shelter them. 

    This points to the deep and irreversible divide between the two communities. The Kukis’ demand for a separate state has only accentuated this divide. 

    But Meiteis are vehemently opposed to division of their state and even talk of bifurcation of Manipur evokes violent reactions from Meiteis. 

    The killing of nine people--all Meiteis--in Aigejang village that lies on the border between Imphal East and Kangpokpi districts early Wednesday serves as a poignant illustration of the civil war that has gripped Manipur. 

    Wednesday’s Killings Are A Pointer To The Ongoing Civil War

    Armed Meitei vigilantes had started attacking Khamenlok and at least eight other surrounding villages, including Aigejang, since Monday evening. All these villages are inhabited by Kukis. 

    According to some reports, nearly 3,000 Meiteis armed with rifles and traditional weapons set upon Kuki villages in Kangpokpi district.

    Once the attacks by Meitei armed groups started Monday evening, hundreds of Kukis fled to the nearby forests. The Meitei groups burnt down the empty houses in the villages. 

    When security forces (Army and Assam Rifles) tried to go to the affected villages to stop the Meitei groups, a huge number of Meitei women (numbering about 600 and including elderly women) blocked the roads leading to the trouble spots and prevented the troops from going there to tackle the Meitei groups.

    After completing their looting and destruction, one group of marauding Meiteis went inside an abandoned church in Aigejang to celebrate their ‘victory’. 

    Unknown to them, a large number of Kukis armed with rifles, clubs, spears, cleavers and other weapons silently reached the village to stage a counter-attack. 

    On getting to know that the Meitei attackers were inside the church, they surrounded the building and launched a fierce attack. Caught unawares, nine Meitei militants died, ten were severely wounded and at least five are reported to be missing. 

    All the dead, injured and missing were Meiteis from Leimakhong, Khurai, Pangei, Ningthemcha and Uyumpok villages that are completely dominated by Meiteis. The nearest Meitei village--Uyumpok--is at least six kilometres away from Aigejang. 

    Though the police personnel stationed at Sagolmang police station (the nearest to Aigejang) got news of the killing in the wee hours of Wednesday, they could not muster the courage to venture to the site of the killings. 

    That’s because all cops at the Sagolmang police station were Meiteis and they were scared of venturing into a Kuki-dominated area. 

    Ultimately, the Sagolmang police station requisitioned Naga cops from some nearby police stations, and these Naga personnel of Manipur police went to Aigejang to retrieve the bodies of the dead and send the injured for treatment by late Wednesday morning. 

    This shows that the khaki uniform of the Manipur Police has lost all respect and even the police force, divided deeply on ethnic lines, cannot venture fearlessly into all areas of the state. 

    Drastic Measures Need Of The Hour:

    Given this deep divide and the civil war-like situation that prevails in Manipur, it is necessary for the Union Government to take some decisive and drastic, and even unpopular measures, to arrest the state’s decline into anarchy. 

    There is no disputing the fact their chief minister N Biren Singh, having created the crisis in his state through his actions (enumerated above), failed to tackle it with a firm hand and in an impartial manner. 

    Not only Kukis, many reasonable and balanced Meiteis who seek a return to normalcy are demanding Singh’s replacement. The Union Government ought to give this a serious thought. 

    It is quite unacceptable that despite all the violence that has wracked the state and the looting of the state police armouries, no action has been taken against even one police officer. 

    The situation calls for mass disciplinary action, and exemplary punitive measures, against erring men and officers of Manipur Police who failed in their duties. This is necessary to restore the faith of the people of the state in the police force. 

    The security forces (Army, Assam Rifles and CAPFs) should be given a free hand to conduct operations and take coercive action even against civilian populace who try to obstruct their movements. 

    Blockades put up by Meiteis, even elderly women, to prevent security forces from venturing out of their camps and reaching trouble spots, need to be dealt with a firm hand. 

    A firm and unequivocal message needs to go out that no one is above the law and any illegal or unlawful act will be met with strong action.  

    The Army, Assam Rifles and CAPFs do not have a completely free hand now in operations to crack down on Meitei radicals and vigilantes who have arms in their possession or those guilty of attacks on Kukis. That’s because they have been asked to take the assistance of the Manipur Police while carrying out raids.

    This has to stop because the Meitei-dominated Manipur Police has often been accused of protecting Meitei radicals and criminals.

    The Army, Assam Rifles and the CAPFs should be allowed to plan and execute operations against not only Meitei radicals, vigilantes and criminals, but also against Kuki militants, all by themselves without any interference by the Manipur Police. 

    The first and foremost step right now is to restore the rule of the law in Manipur. That is the first step to return to peace. 

    Failure to restore the rule of law will push Manipur down the road to complete anarchy and eventually lead to balkanisation of the state. 

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.