Rahul Gandhi’s Manipur Trip May Have Been Just A Photo Op, But The State Desperately Needs A Healing Touch

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jul 09, 2024, 05:35 PM | Updated 05:39 PM IST

Rahul Gandhi visited the relief camp at Phubala High School in Moirang and met with victims of the Manipur violence. (Photo: Congress/X)
Rahul Gandhi visited the relief camp at Phubala High School in Moirang and met with victims of the Manipur violence. (Photo: Congress/X)
  • The application of the healing touch in Manipur should have started a long time ago. And the best person to have administered it is PM Narendra Modi. He must make up for lost time and fulfil his raj dharma.
  • Congress scion Rahul Gandhi went on a much-publicised, day-long trip to trouble-torn Manipur on 8 July. He met internally displaced persons (IDPs) from both the Meitei and Kuki communities. 

    There can be no disputing the fact that the visit was a mere photo opportunity (photo op), while also an opportunity for him to display his (superficial?) concern for the long-suffering people of the state.

    Despite what Congress spin doctors may put out, Gandhi's contribution to resolving the deep-seated ethnic divide in the state is zero.

    That said, the state desperately needs a healing touch.

    Having been wracked by horrific violence that has claimed more than 220 lives, displaced an estimated 70,000 people, and destroyed hundreds of houses and commercial establishments over the past 14 months, the people of Manipur yearn for peace.

    But there seems to be no hope for an end to the blood-letting in the near future. And that’s because the vital task of reconciliation between the two warring communities — the Meiteis and the Kukis — is yet to begin. 

    It is important to understand that the crucial first step towards the process of reconciliation is applying the healing touch. This 'healing touch' is best applied or at least initiated by a third party who is powerful, influential, and perceived as fair by both parties engaged in the ongoing conflict. 

    In Manipur’s context, the application of the healing touch should have started a long time ago. And the best person to have administered it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ought to have made multiple visits to the state, met IDPs, civil society leaders, and representatives of all communities, and urged them to sink their differences. 

    In the initial stages, the gains from such visits would be intangible. But a Prime Minister going to a troubled state, as he should, a number of times to meet people and urge for peace would start yielding visible results soon.

    That Prime Minister Modi has not gone to Maniput till now is, to say the least, highly unfortunate. The complicated mess that Manipur is in can only be untangled through a political initiative, and it should have been led by the Prime Minister.

    Sadly, the Union government has so far viewed Manipur only through the law and order prism and has relied on Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers and security and intelligence agencies to restore the rule of law. 

    However, even here, the conduct of the bureaucracy and security forces leaves a lot to be desired; these agencies and the state machinery have been accused of acting in a partisan manner and, thus, have not been able to win the confidence of both communities. 

    That’s why the ethnic conflict in Manipur has been dragging on for such a long time. Both the Meiteis and the Kukis have little faith in the security forces, the state machinery, and the state’s political leadership. Both communities view all agencies and state institutions with deep suspicion. 

    This is where the political leadership of the country ought to have stepped in to apply the much-needed balm, the healing touch. It is because of the absence of this initiative that Manipur has descended into an endless cycle of violence and destruction.

    Yes, the incidents of violence and killings have gone down appreciably. But to interpret that, as the Prime Minister did in Parliament recently, as normalcy returning to the state would be a serious travesty of the truth. 

    In fact, Prime Minister Modi’s statement on Manipur — the second time he has spoken about the state in 14 months — has been received poorly by the people of the state. 

    The Prime Minister had said that Manipur has a long history of ethnic violence, and the ongoing conflict between the Meiteis and Kukis is rooted in the troubled history of inter-racial relations in the state.

    That may be true, but it can’t be an excuse for what seems to be a hands-off policy adopted towards the state by the country’s political leadership. 

    Prime Minister Modi said that past ethnic conflicts in the state had claimed many more lives and had dragged on for a much longer period.

    Again, that’s no excuse for the apparent inaction, or the failure of whatever action has been taken, by the Union government to resolve the ethnic conflict and end the violence in the state.

    There is no point in drawing comparisons with the past, as some in the government and the BJP are doing. Yes, ethnic clashes between the Nagas and Kukis or between the Kukis and Paites through the 1990s may have claimed more lives than now and may have continued for a longer period.

    But such a comparison cannot absolve the Union and state governments, and the country’s political leadership, of blame for failure to bring the situation under control and bridge the ever-widening ethnic divide in the state.

    Coming back to the healing touch that Modi can apply, it needs to be said that by doing so, the Prime Minister would only be fulfilling his raj dharma.

    Perhaps the reason why Modi has not intervened publicly in Manipur is because he views the problem as intractable in the short term. 

    Having cultivated the image of a ‘strongman’ who delivers quick and effective solutions, Modi may be wary of his image suffering a hit if his interventions in Manipur do not deliver quick results by halting ethnic violence and ending the animosity between the two communities. 

    But even at the risk of that happening, it would only be right on the Prime Minister’s part to make up for lost time and visit the state, meet victims of ethnic violence, meet leaders of all communities as well as civil society groups, and urge all of them to put aside their differences and start talking to each other. 

    It would behove the Prime Minister to assure both the Meiteis and Kukis that all perpetrators of violence would be brought to book and that the state machinery as well as the security forces will henceforth work without fear or favour. 

    This initiative by the Prime Minister should be supplemented by ending the paralysis of governance in the state. All developmental works in Manipur have been stalled for the past 14 months and most government employees have nothing to do except twiddle their thumbs in their offices. 

    This drift in governance cannot be allowed to continue. Manipur is also being convulsed by recurrent political crises, with rumours once again rife that Chief Minister Biren Singh will be replaced.

    Singh has anyway been rendered toothless by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, whose babus remote-control the state, especially the security apparatus. 

    This deliberate undermining of the Chief Minister’s authority and keeping him on tenterhooks has added to the crises in the state.

    This has to end: either remove Singh from the chief minister’s post and appoint someone else in his place, or allow him to function as the chief minister with all powers due to him. 

    Neutering the chief minister of a troubled state makes poor political and administrative sense. If anything, the chief minister of Manipur should be given more powers and greater control of the security apparatus, with, of course, strict timelines laid down for him to restore normalcy in the state.

    In Manipur’s current context, however, the chief minister’s ability to restore normalcy is limited. That’s because the chief minister, being a Meitei, is a party to the ethnic conflict and can hardly gain the confidence of the Kukis. Since the Meiteis are the majority community, there is little chance of anyone from outside the community becoming the chief minister.

    That is precisely why the country’s political leadership, or more specifically, the Prime Minister, has to intervene personally.

    Over the past 14 months, Prime Minister Modi has allowed bureaucrats, the police, and central security forces to manage the crisis in Manipur. That policy has failed, and quite miserably. It is time for the Prime Minister to end that policy and take matters into his own hands. 

    As for Gandhi, his visits to Manipur and his expressions of concern over the situation in the state may generate momentary excitement on social media and earn him some brownie points. But they will make little difference to the ground situation in the state. 

    That’s because for Gandhi, Manipur is an issue that is to be leveraged to attack the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After all, he has little understanding of the complexities there and has scant time, inclination, and aptitude to play a constructive role in bringing the two communities closer. 

    Had the Congress leader been genuinely interested in exploring a solution to the current crises in the state, he would not have limited himself to undertaking only well-publicised visits to meet IDPs and engaging in inconsequential conversations with them. 

    Gandhi’s visits to Manipur only expose the shallowness of his intentions. Nothing except publicity for himself and some hollow accolades are the objective and net result of his visits.

    But then, as many in Manipur are saying, at least Gandhi is visiting their state. Which is much more than what can be said of Prime Minister Modi.

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