Revealed: How Kuki Drug Lords Are Holding Peace To Ransom In Manipur

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 07, 2023, 05:53 PM | Updated Jun 15, 2023, 12:26 PM IST

Manipur Police destroying a poppy crop cultivated by Kukis
Manipur Police destroying a poppy crop cultivated by Kukis
  • The angry drug lords are now striking back through the Kuki militants who they support with funds and arms. 
  • In the long run, a separate Kuki state where they wield enormous influence is their ultimate objective. 
  • Intermittent violence continues to convulse strife-torn Manipur with Kuki militants engaging with security forces and attacking Meiteis and their properties. 

    But, say intelligence agencies, the Kuki militants are just puppets in the hands of drug lords from that community. It is the drug lords who are now orchestrating the violence and want to keep the pot boiling. 

    What’s more alarming is that some of these drug lords are illegal migrants from Myanmar and have close links with the rebel Chin National Army (CNA) of Myanmar and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) that operates in both Myanmar and Manipur. 

    Kuki drug lords, say security and intelligence agencies, are not only funding militants belonging to the Kuki National Army (KNA) and ZRA, but also helping these terror outfits procure Chinese-made arms from Myanmar. 

    The Kuki drug lords are angry with the BJP-led coalition government in Manipur for intensifying a crackdown on poppy cultivation since January this year. 

    And that is why they do not want a return to normalcy. Peace, they fear, will lead to resumption of the war against poppy cultivation in the state. And that is very bad business for the drug lords. 

    It must be mentioned here that while all the drug lords in Manipur are Kukis, Kukis also form the majority of poppy cultivators, drug processors (extracting opium from poppy plants) and traffickers in Manipur. 

    The Kuki drug lords feel that the longer that Manipur remains disturbed, the better it is for them since they can conduct their illicit drug business unhindered. 

    “They (the Kuki drug lords) also want to deepen the ethnic divide between Meiteis and Kukis and make it permanent. That, they hope, will create a strong ground for a separate state for Kukis. And once that goal (of a separate Kuki state) is achieved, they will flourish. That’s their sinister game plan,” a DIG-ranked police officer told Swarajya.

    It is with this objective in mind that the Kuki drug lords are sponsoring the militants from their community and directing them to carry out attacks on Meiteis and properties belonging to Meiteis. 

    Since most Meiteis have migrated away from Kuki majority areas and areas with a mixed population, the Kuki militants cannot target humans. The militants are, thus, having to contend themselves with destroying properties belonging to the Meiteis. 

    A major objective here is to provoke a backlash from Meitei groups like the Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun. 

    “Retaliatory attacks on Kukis and properties belonging to Kukis by Meitei groups will accentuate the ethnic divide and boost the claims being made by Kuki politicians, intellectuals and civil society organisations (CSOs) that Kukis cannot live together with Meiteis and, thus, need a separate state,” the senior IPS officer who does not hail from Manipur told Swarajya.  

    But since Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s four-day visit to Manipur last week and his meetings with Meitei leaders and CSOs where he appealed to them for peace, Meitei groups have largely exercised restraint. 

    Meitei groups, said a BJP legislator from Imphal East, have, except for some aberrations, largely kept their promise to desist from attacking Kukis. “They (Meitei groups) have not fallen to grave provocation from Kuki militants,” said the BJP MLA from an Imphal East seat who did not want to be named. 

    Fearing that absence of retaliation against Kukis by Meitei groups could blunt their strategy of keeping the pot boiling, the Kuki drug lords directed the militants to engage with security forces (SFs). 

    Since last weekend, Kuki militants have attacked BSF and Assam Rifles posts and have killed one BSF jawan and injured two Assam Rifles troopers early Tuesday (June 6) at Serou and Sugnu in Kakching district.

    The private residence of a Congress MLA (a Meitei), along with at least 100 other houses belonging to Meiteis, was also set afire in Serou Bazar by Kuki militants. The Meiteis had fled that area after attacks on them by Kuki militants earlier.

    Kuki militants have also engaged in gunfights with SFs in some places in the Kuki-majority  Kangpokpi and Churachandpur districts, as well as the peripheries of Imphal East and Imphal West districts. 

    Top Army and Manipur police brass fear that Kuki militants are planning to step up attacks on SFs. And that is why a comprehensive counter-insurgency (CI) strategy is being drawn up now to take on the Kuki militants. 

    Manipur’s new police chief, Rajiv Singh, got down to drawing up the CI strategy immediately after he took over last Thursday (1 June). 

    Singh, a Tripura-cadre IPS officer who was on deputation to the CRPF and serving that force as an IG, was given an inter-cadre transfer and made the DGP of Manipur. 

    Singh replaced incumbent DGP P Doungel (a Kuki) who was posted as Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the state home department. This had created considerable resentment among Kukis. 

    According to another senior DIG-ranked officer who is working closely with the new police chief, the new unified command of the Manipur Police, Army, Assam Rifles and central armed police forces (CAPFs) is drawing up a multi-pronged strategy to restore peace. 

    The new unified command is headed by former CRPF DG Kuldeip Singh who is now security advisor to the Manipur government. 

    The strategy involves neutralising the Kuki militants and also recovering arms and ammunition that were looted by Meiteis from Manipur police. 

    A crucial part of the comprehensive strategy is tackling the Kuki drug lords by arresting them and cutting off their access to funds. 

    Senior Army, Assam Rifles and Manipur Police officers Swarajya spoke to over the last couple of days said that neutralising the elusive drug lords, who are in effect war lords, holds the key to the strategy to restore peace in the trouble-torn state. 

    Poppy Cultivation In Manipur

    Poppy is cultivated over large tracts of land mostly in the Kuki-dominated areas in the hill districts of Manipur. 

    It is mostly illegal immigrants from Myanmar belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group who engage in illicit poppy cultivation by clearing forest lands in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Chandel districts of the state. 

    Ever since the BJP came to power in Manipur in 2017, the state launched a crackdown in poppy cultivation and curbing the widespread drug menace in the state. 

    Poppy crops in thousands of acres of land are destroyed every year. But since the areas under poppy cultivation are remote and quite inaccessible, maintaining a constant vigil is impossible and Kuki farmers resume their cultivation soon after the raids by police and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) personnel. 

    The police have also arrested many drug traffickers and people who run opium extraction units. But that has not deterred the traffickers or the drug lords. 

    According to latest state government figures, an estimated 15,400 acres of land is under illicit poppy cultivation in Manipur at present. In the three months between January and March this year, poppy crops on 787.3 acres of land were destroyed during raids by police and NCB personnel. 

    Over the last six years, poppy crops in 15,496 acres of land have been destroyed. Poppy crops in nearly 85% of this area (13,121.8 acres) were being cultivated by Kukis and the remaining by Nagas. 

    During the same six-year period, 873 illegal Kuki-Chin migrants from Myanmar were arrested for cultivating poppy illegally and for their involvement in the drug trade. 

    A larger number of Muslims (known as ‘Pangals’ in Manipur)--1083 of them--were arrested, but they were all involved in drug trafficking and not poppy cultivation. 

    After returning to power last year, Chief Minister N Biren Singh had intensified the drive against poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. 

    That has angered the Kuki farmers engaged in illegal poppy cultivation and the Kuki drug lords. 

    The angry drug lords are now striking back through the Kuki militants who they support with funds and arms. 

    Keeping the police and security forces busy in CI operations and keeping peace will, they reckon, allow Kuki farmers to cultivate poppy without much interference. 

    In the long run, a separate Kuki state where they wield enormous influence is the ultimate objective of the Kuki drug lords. 

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