The Tough Decisions That Manipur Must Make To Return To Complete Normalcy

The Tough Decisions That Manipur Must Make To Return To Complete Normalcy

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Tuesday, May 16, 2023 12:27 PM IST
The Tough Decisions That Manipur Must Make To Return To Complete NormalcyChief Minister N Biren Singh discussing Manipur situation with top army officer
  • The state government has a tough task in restoring even a semblance of trust between the Meiteis and Kukis and facilitating a return to complete normalcy.  

    Here are some hard decisions that CM Nongthombam Biren Singh must make.

The many fires that scorched vast swathes of Manipur have been put out and embers have died down.

However, the visible wreckages represent deep chasm and breakdown of trust between communities. Manipur now is a simmering ethnic cauldron that threatens to spill over, anytime.

The violence earlier this month that resulted in more than 70 deaths, complete destruction of thousands of homes and displacement of over 50,000 people, has created what looks like an irreconcilable divide between the Meities and Kukis. 

The Kukis have complicated matters even more now by demanding a separate state for themselves (read this). The union and state governments have unequivocally rejected the demand that has the potential to cause more trouble in the state. 

The Kukis say it is no longer possible to live amongst or alongside Meiteis. And, thus, it is better to co-exist within two separate administrative entities.

But the Meiteis contend that most Kukis are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Myanmar and should be detected and deported. 

The Nagas, who form about 15 per cent of the state’s population, also have a problem with the Kukis’ demand for a separate state.

The Nagas, too, hold that thousands of people belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zomi ethnic group have infiltrated into Manipur from Myanmar and settled down in lands that traditionally belong to the Naga tribes. 

This contestation over lands on which illegal immigrants from Myanmar settled had led to violent clashes in the early 1990s between the Kukis and Nagas and left more than 250 people, mostly Kukis, dead.

It displaced nearly one lakh people (again, almost all of them Kukis).

The divide between the two communities still exists. 

Given all this, the state government has a tough task in restoring even a semblance of trust between the Meiteis and Kukis and facilitating a return to complete normalcy. To achieve that, it has to make some hard decisions. 

Here are some of the immediate tasks before Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh:

  • Revamp the state police force

The Manipur police is widely perceived as an unprofessional, undisciplined, corrupt and biased force not only by the Kukis, but also Meiteis and Nagas. Most Manipuris have little respect for the force. 

The abysmal failure of the police to act professionally and in an impartial manner earlier this month led to the clashes and arson spinning out of control and the resultant deep divide between the two communities. 

The lack of professionalism of the state police was also evident from the fact that when mobs  besieged police stations and other police establishments, the men in uniform meekly surrendered their weapons or fled leaving their weapons behind. 

Most of these weapons are now in the hands of criminals who are causing more trouble. 

The chief minister has to take strong and exemplary action against policemen who did not conduct themselves fairly and professionally. Examples have to be set so that the misdeeds committed by the police are not repeated in future. 

This overhaul of the police force will be tough, unpleasant and full of hurdles. But it has to be done, and now.

  • Set up a bipartisan committee to probe the violence

A high-powered committee comprising top bureaucrats and upright, impartial police officers from all the ethnic communities has to be set up to probe the violence and the causes of the clashes. 

The committee has to pin blame on individuals and organisations that provoked and stoked the violence. It has to identify the people who were behind the violence. 

And it has to recommend strong action against such individuals and organisations. 

The state government has to implement those recommendations without any reservations. 

Very often, enquiry committees set up after such incidents shy away from pinning responsibility on errant individuals and organisations and issue generalised and weak recommendations to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

This defeats the whole purpose of setting up such committees, which often provide cover to the wrongdoers and allow them to get away scot free. 

But that shouldn’t happen this time.

If people’s faith in the government machinery has to be restored, the enquiry committee must be seen to be carrying out its probe transparently and without any bias, and has to recommend tough action and measures. 

  • Set up a truth and reconciliation committee

A committee comprising respectable and prominent civil society leaders from the Meitei, Kuki and Naga communities has to be set up. 

This vital step is necessary to initiate dialogue at various levels between the different ethnic communities in the state and restore trust between the communities. 

This committee’s task will not be to apportion blame, but to provide a healing touch. This committee has to recommend concrete steps to the state government on ways and measures for restoring communal harmony and peace.

This committee has to take into account the concerns and misgivings of all the communities and suggest concrete steps to allay those concerns and fears. It has to take into account ground realities and pave the way for harmonious coexistence between all communities. 

  • Rebuild destroyed homes and properties, ensure return of displaced people along with foolproof security for them

Instead of offering flat compensation to owners of houses or commercial properties which have been completely or partially destroyed in the clashes, the state government should adopt the people-friendly approach of rebuilding these properties and offering a respectable compensation for the furniture, gadgets and other movables that have been destroyed. 

But what is more important is that the state government has to offer iron-clad guarantees to the displaced people to return to their homes (after rebuilding them on a war footing).

The safety of the displaced people returning to their homes have to be ensured and guaranteed. 

Neighbours of the displaced people have to be told in strong and unequivocal terms that they will be held responsible for the safety and security of the displaced people returning to their homes, and any attempts by them to disturb the returnees will be met with strong punitive action. 

If necessary, the Assam Rifles, BSF and CRPF should remain deployed in the troubled parts of the state for a few more months to provide a sense of security to all communities. 

  • Reverse decision to abrogate ceasefire with Kuki militants

The Biren Singh government, in what security experts say was an ill-advised and whimsical move, withdrew from the ‘suspension of operation’ (SOO) agreements with the Kuki National Army (KNA) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA).

The state government alleged that the two militant outfits had provoked and led the protests against the proposal to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to Meiteis earlier this month. 

It was during those protests that Meitei families in Churachandpur — a stronghold of Kukis — were attacked, leading to retaliatory violence against Kukis in Imphal Valley where the Meiteis are in an overwhelming majority. 

The state government also contends that the leadership of these two outfits are not Kukis from Manipur. 

But that move led to more trouble as the militants felt free to carry out more attacks on Meiteis. These attacks by Kuki militants on Meiteis are still continuing.

It is important for the state government, thus, to restore the SOO truce with these two outfits, and enforce the SOO agreement as well, in order to ensure that the two outfits do not take up arms. 

  • Chief Minister Biren Singh has to initiate dialogue with Kukis

Biren Singh, being the chief minister of Manipur of which Kukis form an integral part, has to initiate a dialogue with the Kuki community leaders. 

Right now, the Kukis are angry with him, and not all the reasons for their anger may be justified or fair. But being the chief minister, Biren Singh has to display statesmanship for the sake of his own state. 

He has to sit for talks with Kuki civil society leaders and Kuki politicians, including those from his own party. Seven BJP MLAs are Kukis and a couple of others are his allies. He has to invite them for talks and address their concerns. 

It is a fact that Biren Singh’s unilateral actions in evicting Kukis from lands that were declared reserved and protected forests was one of the main triggers for the trouble. He never sat with the Kukis to explain things to them and take them into confidence before those eviction drives. 

However, while the past cannot be undone, it is never too late to act with magnanimity and like a statesman to bridge the communication gap with the Kukis.

  • Provide transparent, clean and fair governance

The tribals — Kukis and Nagas — perceive the Manipur state administration to be unfair to them and dominated by the Meiteis.

As a result, they say, most of the development happens only in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley and little gets done in the tribal-dominated hill districts. 

This lopsided development has bred huge resentment among tribals. 

Also, all communities (including the Meiteis) perceive the state machinery to be highly corrupt and largescale leakage of funds meant for development and infrastructure projects as well as welfare schemes is an open secret.

Politicians, bureaucrats and contractors have amassed huge wealth while common people remain desperately poor. 

This has to be set right urgently. The Augean stables have to be cleaned, and mercilessly. 

A lot of attention has to be paid to the development of the hill districts. Governance has to be made transparent and free of bias and corruption. 

Many heads will roll, but Biren Singh has to do it. Desperate times like what Manipur is facing today call for drastic measures. 

All these are but some of the urgent measures that the chief minister needs to initiate to ensure that his state returns to normalcy and the divide between the various communities in his state is bridged.

Failure to do so may lead to the present chasm becoming permanent. And that can only post a grave threat to the territorial integrity of the state. 

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