Manipur: Still in Cauldron
By Nirendra Dev
India's North East has been generally a sadly-forgotten landscape in the wilds of hills and valleys. States like Manipur and Nagaland would make news in Delhi or other cities of the country only when there were bomb blasts or some ambushes. But the year 2023 proved modestly different. Elected lawmakers, media persons and others in the national mainstream at least spoke more about Manipur in the last few months than they did in the last 3-5 years.
But the trigger was violence yet again. The Meitei-Kuki clash had reached its peak. Scores were left dead and hun- dreds had to flee home and the state. But as the battle between Kukis and Meiteis has been renewed; the Nagas and Meiteis stood together despite tribal-non tribal differences. It is ironic that more than two decades back, in 2001 when the Naga peace ceasefire was 'extended' to parts of Naga inhab- ited areas of Manipur, the Imphal val- ley burnt for days.
A deep divide in Manipur police on ethnic lines became very evident in the ongoing conflict. Of course, sources maintain that this has made "the task of Army, Assam Rifles and other CAPF units even difficult". Over 1350 automatic weapons have been looted from police during the unrest and these certainly do not augur well for the situation and a state administration. Nagas and Kukis are Christians and yet in this turmoil time,
“It is ironic that more than two decades back, in 2001 when the Naga peace cease- fire was 'extended' to parts of Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, the Imphal valley burnt for days” the Hindu Meitei-Christian Naga bond has thrived.This actually talks about the complexity.
This year's unprece- dented violence and communal tension in Manipur are also causes of setbacks to the overall development journey of Manipur. And this 'distraction' from the developmental journey is also a setback for all the communities - Kukis, Nagas and other tribals in the state.
None can draw a consolation that let Meiteis alone suffer. Emerging as an 'island of peace' for some time, Manipur under the double-engine gov- ernment of BJP has/had experienced a lot of positive developments including pumping in of investments.In August 2022, Manipur hosted the prestigious Durand Cup soccer tournament, Asia's oldest football tournament. Nandini Gupta from Rajasthan was crowned the Femina Miss India 2023 title at the starry grand finale held in Manipur.
One retired army officer, who served in the region, told this magazine, "The problem may appear ethnic or commu- nal on the face value and it is true to an extent; but the roots lie somewhere else. There is a combination of unem- ployment, lesser number of white-col- lared secured jobs, unrequired aspira- tions, new value systems, land alien- ation by a variety of 'foreign' immi- grants have added to the ethnic fer- ment". Being Kuki or Meitei and being a demagogue politician?
The violence in Manipur started in May and the tension still remains. People are still being attacked and there is a complete absence of trust between the two vulnerable communi- ties. We need to place the entire drama in the context of what unfolded on the streets of Imphal on June 30. Has the episode helped turn Manipur's much embarrassed Chief Minister, N Biren Singh, a neo-powerful regional leader in an ethnically sensitive violence-hit state?If readers recall, on that day Biren Singh reportedly planned to ten- der his resignation letter. But after a few hours, he in a suo motto move tweeted to announce that "I will not be resigning from the post of Chief Minister".
This actually gave rise to a more vital question, can BJP ever replace or sack him in the immediate future? In August during the debate on No Confidence motion, Home Minister Amit Shah made it clear that this is not happening. His argument was that the chief minister is "cooperating" with the centre. By June 30, there were as many as 57-days of tension and continued violence and arson claiming about 120 lives. Even the resignation letter was torn off. The message is/was Demagogues are created like this?
Do a little surfing on the net and you will note that a 'Demagogue' is defined as a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument. Look at the other 'complicated' areas. The Biren Singh Ministry had launched an eviction drive against Kuki tribals, which began in February. The state government much to the chagrin of the tribal popu- lation declared the forest dwellers as encroachers.
There was indiscriminate violence. The Kuki tribes say they have been 'inhabi- tants' of the forests even before the forests were notified. Earlier this year, they confronted chief minister N. Biren Singh and a mob vandalised and set on fire the venue where he was scheduled to speak. A “total shutdown” was called by the Indigenous Tribe Leaders Forum in Churachandpur district. The Forum also accused the state govern- ment of not showing any sign of will- ingness in addressing the plight of local inhabitants.
At least three church- es in Imphal’s Tribal Colony area were demolished on April 11 for being “ille- gal constructions” on government land. Kukis supported by their Mizo brethren in neighbouring Mizoram state have pressed for creation of sepa- rate administrations. Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Rajkumar Ranjan Singh has penned a letter to PM Narendra Modi. His house right in Imphal was burnt and he escaped a mob furry in the state capital.
But it is easier said than done. Secondly, the BJP as a political party in the state and also in the centre are not doing enough to resolve the impasse. At least there is no visible sense of urgency. Slow, steady and not doing things adequately cannot combine to deliver miracles called peace and brotherhood. The neta class should focus on these.