Manipur needs attention The Excelsior 04 Aug 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Manipur needs attention The Excelsior 04 Aug 2023

          A single video brought to fore the horrors of hatred between the two major communities in Manipur. The video on the parading and rape of two women was so shameful that the PM, who had not spoken on Manipur, avoiding controversy, was compelled to, parliament was stalled for days, the CJI instructed the centre to act and the government directed social media platforms to remove the video from their platforms. Indians finally realized how deep were the fissures in Manipur.   

What was more damaging was that the women were taken from the clutches of police by the mob. The police never retaliated nor attempted to stop the mob and reacted only when the video appeared on social media, arresting a few, but that has not brought it any credit. On the contrary, it has raised anger as to why so little, so late.

Violence had been ongoing for almost two months in Manipur with almost 150 dead (true figures are unavailable), but it had yet to grab national attention, which this video provided. One video, displaying depravity of humanity brought the region into limelight. Amit Shah had spent four days in the state reasoning with all involved to come to the table, but what continues is anything but reason.  

The video was from early May, almost the day when violence commenced. Without seeking permission, the army moved in, aware that disharmony between the communities could move the scenario south very soon. The longer the violence drags, the greater the hatred, destruction and incidents of killings and rape. Delay in controlling the situation is because governments at the centre and state are possibly negotiating with both communities to bring about an understanding and restore normalcy.

With AFSPA removed in large areas, security forces are hampered. They need the presence of magistrates to apply force when facing unruly mobs, which is not happening. Women escort militants and those targeting the other community and warn the army of stripping if it acts. They had resorted to this approach earlier. The Manorama incident and subsequent protests of 2004 is a stark reminder of what could follow.

Women groups are encouraged to act by influential political leaders bringing politico terrorism to the fore. Without legal coverage, the army is hamstrung. The government hesitates to reimpose AFSPA, which was lifted after public demand and political pressure.

Removal of AFSPA was an election agenda which had brought the BJP to power in the state last year. Ten days after the current government took oath in Imphal, AFSPA was removed from 15 police stations in six districts of Manipur. It was announced that the BJP had fulfilled part of its pre-election promise, though its alliance had demanded its removal from across the state.

It was withdrawn from four more police stations in March this year, claiming improvement in law and order. Reimposing it and enabling the army to operate would imply loss of face, especially as national elections are around the bend. Thus, while all communities trust the army, its hands are tied because it cannot act against those who perpetuate hatred. 

The police are unable to control the violence and have also lost trust of the population. The fact that its armouries, including those of police commando battalions, were emptied without a single shot being fired, only added to accusations. Such is the political dynamics that a stolen weapon was recovered during an NIA search from the house of a serving MLA. It is almost as if the state has ceased to function. The CM and the state machinery is silent, hoping for divine intervention, but that remains wishful thinking.   

The message flowing from the state is that the two communities, Meitei and Kuki, cannot co-exist in Manipur. There are demands for a separate administration for different tribal areas. Narcoterrorism, poppy cultivation, political power including politically supported terrorist groups, tribal loyalties, affinity to forest and land holdings, covert and overt militant groups, illegal migrants and control over power at the state level are all intermingled in a complex drama in the state.

Which community is right and which has been suffered more is very difficult to determine as all have their grievances. Both have been equally harmed. The fact is that a part of India is burning with hatred rising and we as a nation have failed to stem it.

Manipur is not new to violence and hatred. It has existed in the state for decades. Stating that one incident triggered the violence is wrong. Tensions were simmering, all it needed was a trigger. That was provided on 03 May. The state should have immediately stepped in to cool down tempers but it hesitated for its own reasons.

The results are visible. The nation is shamed, parliament is logjammed and incidents of rape and violence have grabbed global attention. The situation is exploited by private media houses gleefully presenting a new incident daily intending to display the ruling dispensation in poor light.  

For political parties across the spectrum, the aim is not seeking a solution on Manipur, but pinning down the government. They refuse to discuss the case in parliament, insisting on a statement from the PM, which is not forthcoming. Not a single political party has suggested an all-party meeting on Manipur to find a solution, ignoring that it is part of India which is burning. The incident is being exploited for political gains.

Unless the fire within Manipur is doused, it is bound to spread to neighbouring Mizoram, where local outfits are already threatening resident Meitei population. It is a certainty that even if peace is restored and some semblance of normalcy returns, the distrust which has developed will remain. Those who lived in areas dominated by the other community will never return. Scars of the violence will take years to heal. The state will always remain on a powder keg once again waiting to explode.

The only gainer is China, which has stalled India’s trilateral highway and forced a prolonged deployment of security forces in Manipur, away from their primary task along the LAC. Its involvement in fuelling the violence is possible. The state needs urgent attention which must be given.