One month and 10 days after violence broke out in Manipur there is no sign of return of peace and tranquillity. With over 100 fatalities, many injured and thousands displaced the vestiges of the state inability to grapple with a situation which spiralled out of control on May 03 is evident. Interestingly many of the reasons for the current outbreak of violence seem to be self-created and were preordained.
This exposes the chinks in India's internal security model which has been heralded as a success story by successive governments. Indeed the level of violence has come down over the years in all geographic zones from Jammu and Kashmir to the North East to the Left Wing Extremist districts in Central India.
There is an oft quoted maxim - absence of violence does not mean peace which is amply proven in the case of Manipur and may come true in other areas in the future including Jammu and Kashmir.
The bane is derived from emphasis on management of conflicts rather than resolution or excision of the roots by harmonising the demands through political interventions. Success is measured in terms of drop in violence, removal of AFSPA from areas and limiting the influence of rebel elements in districts. Indeed, this is one factor yet can lull the security policy makers and their political bosses into complacency until a sudden escalation.
For management India has extensively relied on the force saturation model for containing insurgencies and terrorism this was evident in the post August 2019 repealing of article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir. With unprecedented deployment of security and police forces not only were terrorist attacks controlled but also civil protests virtually eliminated.
Case Manipur May June 2023
In the instant case as well immediately on outbreak of violence on May 03 forces were rushed in from other parts of the North East - Army the Assam rifles and central police forces. However by the time these could be deployed in hot zones the situation had spiralled out of control with inter ethnic and inter religious violence leading to targeting of the other community – Meitei or Kuki.
There are three intersections here which can also be called as fault lines - balance of ethnicity split between the Hills and the Plains in Manipur, religion and tribal as well as non tribal. Disturbing the balance can be disastrous which is a lesson from the past.
However, the Manipur state government led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh undertook a number of steps which has stired the pot.
The demand for scheduled tribe [ST] by the Meitei was taken up through judicial channels and chief justice MV Muralidharan, directed the state government to consider the request of the Meitei community by May 29 for scheduled tribe status which has been adversely commented by the Supreme Court as well.
This disturbed the first of the faultlines – tribal and non tribal. What was to follow was to target the other delicate serrations as well.
However, it is apparent that the state nor the central government appreciated what was likely to come about or even worse did not care to examine the consequences. Having failed to assess the impact of security and administrative measures to bring peace have been resorted to.
The challenges faced by the security forces are evident as the state armouries were looted and it is also believed that that arms held in custody by the Kuki groups under Suspension of Operations have been missing. The Army has now confirmed that searches in 14 camps of Kuki militant groups revealed weapons are locked up as per the SoO agreement. The SoO agreement was signed by Kuki militant groups with the Centre and the Manipur government in August 2008, following the Kuki-Naga clashes. Cadres of these groups are to be confined in designated camps and their arms kept locked in safe rooms under double-locing system with one key with the security forces and the other with the Kuki groups.
So far 896 arms and 11,763 ammunition are reported to have been recovered by June 10. 50,650 men, women and children, displaced in Manipur’s ethnic violence are sheltered in 350 camps.
With militant groups on both sides of the divide and youth who are trained to use the gun containment of violence will remain a tough task ahead even though the state government from time to time is claiming that the situation is under control.
While the situation is not spiralling into a militancy however in case it is not delicately handled it is likely to be so not because of security mishandling but political interventions or non interventions which may create a sense of hopelessness in a community which could again take to arms.
Administrative Measures by Centre
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed six FIRs and formed a special team to probe an alleged conspiracy in connection with the violence in Manipur.
Commission of Inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, chaired by Justice Ajai Lamba, former Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court with Shri Himanshu Shekhar Das, IAS (Retd.) and Shri Aloka Prabhakar, IPS (Retd.) as members to inquire into the incidents of violence has been launched.
A peace negotiations committee has also been launched. The members of committee include Chief Minister, a few Ministers in the State Government, MP, MLAs and leaders from different political parties.
Centre has approved a Rs 101.75 crore relief package for the displaced people in violence-hit Manipur following a directive of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
While judicial and central investigation agencies have reached the ground attempts to form a peace negotiation committee seem to be with fraught with dissent from the very outset as it is believed that some of members from the civil society were not even asked as to their availability based on their commitments or inclination. The attitude that “Delhi,” knows best is also one of the factors which has led to challenges in Manipur today.
Given paralysis in the state political administration in Manipur, there is a need to reconstitute the government as the Kuki in particular have lost faith in the Chief Minister N Biren Singh. This may also lead to discontent amongst the Meitei groups such as Meitei Leepun which should be guarded against.
North East: A Complex Human Terrain
The Northeast is a complex human terrain for understanding which there is a necessity for involvement in the region for decades. This also generates the level of empathy which is required to anticipate resentment and gain and regain confidence of the people when it is lost. Solutions which have been thought about in Delhi for implementation on the ground are unlikely to provide a road map for reconciliation.
Importantly conflicts cannot be “frozen,” in the hope that exhaustion of the militant groups can lead to finally bend. As a Union of states there is adequate scope in the Constitution to accommodate aspirations including for expression of individual identity within the larger Pan Indian arch.
Conflict termination through resolution rather than protracted management is the way ahead as the Kukis who were in Suspension of Operations mode for years have denoted.
Will any lessons be learnt from escalation in Manipur over the last few weeks or Delhi will continue in the policy hubris that has been its wont for decades?