Manipur’s conflict has multiple tracks from the violence, which has been unabated for the past four months. Though in August, incidents were sporadic, yet in some cases involved mortar fire. Looting of arms continues, and militant groups on both sides seem to be more active in August.
With communities adopting a divergent stand, attempts at reconciliation remain stalled while legislative action in the Lok Sabha, as well as the Manipur Assembly, is seen to be too feeble for a solution to emerge. Under the circumstances, wait and watch even as the divide seems to be widening appears to be the policy adopted by the Central government.
Here is a review -
Sporadic incidents of violence have continued in Manipur as what are being called armed miscreants of both sides are targeting the other community. At last count, 157 people have been killed and nearly 50,000 displaced. Naranseina village in Bishnupur district has been a flash point where multiple clashes have taken place in August.
Attempts by security forces to recover stolen arms are ongoing even though recovery has not been significant. Meanwhile, incidents of snatching of arms and looting from the armoury were reported. The 2nd India Reserve Battalion HQ at Naranseina, in the Bishnupur district was looted. An annexure listing the arms and ammunition showed that what was looted included 19,000 rounds of ammunition, 1 AK series assault rifle, 25 INSAS rifles, 4 Ghatak rifles, 5 INSAS light machine guns, 5 MP-5 rifles, 124 hand grenades, 21 SMC carbines, 195 SLR rifles, and 16 9-mm pistols.
Amidst the deployment conflict emerged between the Assam Rifles (AR) and the Manipur police, with an FIR lodged by the latter against the Central Para Military Force. Meitei groups have alleged a bias of the AR, which the force and the Army command have strongly denied.
Resolution through Legislature
No tangible outcome has been seen to use the legislature for inducing a solution. While the opposition lodged a No Confidence Motion in the Lok Sabha to highlight the need for a solution to the Manipur crisis, even though knowing it would be defeated given the numbers, the debate failed to result in any consensus in the house and instead became a slanging match between the parties.
Leaders of the opposition bloc INDIA met President Droupadi Murmu and submitted a memorandum over their demand for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in Parliament on Manipur and to list steps needed to restore peace in the violence-hit state.
The one-day Session of the Manipur Legislative Assembly was adjourned on August 28 without taking up issues plaguing the state after the uproar lasting just 11 minutes before the Speaker adjourned the Session amid protests on the floor of the house by the members of the opposition Congress.
Later, the house resolved to work for the oneness and harmony of all the people of Manipur, irrespective of caste, community, region, religion or language. The house also resolved that as peace is the priority of the state complete peace will return to the entire state through dialogue and constitutional means.
As per the UNI, “The house also resolved to appeal to every individual not to pay heed to divisionary elements, maintain peace and shun violence in the interest of the state and nation.
As expected, the 10 Kuki-Zomi MLAs of the 60-member Assembly were absent, having said earlier that they would be unable to travel to Imphal for security reasons. The remaining members, including the 10 Naga MLAs, were present. Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a conglomerate of Kuki groups in Churachandpur district, and the Committee on Tribal Unity (COTU), a Kuki group based in Kangpokpi district, issued a joint statement denouncing the assembly session and cited concerns over the safety of Kuki-Zo MLAs.
The Union government has encouraged Meitei organisations to initiate dialogue with the Kuki community. Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) — a collective of five Meitei groups based in Imphal — met with Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi reported the Hindustan Times.
Earlier, Shah met Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) chief JP Nadda. COCOMI said it also met senior Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials. “COCOMI was encouraged to initiate dialogues with responsible Kuki leaders and groups to facilitate problem-solving and peace-building,” the group’s statement said. “The home minister emphasised a firm stance against all forms of infiltration into Manipur’s territory. Measures are being implemented to register immigrants using biometrics, including retina scans,” the statement added.
Earlier on August 9, Shah had met representatives of the Kuki led Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) after an announcement about a mass burial by the group led to fresh cases of violence and protests in the state. The ITLF said that during the meeting, they had also requested the minister for chopper services from hills districts to Mizoram airport and other demands of the Kuki people. The mass burial of 35 bodies (of Kuki victims) was called off following hectic parleys by authorities, a court order, an undertaking from MHA, and a meeting of the ITLF with Home Minister Shah.
The 10 Kuki-Zo-Hmar MLAs rejected Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s claim that he was in “regular touch with them” and reiterated their demand for the “creation of separate administration” for hills districts in the northeastern state. Singh said: “I have told the MLAs that I will provide them with security and that we must work together to restore normalcy. I have also spoken to the civil society organisations in Imphal (Meitei groups) and said that the MLAs should not be stopped from visiting the valley (Imphal) for work.
The MLAs must join work immediately. Also, let me reiterate that there can be no division of Manipur.”
The legislators issued the statement: “It is clarified by all 10 Kuki-Zo-Hmar MLAs that we have not been in touch with CM N Biren Singh since the outbreak of communal violence in May 2023.” On August 16, the 10 MLAs submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a separate chief secretary and police chief for the hill districts, where a majority of Kuki and other tribal groups reside.
What’s the End Game?
The end game desired by both sides is clear and is only widening the divide. While the Meitei who dominate the State government do not want a division and separate administration for the Kukis, the latter are insisting on the same. The solution is for the two main antagonists – Meitei and Kuki, to resolve the differences through mutual consultations, as the Central Government will not accept demands by the Kukis for separate administration in Manipur. Kuki-Zo MLAs and various organisations had raised a pitch for separate administration for the community as they deem that surviving under the Meitei domination at present does not provide any scope for justice and fairness.
The COCOMI presenting the Meitei view says illegal immigration, cross-border narco-terrorism, exploitation of forest resources, and SoO violations are the basic cause of the violence. Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh similarly feels that misunderstandings, vested interests and conspiracies of foreign nationals has destabilized the State. That the problem is internal driven by sense of vulnerability combined with aspirations of the other community is not acknowledged.
The Kuki groups, on the other hand, claim that Meitei's attempt to suppress their rights and deny their rightful place in the administration is the essential cause of the conflict, and external elements have a limited role to play.
Until there is a meeting ground between the two sides or exhaustion, Manipur may continue to burn, and sadly so.