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How Pro-RSS Stance Of The Biren Singh Govt Has Caused Calamity In Manipur?

Nearly seven weeks have passed since clashes began in Manipur on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, after tribals took out a march against a move to grant the majority Meitei community ST status. Hundreds of homes, temples, churches and vehicles were vandalized or were the target of arson. But still not a word from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no reassurance, no remonstrance against the perpetrators that would assuage the inflamed passions that have been aroused! And the embers are still smouldering.

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By: Girish Linganna

Nearly seven weeks have passed since clashes began in Manipur on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, after tribals took out a march against a move to grant the majority Meitei community ST status. Hundreds of homes, temples, churches and vehicles were vandalized or were the target of arson. But still not a word from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no reassurance, no remonstrance against the perpetrators that would assuage the inflamed passions that have been aroused! And the embers are still smouldering.

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An all-party meeting convened by Union home minister Amit Shah on Saturday, June 24, 2023, held detailed discussions on the situation in Manipur. Several Opposition parties attending the deliberations sought an all-party delegation visit to Manipur but the government remained non-committal, according to sources.

Congress Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka and the party’s spokesman, Jairam Ramesh, said in a tweet, “52 days after Manipur started burning, the HM has finally seen it fit to call an all-party meeting on Manipur at 3 pm today. This meeting should actually have been chaired by the PM who has kept silent all this while. It should have been held in Imphal as a demonstration of national anguish. The BJP has failed the people of Manipur miserably.”

The Manipur Government, on May 4, issued shoot-at-sight orders in “extreme cases” which opened up new faultlines, as ethnic strife escalated following a ‘March for Solidarity’ called by the All-Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur, displaced thousands upon thousands of people in the state in the aftermath of the clashes that followed. The number of people killed or injured in the violence could not be officially confirmed, but Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh stated that “some precious lives were lost”. Unofficial sources put the death toll at 120 and the injured at well over 3,000. Hundreds of houses, churches, temples, and vehicles were either vandalised or set on fire mainly across the five districts of Imphal, Bishnupur, Churachandpur, Tengnoupal and Kangpokpi.

Scheduled Tribe communities, mainly the Kuki-Zomi tribals, are protesting against a move to grant a long-standing demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the majority Meitei community in the state. Manipur High Court had, on April 19, directed the state government to submit its recommendation to include the Meitei community in the ST list to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry by May 29. The tribal communities believe this is part of the BJP-led state government’s perilous communal strategy to back ‘Hindu’ Meiteis against predominantly Christian tribals.

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Curfew was imposed in some districts, while Internet services were suspended for the second successive day. About 500 Rapid Action Force personnel were flown in on Thursday morning to join 55 columns of the Indian Army and the paramilitary Assam Rifles, apart from the police to control the violence. But soon, armed Kuki fighters launched attacks, took over the streets and clashed with security personnel. People from both sides have been displaced – the Meitei minority from the hills, and tribal minority from the plains and cities.

The Supreme Court, on its part, has ordered that displaced persons and places of worship in the state be protected. “We have made our concern explicit about the need for protection of people and property and the need for restitution and stabilization. This is a humanitarian problem. We are concerned deeply about the loss of life and property,” Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud told the state and the Centre.

The tribal communities involved in the latest clashes can be categorized into three groups. Meitei community: the dominant community, largely Hindus, based mainly in state capital Imphal, makes up over 50% of the state’s population of 3.5 million going by India’s last census in 2011. They are based mainly in the plains, but with a significant presence in the hills, as well.

The second group is Naga and Kuki tribes: The two tribes comprise mainly Christians and make up about 40% of the state’s population. They enjoy Scheduled Tribe status, giving them land-owning rights in the forests and the hills. The hill population mostly comprises these tribes. These tribes suffer from “anxiety” that the Meiteis having a finger in the Scheduled Tribe pie would mean that they can now own land in the hills.

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Then there are other tribals (Mizos). They constitute the ethnic melting-pot of the state, which borders Myanmar. Ripples of dissatisfaction, divergence and polarization have always plagued the thin peace fabric of Manipur, a state with a checkered history of ethnic violence. There has always been an innate antagonism towards tribals, leading to inequitable distribution of government funds for development and variance in infrastructure between the hills and the valley. The majority of the Meiteis are from the plains. A dash of Naga presence adds to the diversity of the socio-cultural melting-pot.

In the 1980s, the whole of Manipur state was denoted as ‘disturbed’ and brought under the ambit of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958. And, diverse though they were, Manipuris considered ‘mayangs’ (a disparaging term for Indians) an ‘external threat’ rather than unifying their divergent identities.

Deep-rooted and uninterrupted tensions have flared up between the hills and the valley which reached a flashpoint in 2015 for other reasons, but sparked by the same underlying tensions. Historically, the violence has had an ethnic root but there have been some overlap with religion, with some episode of inter-tribe violence, as well.

On Friday, March 10, 2023, the Manipur government of Chief Minister N Biren Singh unilaterally withdrew from the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with two militant groups – the Kuki National Army (KNA) and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) – a militant group formed in 1996 and operating in Manipur to secure greater self-governance for Zomis, an indigenous community of the region – alleging that they were involved in igniting the spark of agitation among forest encroachers.

The state BJP leadership took a partisan position of supporting the Hindus as against the Christians and the chief minister N Birendra Singh gave enough indications to the law and order machinery in the initial days of clashes where the sympathy of the government lay. The Sangh Parivar, especially the RSS have been working for long in Manipur carrying propaganda against the churches and missionaries thereby creating an environment hostile to the non-Hindus. As a result, the hardcore elements of the Kuki tribes were set on taking vengeance intensifying the ferocity of the clashes. The extremist elements also took advantage of the turmoil to push their agenda.

The SoO agreement protects the insurgent groups from action by the Indian or state security apparatus in lieu of a total halt to insurgency. Since May 3, the beginning of the ethnic violence, leaders and cadres of these insurgent groups have left the camps set up for them by the Centre – even the state – in hordes for fear of possible ambushes by the state forces.

Despite the devastation that Manipur has been facing for nearly two months now, these are bad omen and the situation could well spin out of control and take the peace talks back by decades unless the Centre is quick to react with swift, bold and decisive action and the rule of the law is established once more. (IPA Service)

 

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