Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems stubbornly silent on the volatile situation in the northeastern state
The situation in Manipur began to get out of hand after a rally of tribal groups on May 3 against the apprehension that, stoked by a High Court order, official steps were being contemplated to confer Scheduled Tribe status on the majority Meitei population of the state who reside in the Imphal valley. In a week, it will be two months since troubles commenced but the Centre appears to be at sea in dealing with the volatile circumstances though tens of thousands of police, paramilitary, and Army personnel are swarming on the ground.
Perhaps not appreciating the seriousness of the developments in the sensitive border state in the northeast, Union home minister Amit Shah did not break his stride for a month while campaigning for his party in the recent Karnataka Assembly election and visited the state nearly four weeks after the violence erupted and kept cascading. More than one hundred lives have been lost and about 40,000 people locally displaced. Arms and ammunition have been looted from the security forces by militant groups. Ministers’ residences and the local offices have been attacked and set afire by rampaging mobs. Internet services in the state have been cut for some 50 days.
Because no murders have taken place since June 13, official statements hint that the government is prematurely patting itself on the back. A couple of days ago, some 1,500 women surrounded the security forces, preventing them from carrying out their duties. The women let go only after 12 cadres of the banned Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup (KYLP) were released, one of them identified as the mastermind of the 2015 Chandel ambush in which 18 soldiers of the 6 Dogra regiment were killed.
The home minister’s belated efforts are yet to show signs of bearing fruit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems stubbornly silent on the volatile situation in the northeastern state. This appears to be causing heart burn in the state with the PM’s monthly radio broadcast “Mann Ki Baat” getting a resentful reaction the last time round. With some prodding, the home minister held an all-party meeting last week. Regrettably, at the gathering the experienced Okram Ibobi, a former Chief Minister from the Congress party, was given only a disparaging few minutes to make his suggestions. The impression being created is that the Centre is trying to duck a political situation to a problem which is intrinsically political.
This newspaper has urged a change of guard and President’s rule in Manipur, but there are few indications of this happening, reinforcing the impression that thoughts of a political solution are at a discount. In Delhi, 10 Kuki MLAs, seven of them from the BJP, have demanded change of Chief Minister, such is the level of dissatisfaction from the incumbent who is seen as partisan in favour of his ethnic group, the Meiteis. When CM N. Biren Singh met the home minister on Sunday to brief him on the “evolving situation” — an understatement that diverts attention from the stark realities — he was evidently given a talking to and urged to be more even-handed in dealing with all ethnic groups.
The majority in Manipur is generally Hindu while the Kuki-Zo tribes are Christian, and the ethnic differences have unfortunately gained a religious tint through the perceived lack of impartiality of those in authority. Firm political steps are the need of the hour.