Attempts to cover up the serious shortcomings of the state government could undermine peace in the long run
Manipur Chief Minister N. Birendra Singh’s statement on Sunday that his government is at an advanced level of talks with an underground militant organisation based in Imphal and a peace treaty will be signed soon with it is a welcome development, but it hardly addresses the wider and deep issues the strife-torn border state faces now. The people in the state and in the country should not allow it to be used as ruse for the Chief Minister to escape responsibility for what has happened in the state since May 3 on his watch nor should it stop them from holding him accountable.
There are several underground organisations that belong to both the Meitei and tribal Kuki communities in the state, and several of them are under obligations of the conditions of the tripartite Suspension of Operations agreement signed by the Union government, state government and the insurgent groups. Mr Singh has not named the organisation but suggestions are that the Imphal-based organisation which is in talks with the government represents the Meitei community. Talks with these groups had started long back but it was for the first time after the clashes broke out between two communities on May 3 that they made some progress.
While every single step towards lasting peace in the state is welcome, attempts to cover up the serious shortcomings of the state government that could undermine peace in the long run should not be lost sight of. The minority Kuki-Zo community has been crying foul over the alleged partisan attitude of the state government and an organisation which represents them on November 15 issued a two-week ultimatum to the Union government that it will go ahead with its plan to set up a self-governed administration in the state, irrespective of recognition from the Centre, if their demands are not met in two weeks. There are reports that Kuki members of the state Assembly belonging to the ruling BJP complain of step-motherly treatment of the community by the BJP government in the state.
Instead of seeking ways to build bridges between the two estranged communities in the state and forge ways for lasting peace, the government appears to be travelling in the opposite direction. It makes little or no effort to go into the reasons why the strife began in the first place, leave alone attempting a heart-to-heart discussion as suggested by Union home minister Rajnath Singh.
It may be recalled that the sound of the gun and screams of violence have not stopped in the state. Instances of kidnapping and gunfight are reported from various parts of the state with a disturbing regularity. The central paramilitary forces and the Army are worried that the thousands of guns and lakhs of rounds of ammunition that have been stolen from police stations could land in the wrong hands and every must step must be taken to retrieve them. The state government, however, has never taken the issue with the seriousness it warranted, and security experts would blame those arms for the continued gunfight in the state’s villages now.
It is time the Union government told the rulers in state that peace is not a target that can be achieved in a piecemeal way; a government must be able to look at the problem in its entirety. Without such a vision, and action that follows it, talks of peace agreements should be seen as nothing but diversionary tactics.