Continuing Crisis in Manipur

On August 29, the Manipur assembly was convened for a one day session. The house stood in silence for two minutes in memory of those who have lost their lives in the violence that has engulfed the state for the past 4 months. It adopted a resolution moved by the Chief Minister calling for peace. There was no discussion whatsoever on the causes of the violence in the state, and how to bring about peace. The demand of the opposition that the session be extended to 5 days, in order to discuss the situation, was rejected. After the opposition walked out in protest, the Assembly session came to an abrupt end, in barely 48 minutes.

It is clear that the Manipur government had no intention of discussing the situation in the state. The ten Kuki MLA’s, including seven belonging to the ruling BJP, did not attend the session, as they claimed that the State government could not guarantee their safety in Imphal. The sole reason the assembly session was called was to fulfil the constitutional requirement that there should not be a gap of more than 6 months between two assembly sessions. The previous session of the Manipur Assembly had been held in March.

Even three weeks earlier, during the debate on the No-Confidence Motion in the Lok Sabha, there was no meaningful discussion on the causes behind the present situation in Manipur, and the way forward. There were merely accusations and counter accusations between the government and the opposition.

As a result of the mayhem and violence unleashed by armed mobs from May 3-4 onwards, at least 180 people have lost their lives and over 60,000 people have had their homes destroyed and been turned into refugees. According to news reports, armed vigilante groups have forced all Kuki families to flee from the capital Imphal, while Meitei families have been forced to flee from Kuki dominated areas. It is not just the armed vigilante groups who are guilty. The guilty include those who have organised these vigilante groups, armed and financed them, set them into motion and provided them with state protection.

It is reported that even four months after the first incidents of violence, at least 4,000 sophisticated firearms, taken over from the armouries of the armed forces of the Indian state, are still in the hands of such vigilante groups. No effort has been made by the Indian state to recover these weapons.

It is widely accepted by all that if the Indian state wants to, it can bring a very quick end to anarchy and violence in a matter of days. That it has not done so in Manipur for over four months indicates diabolical intentions. The situation of anarchy and violence has been deliberately prolonged, in order to deepen and harden the divisions in Manipur society and smash the unity of the people.

The armed forces of the Indian state — Assam Rifles reporting to the Union Home Ministry and the Manipur Police under the control of the state government — have been given the responsibility of safeguarding the lives and properties of the people and ensuring peace. These armed forces are thoroughly discredited amongst the people. They have not ensured protection for the masses of people. On the other hand, it is widely believed that the Assam Rifles has been arming and protecting vigilante groups of Kukis. It is also widely believed that the Manipur Police has been arming and protecting vigilante groups of Meiteis.

The Union Home Minister, as well as the Manipur Chief Minister, have been inflaming passions with their statements as to the cause of the problem. They have been blaming refugees who have fled Myanmar in the wake of the army take over in that country. Kuki-Zo refugees have been accused of taking over forest lands in the hills and cultivating poppy in these lands.

Blaming refugees from a neighbouring country is a convenient excuse but it is not a convincing explanation for the recent violence in Manipur. It is to be noted that over 40,000 refugees and displaced people have been welcomed in Mizoram, which remains one of the most peaceful states in the Northeast. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the Central Government to ensure that refugees from another country are taken care of, according to internationally accepted principles.

Blaming Kuki Zo refugees for poppy cultivation is to divert from what has become common knowledge over the past few years — that the hand of those in power lies behind poppy cultivation. It has been used to enrich those in power, as well as finance various armed groups.

Referring to the demand raised by various opposition members of parliament for the dismissal of Chief Minister Biren Singh, Home Minister Shah has stated that the removal of a chief minister was only needed in case he or she was not cooperating with the Central Government. The Union Home Minister has declared that the Manipur government of Biren Singh has been closely cooperating with the Central government in dealing with the situation. In other words, the prolonging of the condition of anarchy and violence for over four months appears to be part of a plan in which both the central and state governments have been coordinating.

Source of the Problem

The source of the problem lies in the outlook of the Indian ruling class towards Manipur and its people. From the time of merger of Manipur in the Indian Union, successive governments in New Delhi have been disregarding and violating the rights of the people of Manipur. The Indian ruling class looks at the land and natural resources of Manipur and all the states of the country as its private jagir, to be exploited for maximum profits. It does not care for the people of Manipur — whether Meities, Kukis, Nagas or others.

In order to put down the striving of the people of Manipur for their rights, the Government of India has pursued the policy of setting various ethnic groups against each other. It has periodically held separate negotiations and arrived at so-called peace accords with various armed groups.  A situation has been created in which the people are at the mercy of official and unofficial armed forces which act as if they are a law unto themselves. So-called peace accords have also been used to spread the fear that the state of Manipur is likely to be split up into smaller parts. They have led to inflaming of passions amongst all sections of the people of Manipur.

Over the past decade, the Central government has been pursuing what has come to be known as the “Act East Policy”. One component of this Act East Policy is to connect India with the countries of South East Asia through a network of road and rail. Another component is to exploit the rich mineral resources of Manipur and other states of the North East. Rich deposits of limestone, Chromite, and Platinum group of metals have been discovered in the hill regions of Manipur. Many capitalists have signed deals for exploitation of these mineral resources with the Manipur government. These deals have been signed behind the backs of the people of the state. When people found that their lands were being taken over by capitalists for exploitation, they have organised protests. They have asserted that their lands cannot be handed over to capitalists without their permission.

The recent amendments to the Forest Conservation Act 1980, which allow the Central government to take over forest lands within 100 km of the border without the permission of the people of the area, must be seen in this light. All the mineral rich districts of Manipur fall in this category.

In order to break the united opposition of the people of Manipur to the ruthless plunder of their rich natural resources, the Manipur government has deliberately spread the story that people who are opposing the takeover of their lands are “refugees”, “poppy cultivators”, “illegal occupiers of forest lands”, etc. The aim is to discredit the people who are opposing the takeover of their lands, and mobilise the rest of the people against them.

In sum, the Indian ruling class is responsible for the present terrible situation in Manipur. It has created this situation in order to fulfil narrow self-serving aims.

The people of Manipur can and must overcome this situation. They must refuse to fall for the divide and rule policy of the ruling class. They must target their struggle against the Indian ruling class, which is the source of their miseries.

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