When Union Home Minister Amit Shah reached Manipur on the night of 29 May, there were high hopes that his visit would help end the conflict which has been raging for a month. The Home Minister headed straight from the airport in Imphal to have a meeting with the Chief Minister of Manipur and his Cabinet Ministers, in the presence of other central and state officials.
On the next day, Amit Shah met various Meitei Civil Society organisations in Imphal. The Union Home Minister also took time to visit three Kuki-Zo dominated districts of Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal (Moreh town) during his three-day tour.
While the Kuki-Zo demanded separate administration and President’s Rule beside other demands, the Meitei’s core demand, besides others, was believed to be Scheduled Tribe (ST) status and the preservation of the territorial integrity of Manipur. Besides civil societies, many prominent Meitei sportspersons also voiced out for preservation of the territorial integrity of the state.
While meeting Kuki leaders in the hills, Shah appealed for peace for 15 days so that a committee could be formed to find a political solution. With regard to laying down of arms, Kuki leaders expressed that the 4000-odd weapons looted by the Meiteis from the various state armouries be first submitted.
While after the Union Home Minister’s visit, various declarations were made like judicial enquiry, compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the deceased, and supply of 30 metric tonnes of grain, etc., certain questions remain unanswered.
'Three Villages Burnt Down During Amit Shah's Meeting With Kukis'
There was a perception that, with the Union Home Minister’s visit, sterner actions would follow not only on the mobs from both sides but also on certain officials who either abated or failed in their duty.
However, in the Imphal valley, even the Commanding Officers (CO) of various armouries who looted the Manipur Police Training College, 9th Manipur Mahila Indian Reserve Batallion (IRB), 3rd , 4th ,5th ,6th and 8th IRB, 7th Manipur Rifles camp, and the DGP pool reserve bullets, are yet to be suspended. The same applies to police stations in the hills.
The efforts taken to recover weapons that were looted also seems to be tepid as the number of firearms recovered is only about 700 of the total 4000 weapons and 5 lakh rounds of ammunition that were looted, as reported by TV news channel NE Live Channel.
Even whilst the Union Home Minster was conducting a meeting with Kuki representatives in Kangpokpi, in the peripheries of the district, Meiteis attacked and burned down three villages.
This sent a very wrong signal, and the question arose, that if they can be attacked even when the Union Home Minister is in Manipur, how can tribals now lay down their arms as requested by Central government officials!
'Why CM Biren Singh Not Held Accountable?'
As the situation continues to remain grim, voices calling out for President’s Rule in Manipur are increasing. However, even as there were reports earlier that Article 355 was promulgated in Manipur, newly appointed Advisor to the Manipur State Government, Kuldeep Singh, had made it clear in an Imphal Free Press article on 7 May that Article 355 was never promulgated in Manipur.
That meant that Chief Minister N Biren Singh was still calling the shots. This created a voracious feeling of unrest and doubt amongst the tribal community that they are at the flashpoint of ethnic rioting and excruciating lynching once again.
The central government did appoint Rajiv Singh as the new DGP of Manipur, replacing the Kuki DGP P. Doungel. The Hindu had reported earlier that Doungel had been side lined since May 3. Now that DGP P. Doungel is replaced, Kuki–Zo students organisations, in a press release, questioned why only the Kuki DGP was removed since N Biren Singh, who is also the Home Minister of Manipur, should also be held accountable.
'Free Press Bigger Casualty In This Conflict'
One critical element in the current conflict is the role of the media.
On the night of 2 June, Arambai Tengol attacked Kuki villages in Kangchup area of Kangpokpi district which led to some injuries from the attacker’s side. The logical course in finding out the perpetrators is to see which district or villages the attacks are happening in.
The death of the free and independent press is one of the greater casualties of this conflict.
For the Kukis, this particular area called Kangchup is vital to defend as it connects Kangpokpi and Churachandpur district( North and South of Manipur) with a thin line or a ‘chicken’s neck’.
Another reason why the current conflicts remain unabated is the unfounded but undeclared fear that whatever territories can be safeguarded or ‘conquered’ by both sides within this stipulated 15 days might eventually form part of the new arrangement that would be made for Manipur.
Moreover, people on the ground, allege that the number of deaths of Meiteis and Kukis reported officially are highly deflated and the death counts are expected to be much higher.
'Bring Normalcy To Manipur At Any Cost'
If the figh persists, Meiteis in Imphal Valley, which is surrounded by hill tribes, will soon run out of food and other essential supplies even as prices are already soaring.
For the Kukis on the other hand, defending their villages against alleged Meitei tyranny or ‘state forces’, they would soon run out of ammunition making their villages very vulnerable to being over-run. Ashok Singhal (IPS), in his book Shahar Mein Curfew, had written that “No riot can last for more than 24 hours unless the state wants it."
Whether the state government had a direct role in the conflict would become clear only once investigations are over but the present concern is to bring normalcy to the state at any cost, even if President’s rule is needed.
While political negotiators usually take much longer time to come to a solution, it is in every stakeholder’s interest to find a solution soon, without which, many more Meitei and Kuki lives would be sacrificed at the altar of ethnic hatred.
While the Meiteis want the state’s territorial integrity to be preserved, the Kukis want a separate administration. Thankfully, there are enough provisions in the Constitution of India to ensure that both of these demands can be accommodated.
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is credited for bringing "permanent peace" to Mizoram through the Mizo Accord in 1986. This time, the ‘Chanakyan’ Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi duo can cement their names in the annals of history by resolving the complex problems of Manipur that would benefit the Kukis, Meiteis and even the Nagas.
Dr David Hanneng, currently a Tata Samvaad fellow, and social activist based in Nagaland, now engaged as an Independent Reseracher on issues that effects the Northeast.