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PM Modi Acknowledging Manipur Was First Step, Visiting the State Must Be Next

PM Modi must walk the talk by immediately paying a visit to Manipur to show his seriousness on the issue.

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President Droupadi Murmu’s inaugural address to the 18th Lok Sabha on 27 June – 10 days after Home Minister Amit Shah convened a high-level meeting to review the security situation in Manipur – was highly anticipated by the people of the state and Indians at large. Not only is it customary to present the report card of the government's previous tenure, but the address is also of political salience.

As the address allowed people to read into the minds, intent, and vision of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for the next five years, it was nothing short of disappointing.

Though President Murmu devoted 10 lines (including a line of reference to Assam) to the Northeast, the conspicuous silence on the 14-month-long unabated violence in Manipur left the people of the state and concerned citizens across India deeply hurt.

Despite newly elected Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and Congress MP from Inner Manipur Bimol Akoijam raising objections over the government's silence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued to stay mum on the matter in his response to the debate on the Motion of Thanks on the President's Address on Tuesday, 2 July.
The post-facto justification by Nalin Kohli, a BJP spokesperson, on the prime minister's silence, was that there was "no point" in talking to the Opposition, who he claimed were not willing to listen.

This justification, during a prime-time TV debate on India Today, not only reflects poorly on the intent and state of mind of the BJP-led government, but also on its dismissive attitude towards the Opposition.

Unlike the general expectation that a diminished BJP, which has been reduced to 240 seats – 32 short of a simple majority in the Lok Sabha – will be constrained by the compulsions of coalition politics to demonstrate more humility, accountability, and responsiveness in Parliament, the NDA government seems intent to give short shrift to the legitimate concern of the Opposition and parliamentary norms.

However, in an interesting turn of events, PM Modi broke his long silence during a speech at the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, 3 July, and said that the government is making all efforts to bring normalcy in the violence-struck state.

Looks like the persistent pressure, widespread criticism, and electoral debacle in Manipur (BJP-Naga People's Front coalition lost both the Lok Sabha seats) compelled him to finally read the writing on the wall.

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But That's Just the First Step 

This belated realisation should be seen as a necessary first step only.

Unless the structural causes of the issue are not addressed, and a workable solution is not found, the initiatives of the Modi government will not be sufficient to restore normalcy and peace in Manipur.

The initiatives underlined in President Murmu's message, reiterated by PM Modi in his Rajya Sabha speech, include:

  • The revocation of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in large part of Northeast India, including 19 police station areas in Manipur’s valley districts

  • Signing peace accords with armed groups

  • Improving connectivity and infrastructure and making Northeast the engine of development and bridgehead to Southeast Asia

The establishment of a 'buffer zone', implemented after Amit Shah’s visit to Manipur in May 2023, and the massive deployment of over 60,000 central paramilitary personnel have helped secure the foothill Kuki-Zomi-Hmar villages from relentless attacks from Arambai Tenggol, a controversial Meitei nationalist group, and other radicalised groups.

Yet, they have failed to contain the spread of violence across the state for over a year now. Over 200 villages and 360 churches owned by the Kuki-Zomi-Hmar alone were burnt down, 220 people (including 186 belonging to Kuki-Zomi-Hmar) have been killed, and 60,000 (including over 41,000 Kuki-Zomi-Hmars) internally displaced.

The Modi-led NDA government must realise that unless this problematic division of labour of security between the Centre and the state is resolved by allowing the Centre to take direct control over law and order, the prospect of peace and stability will remain elusive.

The superimposing of a centrally appointed security advisor, along with establishing a unified security command, without empowering the former, has opened up a good excuse to shift the blame on the Centre for allowing the Manipur violence to continue.

This is despite the fact that Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh, who is in-charge of Home Affairs, has utterly failed in restoring law and order for over a year.

The security vacuum and the revocation of AFSPA in 19 police stations in valley districts have also led to a fertile ground of mass mobilisation by the radicalised armed groups like the Arambai Tenggol.

The massive military training reported, and other proscribed armed groups like the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup and the United National Liberation Front with an avowed secessionist agenda, has deepened the security dilemma in the state with far-reaching implications on India’s national security.

The counter-armed mobilisation by Kuki-Zomi-Hmar village defense volunteers and their armed groups, who come under the wings of Suspension of Operation Agreement, does not augur well for peace and stability.

The sustained ethnic security dilemma across the divide is likely to spoil the future of a generation of youths as they are compelled to spend most of their time on the 'frontlines' to secure their villages from transgression and attacks across the 'buffer zone'.

Need For Viable Political Solution to Ensure Peace

Unless this structural source is addressed with a viable political solution, pitching Manipur and the Northeast as an 'engine of development or bridgehead to Southeast Asian economy' is likely to remain a pipe dream.

The indiscriminate and relentless attacks against Kuki-Zomi-Hmars, one of the largest transborder communities across the Indo-Myanmar borderland, under the guise of declaring a 'war on drugs', checking 'illegal immigration', and 'encroachment' on protected forest must stop.

While these are real issues, which involve all communities in the state, objective handling of these matters by following established procedures must be a priority.

The infrastructural power of the state to autonomously regulate state-society relations must be made more capacious in order to rebuild trust and legitimacy in the institutions of the state.

The PM Modi-led NDA government cannot naively normalise the gradual opening of schools, colleges, and markets across the divide as a sign of normalcy.

Unless the structural source of violence remains unaddressed, any minor spark or stray incident of violence in any part of Manipur is likely to engulf the state into another quagmire.

These issues demand that PM Modi not only sees what Mahua Moitra –quoting Chilean poet Pablo Neruda – calls 'blood in the streets' of Manipur, but also sees the scars of violence, hate and distrust, which has run deep across the divide.

Given that this violence has ruptured the shared spaces of communities across Manipur, PM Modi must walk the talk by immediately paying a visit to the state to show his empathy and seriousness on the issue.

This is a necessary first step for him to engage with stakeholders on ground in order to forge a workable and durable political solution, including the demand for a separate administration.

However, addressing this may entail fixing political accountability of Biren Singh and directly taking over law and order. The jury is out on whether PM Modi can muster the courage, large-heartedness, and real statesmanship to wade into this troubled political water to resolve this political quandary.

(Kham Khan Suan Hausing is a professor and former Head, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He is an honorary Senior Fellow, Centre for Multilevel Federalism, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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