Two Ideas of Manipur, Both in the Hills and the Valley

There seems to be a section of Meiteis who understand the social engineering of the N Biren Singh-led government.

5 min read
Hindi Female

In the early hours of 19 April, when the country was busy with the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections, a small Kuki village in Manipur of about 23 households protested with banners containing pictures of decapitated body parts. The banners read, "Our hands had been cut, so we cannot vote."

I couldn’t help but remain quiet for a while, thinking whether the whole Kuki community was protesting against the election. I checked the WhatsApp groups that I am a part of and realised that there was no outrage as such, but hidden in between their silences was a grim feeling of discontent.

On the other hand, from the election campaign of Dr Bimol Akoijam to voting day and re-polling, there seem to be voices of dissent among the Meiteis against the present government.

In all of this, there arise two different ideas of Manipur.


In the Hills

The 30th General Assembly of the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), an apex body of the Kukis in Manipur, informed everyone to abstain from voting unless there was prior information from the body. Following this, on 26 March, the KIM reaffirmed its position on the Manipur Lok Sabha elections and stated that no Kuki will contest.

Likewise, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) issued a press statement for the Kukis to not contest but reiterated that they “exercise their right to franchise by voting”.

Close to the polling date, Alfred Kan-Ngam Arthur, an outer Manipur Lok Sabha Congress candidate from the Naga community, visited Churachandpur and met various Kuki stakeholders.

However, the scenario is quite different in Kangpokpi, where several organisations led by the Committee on Tribal Unity (COTU) informed the public to abstain from voting as a protest given ‘the attacks on the Kukis’.

The reaction of the locals in Churachandpur can be clearly discerned from the deserted polling stations. While a certain section of Kangpokpi district wanted to exercise their voting rights, they were not given a chance to do so. The public discourse on social media became divided between these two decisions. Which one is the better decision for the future Kuki political aspiration — to boycott or to vote?

“We (the Kuki) wanted to part our ways with the Meiteis (as from Manipur), but the idea of participating in the Manipur Lok Sabha Election itself rescinded the whole point of parting with the Meiteis,” Kuki leaders said. Thus, the decision of several Churachandpur-based organisations is a blunder for the political movement of the Kukis, where leaders are unable to look past N Biren Singh and refuse to understand the aspirations of the people.

On the other hand, there are a few people who opine on the necessity of participating in the election to choose the leaders who are to govern the people of Manipur. They believed that not participating in the electoral process would give another chance for the N Biren Singh-led government and his alliances to govern over the state, which they see as a threat to the existence of Kuki society.

Thus, Kuki society, at its granular level, is multifaceted with respect to ideas. Whether this division will affect their overall movement and demand for a separate administration is a question to ponder.


In the Valley

In several of his discussions on digital media platforms, Congress leader Dr Angomcha Bimol Akoijam states that the present ethnic conflict in Manipur is the result of a conflict between two sets of people: those who want to destroy the integrity of Manipur and those who want to uphold it. His language seems to be directed against the ‘other’ Meiteis, who seem to lead the public against the Kukis in armed conflicts.

Thus, the state of Manipur is divided among two sets of valley inhabitants based on their ideas. The first group adheres to an idea of Manipur in which the majority of Meiteis and Nagas are considered indigenous (purportedly to gain the support of the Nagas), who have the rightful claim to what the state legally provides them, and treat the Kukis as outsiders or tenants. The second group respects the idea of citizenship and treats the Kukis as part of Manipur society, which is perhaps more inclusive, peaceful, and progressive.

The objective of the people who believe in the first idea of Manipur which is led by the N Biren government and his subordinates, as shown in the present ethnic conflict, is to dehumanise its own citizens and try to bulldoze the majoritarianism over them. As a result, we witnessed year-long ethnic violence persisting in the state, creating an emotional and physical separation between the hills and valleys.

Furthermore, it also tears apart the idea of Manipur, which is co-owned by different communities that have lived together for centuries.

However, another idea of Manipur is propagated by a set of people led by Dr Bimol who believe in the harmonious coexistence of every citizen within the state. Their concern for the Meiteis remains the same, but the processes differ. For example, Dr Bimol stated that the concern of the Meiteis concerning the ST demand is legitimate and must be looked into, and it shouldn’t be bulldozed like what the present government did. He further stated that it should be achieved through mutual understanding.

But will that day ever come?


There seems to be a section of Meiteis who understand the social engineering of the N Biren Singh-led government. These people even speak up against it, but we’ve seen the results.

Human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam’s home has been vandalised, Brinda Thounoujam undergoes public pressure, and so on. The Arambai Tenggol, the unchallenging Meitei militia, has been at the forefront of all these, but they remain prosperous as they are the ones fighting for the 'cause' of the Meiteis, or so they are made to believe. Thus, the voice of dissent amongst the Meiteis has been nipped in the bud over and over again until the Lok Sabha election.

In other words, the election has given a chance to the Meiteis to raise their voice against the present government. As such, Dr Bimol, who has gained much popularity during the ongoing ethnic conflict, harbours followers and has the courage to speak against the violent nature of the conflict, both against the Kukis and Meiteis.

His influence helped when several polling stations were captured by the Arambai Tenggol on 19 April.

Now this also means that the Arambai Tenggol is slowly losing public support. But as the public is its lifeline, it will adopt brutal measures to regain public support and cease the threat to its existence.

So, the tryst with peace remains obscure as long as the patron of the Arambai Tenggol remains in power. However, if the opposition, i.e., the Congress party vis-à-vis Bimol, wins, the process of peace-building undoubtedly will be the top priority.

(Seikhongam [] is a PhD Scholar at the Delhi School of Economics. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Manipur violence 

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