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Six Months of Violence: Manipur Paying a Heavy Price for the Failure of the BJP

Thousands of weapons stolen from police armouries are yet to be recovered, and over 50% of them are automatic.

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Six months into the Manipur tragedy, it is starkly clear that the bloodbath hasn’t cost the Bharatiya Janata Party or Prime Minister Narendra Modi anything nationally or internationally — save some criticism which is just water off a duck’s back.

The religion-wise breakup of the death toll, of course, tells its own sordid story. Out of nearly 200 killed so far, two-thirds are reportedly Kuki Christians and one-third are Meitei Hindus.

And in what’s clearly an unequal fight, as many as 300 churches have been vandalised compared to 16 temples, underlining the planned targeting of Christians in the Hindu majority BJP-ruled state.

Today, exactly half a year after the horrendous sectarian violence first erupted in the northeastern state on 3 May and is yet to subside, electioneering is in full swing in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, but there is not even a mention of Manipur in the hectic poll campaign for the mini-referendum ahead of the general elections.

While nobody is talking about Manipur, in contrast, the Israel-Palestine conflict has become an issue in the BJP versus the Congress Party battles in all the four states where campaigning is currently underway! If Manipur is a factor anywhere, it is only in tiny Mizoram but the poll outcome there will anyway have very little or no impact on national politics. In short, the Manipur tragedy has been buried electorally in constitutionally secular but increasingly majoritarian India.

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Complete Loss of Faith in the Biren Singh Government

But while the BJP has gotten away with pitting Kuki Christians, who comprise barely 18 percent of the population against Meitei Hindus accounting for a whopping 53 percent, there is no doubt that the country is paying a heavy price for the Hindutva project.

Firstly, the religious violence has partitioned the state into Meitei and Kuki units with central forces manning the “border” to stop the two sides from attacking each other. There is even a buffer zone separating them.

This is as unprecedented as it is unimaginable.

Kuki Christians have unambiguously said that they have lost all faith in the BJP state government led by Meitei Hindu Chief Minister Biren Singh and are insisting on a separate administration which will not target and hound them.

The minority community, concentrated in the hills, is even citing the characterization and condemnation of the violence by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, D. Y. Chandrachud, as “an absolute breakdown of law and order” — underlining its startling scale and intensity — as a ground for formally and officially splitting Manipur into two.

And as things stand, the demand, to say the least, is not entirely bereft of merit. But the Meiteis, living in the plains, are not giving in and the Kukis are not budging, creating an explosive situation in a state with a long history of secessionism, insurgency and religious-ethnic clashes.

And What About the Looted Arms and Ammunition?

Secondly, thousands of weapons stolen from police armouries are yet to be recovered in six long months and they are mostly in the hands of Meitei militias. This is the perfect recipe for the outbreak of fresh violence in the days, weeks and months ahead prolonging the crisis which is far from resolved. So far less than 25 percent of arms looted have been retrieved.

According to official statistics, of the nearly 5,600 arms looted, only around 1,500 have been recovered, and out of 6.5 lakh rounds of ammunition snatched at gunpoint, just 20,000 have been returned which is less than five percent.

There are two aspects that I find particularly worrisome in the context of the plunder of weapons.

Most of the guns were looted from police armouries in three districts: Imphal East, Churachandpur and Bishnupur. But the police did not fire a single shot to stop the looting.

This is damning beyond words and underlines the nexus between the looters and the administration. What’s equally alarming is that over 50 percent of the stolen weapons are automatic.

This is very telling as even Pakistan-backed terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir are mostly armed with pistols. One can well imagine the hell which will be unleashed in Manipur in the foreseeable future if the stolen automatic weapons are freely used.

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Rift Between Assam Rifles and Manipur Police

Additionally,, the honour of the Indian army has been compromised thanks to the Hindutva project in Manipur. Attacks and criticism of the army by Meitei leaders of the BJP have lowered the prestige of defence forces in the eyes of ordinary Indians in Manipur which is deplorable and directly hurts national interest. As it is, troops had to be diverted to Manipur at a time when they were badly needed at the China frontier. This exigency wouldn’t have arisen if the BJP had stopped fanning the flames of sectarian violence.

The targeting and humiliation of the armed forces is evident from a First Information Report filed by Manipur Police against Assam Rifles for doing its duty. It was preceded by unnecessarily aggressive and bellicose behaviour of the state police towards an Assam Rifles contingent which was recorded on a video and circulated.

Meitei leaders openly accuse Assam Rifles of having a soft corner for Kukis when they are simply doing their duty without fear or favour. The BJP’s Meitei MLAs have held rallies against Assam Rifles and also submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister for their removal.

I wonder if the unprecedented FIR in August levelling criminal charges against Assam Rifles, which officially describes itself as the “penultimate interventionist force of the central government in the internal security situation, under the control of army; when the situation goes beyond the control of central paramilitary operations”, has been withdrawn. The matter was serious enough for Eastern Army Commander, Lieutenant-General R P Kalita to rush to Imphal to meet the CM but the fate of the FIR remains shrouded in mystery.

The whole world knows of Modi’s refusal to visit Manipur to play peace-maker and how he evaded the subject when he was forced by the Opposition’s no-confidence motion to speak in Parliament. What’s not so well known is that Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have refused to grant Kuki MLAs of the BJP and NDA MPs from Mizoram an appointment. It is now high time that they hear them out.

(SNM Abdi is a distinguished journalist and ex-Deputy Editor of Outlook. This is an opinion article 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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