Violence is not unusual in India’s neglected north-east region of eight states. Yet, the continuing ethnic violence in the state of Manipur since 3rd May is different on many counts. The unabating violence in the border state threatens not to remain a domestic issue for long. As the Manipur unrest destabilises India’s most sensitive corner, it is sure to rope in the heartless junta of Myanmar. This border-breach will have serious geopolitical consequences for India. The war in Manipur will not stay civil for long.

For starters, the civil war in Manipur has been forcing Manipurians to flee their burning homes. Fleeing Manipurians have taken refuge in neighbouring Myanmar. There is nothing sanguine about Myanmar, which is already squeezed by warring rebel groups and the military junta within. The trickle of Manipur refugees threatens to turn into a flood in Myanmar. This will force the junta to kick up a major row over Manipurian refugees. There is still a catch here for India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/imphal/300-meiteis- from-manipur-border-town-flee-to- myanmar/articleshow/100061707.cms?from=mdr

Bad News for National Security

India may hope its long silence on the junta will make the latter remain quiet over illegal refugees. India’s calculation may go wrong. Moreover, if deployment in the north-east is to be decreased, India will have to cut down on its forces along the Arunachal Pradesh border. This is not advisable for India as China is busy erecting military installations along this border. In a worse scenario, China may even recruit Manipur rebels in its fight against India. These are all not be good news for India and its national security.

Geopolitics apart, the ethnic violence in Manipur is muddying internal politics in India. It is already 45 days since violence began on May 3rd in Manipur. Yet Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has neither visited the troubled state nor condemned the violence. He is yet to tweet on the issue. He hasn’t even chaired a high-power meeting on Manipur. His stark indifference to Manipur’s plight is glaring and raising the hackles of opposition politicians in India. https://www.telegraphindia.com/north-east/why-is-pm-modi- still-silent-on-manipur-violence-asks-congress-leader-jairam- ramesh/cid/1943176

Video Courtesy: YouTube/The Hindu

Manipur not on Mr Modi’s Priority List

When violence erupted in Manipur, Mr Modi was immersed in his poll campaigns in the state of Karnataka, uttering nothing about the raging inferno in Manipur. Soon thereafter, he visited Japan, Papua New Guinea and Australia. In Australia, he entreated the Australian prime minister Tom Albanese to act against the defilers of Hindu temples. Through all this diplomatic drama, he remained totally unconcerned over losses of property and lives in Manipur.

To this day, Manipur continues to be off Mr Modi’s priority list. As he dithers, the conflict between the Meitei and the Kuki ethnic groups is snowballing. The unrest has now acquired sectarian colours and the atmosphere has become communally charged. Meiteis are largely Hindus. They make up the loyal constituency of Mr Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party, aka BJP. They control the levers of political power in the state and are seen as an entitled group. Pitted against them are the Kukis, the tribals who are Christians. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/profile-on- meiteis/article66847682.ece

The Truth in Kukis’ Words

Inevitably, the dispute over land rights and tribal privileges has acquired an explosive religious tone. How else could one explain the destruction of 250 churches belonging to the Kukis in the violence? Not surprising that the Kukis are pointing fingers at the BJP-controlled state government for backing the Meiteis. As brazen as it can get, Manipur’s BJP chief minister Mr N Biren Singh is unfliching in his open opposition to the Kukis and their rights. Never before has an incumbet government played such partisan politics against a section of the state. He is the devil’s advocate in Manipur today.

Mr Singh loves to liken the Kukis to illegal migrants from Myanmar. He is sowing the seeds of insecurity in the minds of upper-caste Meiteis, who are primarily his voters. He accuses the Kukis of growing poppies in the hills and fuelling the drug problem in the state. He slams the Kukis for deforestation to sell timber and encash an ecological catastrophe. Against these backdrops, there is truth in what the Kukis are saying about the state’s injustice and partisan politics. https://www.thequint.com/news/india/30-militants-killed-in- defensive-ops-claims-manipur-cm-n-biren-singh#read-more

At the Heart of Manipur Violence

Since colonial times, the Kukis have been recognised as Manipur’s scheduled tribes. This scheduled-tribe status makes the Kukis eligible for land and other rights. Shaking this status quo, the Manipur High Court ordered in April to extend tribal status to the majority Meiteis, who are non-tribals. At once, the court order made the Meiteis, who live in the valley and the plains, eligible to buy land in Kukis’ hilly areas. The majority Meiteis, who account for 53 per cent of Manipur’s population, were delighted over the high court order.

At once, the court order made the Kukis feel they are about to be evicted from their homes and lose their lands. They dread losing their farming rights. They fear being stripped of their eligibility for priority bank loans, college seats and hospital admissions. Their worry is that Meiteis would rob them of their rights, reservations and privileges. These fears are at the heart of the Manipur violence that is threatening the survival of BJP in the state. What looked like a harmless court diktat at the outset has turned now into an existential crisis for the Kukis. https://www.thestatesman.com/india/kukis-meities-conflict- in-a-nutshell-1503187116.html

Apprehensive About the Imbalance

As Mr Modi fails to condemn the violence against the Kukis and the Manipur government turns a blind eye to their plight, the unrest is morphing into a fanatical religious violence. India’s opposition parties are accusing Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist party for the deplorable state of affairs in Manipur. As clashes continue, the insecure Kukis are taking out rallies, which end up in more clashes and violence.

The Kukis say there is already a ‘demographic imbalance’ in their hills due to illegal immigration from Myanmar. They are apprehensive about this imbalance turning more serious after the court order. The Kukis are not able to reconcile to the fact that Mr Modi and his party are taking sides in the tragedy. They are aghast at their prime minister backing the new status of the forward-caste and the relatively well-off majority Meitei ethnic group. https://thewire.in/rights/full-text-niketu-iralu-karan-thapar- manipur-violence

Horrifying Show of Violence

Is this a state-sponsored violence, politicos are asking now. There is ample reason to suspect the hand of the state in the ongoing violence in Manipur. Mr Modi is yet to sack the inept Manipur administration to take direct control of the state. As the state government dithers, rebels have hijacked more than 4,500 weapons from police armouries. However, the unconcerned BJP governments are turning their attention to putting an end to poppy cultivation in protected forests and trade in drugs in the hilly regions on the border.

Clearly, the Kukis say, the Modi government is pouring oil on the raging fire, which is already fuelled by illegal immigration from Bangladesh and Myanmar. As riotous flames engulf Manipur, internet blackout continues. More than 150 have been killed, 60,000 have been displaced and 1,700 buildings – residential and religious – have been destroyed. On June 15th, in a horrifying show of violence, the home of a minister in Mr Modi’s cabinet was burnt down in the state capital Imphal. The violence has begun to target Mr Modi, his ministers and his party. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/manipur- violence-mob-sets-union-minister-rk-ranjan-singh-s-house-on- fire-101686894794270.html

Not a Simple Law-and-Order Issue

Mr Modi and his party are under attack in their sensitive north-east bastion. The bigger worry for them is the growing heartlessness of the violence that is hitting innocent civilians harder. In sheer desperation, the law-breakers have plundered police arsenal to get hold of weapons, including assault rifles and ammunition. As women and children are burnt alive, the BJP-backed state government and Mr Modi’s national government look inept and helpless.

Tragically, Mr Modi is trying to seek a short-term solution to a long-term crisis. He did constitute a committee for peace talks between the warring groups. This failed to yield results. Over 40,000 security forces were deployed in Manipur. Attempts were made to create buffer zones between the plains and the hills. Without exception, these half-hearted moves fizzled out. This atrocious failure is not surprising. As Mr Modi is viewing the Manipur’s unputdownable ethno-religious crisis as a simple law-and-order issue, this was bound to happen. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and- northeast/why-is-the-peace-process-in-jeopardy-in-violence-hit- manipur-1227539.html

Turning Into a Scary Contagion

It is high time Mr Modi treated the Manipur issue as a long-festering problem that deserves a durable long-term solution. However, he is not prepared to stitch up any political solution that could mar his party’s prospects in the 2024 elections. Against this discouraging backdrop, the man-made sectarian violence sends out a strong message. Even if normalcy returns to Manipur, even after differences are resolved, Manipur will not revert to its famed tranquility. https://poliphoon.com/elections-and-the-edifice-complex/

Mr Modi’s divisive politics will not allow Manipur’s ethnic groups to live together in peace as before. The social fissures caused by partisan politics run so deep that they cannot be filled in for good. As the Manipur violence turns into a scary contagion, it portends turmoil for the entire Indian north-east. The after-effects of the crisis will ensure the Chins of Myanmar and the Mizos of Mizoram do not remain passive for long. https://theprint.in/opinion/security- code/with-myanmars-war-at-northeast-borders-india-must-side- with-mizos-against-the-junta/1340617/

In Conclusion

Mr Modi’s penchant for winning elections and his brazenness to use poisonous sectarian politics to garner votes have brought Manipur to this riotous state. Add to this, his assertion of Hindu supremacy, the toxic cocktail will ensure Manipur, the land of gems, remains broken for ever. As 2024 approaches fast and general elections come near, replays of Manipur will deepen the cracks in the mirror. It would be childish to hope Manipur will be Mr Modi’s last sectarian warfront.