It may be time for the Centre to step in directly and take charge of the Manipur administration. The BJP Government of N Biren Singh has completely failed to check the violent orgy of murder, mayhem and plunder which has gone on uninterrupted since May 3. More than a hundred people have been killed so far. More than 50,000 have been forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in camps and elsewhere. Hundreds of crores worth of public property has been destroyed by the rioters in acts of arson and looting. Even the army convoys have become the target of open attacks by armed hooligans. Thousands of firearms have been looted from the police stations, with several of them set on fire. Despite Home Minister Amit Shah visiting the state for an on-the-spot inspection and further instructions, violence has shown no sign of abating. In fact, various ethnic groups baying for one another’s blood seem to have regrouped, indulging in violence with added ferocity, and even ministers of the state and central governments have been targeted.
Despite the presence of the army and the paramilitary forces in large numbers the violent mobs have continued to perpetrate violence. This may be due to the strict instructions to the army and the other law enforcement agencies not to use excessive force to control the situation, especially under no circumstances are they to open fire on the angry mobs. Maybe this has emboldened the miscreants to carry on their violent spree. But the fact is that the writ of the Biren Singh government no longer runs even in Imphal. Never in a long time has the situation been so violent and out of control as at present. Even prolonged curfews and bans on internet have not helped in bringing the situation under control. Something must be done urgently. The Opposition indulges in point-scoring when it alleges that the Prime Minister himself has not intervened personally in the Manipur situation. If his speaking or going to Imphal could help mend matters we are sure he would have by now done so. Besides, a visit by the prime minister when the situation is far from normal would only result in necessarily diverting the energies and attention of the State’s civilian and police administration towards ensuring his security. Even the call from some opposition parties that he abandon his coming State visit to the US and concentrate on Manipur sounds childish. Yet, the open war-like conditions between the state’s two main communities, the non-tribal Meitei who are concentrated in the Imphal valley and the tribal Kukis who occupy the hill areas seems out of control. The divide is so sharp that any situation that seeks to locate them in close vicinity of one another is likely to fail.
No easy solution in the Manipur conflict
There are no easy solutions to this long-hibernating ethnic strife. At the moment, the men of goodwill in both communities are lying low, fearing they will be shouted down into silence. A cooling period of direct control by the army under central rule may be the next best step. Dismissing a duly elected State government may not be the norm but the truth is that after the prolonged riots even the ruling legislative party is badly divided on ethnic lines, with the MLAs openly expressing lack of confidence in the Meitei Biren Singh. The Kukis who accuse the Biren Singh government of bias against them will be happy to see him formally removed. The point is that the Centre needs to directly take charge and let the Governor hand over the task of enforcing order to the army and paramilitary forces. You cannot have a situation with the armed gangs going about indulging in mayhem indefinitely and the law and order forces standing by with their hands tied behind their backs. Violence needs to be quelled at all costs. Manipur has burnt for far too long for the Centre not to intervene directly.