More than a month after Manipur erupted in ethnic violence in which nearly a hundred people were killed, several thousand injured and tens of thousands displaced, normalcy is yet to return to the state. Despite the Centre rushing additional troops and paramilitary forces the simmering tensions refuse to die down. The Kukis and other hill tribes have rightly nurtured a grievance that the gains of socio-economic progress over the years had been cornered by the Meiteis. The long-term Chief Minister N Biren Singh being a Meitei himself, key government positions too are occupied by fellow Meiteis. Before the advent of Narendra Modi at the Centre, Biren Singh was with the Congress, but seeking protection he was quick to switch over to the BJP along with the rest of his party.
Ahead of the election the BJP and the Kukis had come closer, the latter expecting a fair and just distribution of the socio-economic cake which was majorly cornered by the hill people. But the Kukis and other hill tribes have failed to get full redress of their long-standing grievances. Yet, the revival of the old demand for the ST status by the Meiteis was a grave provocation. They feared granting ST status to the Meiteis would cut into their own meager reservation pie. The fact is that ultimately it boils down to the size of the cake that the State can offer to its people. If there is not much to go around then the dominant groups, in this case the Meiteis, would try and monopolise it to the detriment of other and probably more deserving groups. Following the riots, which the Kukis allege was a planned ethnic cleansing, people from the hills are unwilling to go back to their homes in the valley.
A thick blanket of fear and distrust envelopes the state. Security forces valiantly try and maintain an uneasy calm, though the state police is alleged to be partial to the Meiteis. The truth is even a short spell of Central rule will not help. A separate hill administrative block with a fair degree of autonomy too may be a temporary solution. Eventually faster economic development with opportunities for the people to share in growth may be the real solution. In the meantime, strict enforcement of law and order and a severest punishment for the rioters will have a salutary effect on the emotionally distraught people of the hills who were at the receiving end of the Meiteis’ violent streak. Meanwhile, it is time people in the country at large took interest in the North-East. It is not so far away that it should not enter their mental horizon.