Amid a fresh spiral of violence in Manipur and almost a month after protests and clashes broke out there, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is finally paying a visit to the troubled north-eastern state. Army Chief General Manoj Pande is also in Manipur to review the security situation. Ahead of Shah’s visit, BJP Chief Minister Biren Singh announced that 40 Kuki insurgents had been killed in encounters for attempting to attack civilian areas in and around the Imphal valley, populated largely by Meiteis. In Guwahati a few days ago, Shah blamed the violence on the high court directive to the state government to recommend to the tribal affairs ministry that Scheduled Tribe status be accorded to the Meiteis, thus absolving the Manipur administration of any culpability for its failure to stem the clashes.
The Meiteis, who are largely Hindus, constitute about 53 per cent of the state’s population. They are in a majority in the plains of Manipur and are relatively better off, while the hills are dominated by tribals who are largely Christians. The possibility of the Meiteis getting ST status understandably fuelled anger and trepidation among the tribal Kukis and Nagas that their quota pie will be eaten into. The court directive led to protests with thousands participating in a tribal solidarity march to oppose the demand for including the Meiteis in the ST list. This was the trigger for the violence that has so far claimed about 75 lives, injured hundreds and displaced thousands. The state government’s inability to contain the violence and its openly partisan role, according to some observers, has come into question. Chief ministers in the state have almost always been from the Meitei community, with the present chief minister, Biren Singh, being no exception.
The BJP’s northeast outreach has met a roadblock with the outbreak of clashes in Manipur denting its recent electoral victory in three states of the region. Though in the last nine years it has consolidated its position and strengthened its hold in the north-eastern states, communal and ethnic differences are being revived. The Manipur government has accused the tribals of harbouring refugees from Myanmar to change the demography of the hill regions. The ethnic rift in the state is gradually turning into a communal conflict as Hindutva elements among the Meiteis are gaining ground. It is to be hoped that the home minister’s visit will assuage hurt sentiments and calm the anger among different communities. It is imperative that peace and normalcy return to the state though the ethnic fault lines may be too deep to be healed.