Manipur, where the communal cauldron has been bubbling for six months, is back in the spotlight thanks to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Bhagwat fired a volley of questions regarding Manipur in his Vijayadashami speech at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur — billed by the Sangh Parivar as an address to the nation — immediately sparking a debate.
Bhagwat, significantly, aired his queries exactly a day after Mizoram Chief Minister, Zoramthanga, bluntly told a BBC interviewer that it would be suicidal for him to share a stage with Modi after what has happened in Manipur. The sharp comment made national headlines because he spoke of Manipur and Modi in the same breath. The CM had no option but to club Manipur with Modi, thereby shining a torch on the blighted state which Modi still has not had the time to visit although he has been jetting across the world.
Bhagwat’s aim was to obfuscate the truth about Manipur by asking rhetorical questions. The truth is that Meitei Hindus — comprising 53% of the population and backed by the BJP “double engine” government in Imphal and New Delhi — unleashed a reign of terror on Kuki Christians who account for barely 18%. The pogrom since May is characterised by the large-scale destruction of churches, and the death toll is mostly Christian. And there are still no signs of restoration of peace.
Manipur’s Hindu Meitei CM, Biren Singh, is widely blamed for the anti-Christian violence, but the BJP’s national leadership has neither removed nor reprimanded him. The European Union and Christian countries like the United Kingdom have summarily rejected the Indian government and its friendly media’s deliberate projection of the violence as a Meitei versus Kuki ethnic conflict, and underlined the religious nature of the bloodshed. And India’s own Church leaders say that the RSS planned the genocide of the Christian minority in collusion with the BJP administration. Even the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, highlighted the blatantly communal character of the violence in the open courtroom while hearing cases — but to no avail.
In order to whitewash the role of the Hindu Right in targeting Christians, Bhagwat asked question after question on Dussehra — Manipuri Meiteis and Manipuri Kukis have been living together for many years. How did this sudden discord take place? Manipur is a border state. Who benefits from such internal discord and secessionism in that region? Outside forces also benefit. Were people from outside involved in what happened in Manipur? Who is instigating the violence? Which foreign powers are interested in taking advantage of unrest and instability in Manipur? Does the geopolitics of Southeast Asia also have a role?
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), which represents Kukis, lost no time in foiling the RSS chief’s diversionary tactics by shooting off counter-questions: Why were there no clashes between Meiteis and Kukis in all the years before the BJP and Biren Singh came to power in the state? Why had Meitei belligerence become pronounced and quickly intensified during Singh’s tenure?
In short, Kukis hold BJP-backed Meiteis and their militias responsible for the massacre of Christians in Manipur, which is an open-and-shut case as far as they are concerned. True to its ideology, the BJP government in Manipur with the full backing of the BJP regime at the Centre, chose to target Christians and turn Meiteis against them for Hindu consolidation which pays hefty dividends in elections. There is no denying that the RSS, which Bhagwat heads, has become very active in Manipur since 2017 when the BJP came to power. It has left no stone unturned to divide and polarise Manipur, pitting Hindus against Christians, which Bhagwat has tried in vain to cover up.
Zoramthanga is in an unenviable position and had no option but to drag Modi into the picture while talking about the impact of the anti-Christian violence in Manipur on his re-election bid. In any case, Modi and Manipur are inextricably linked and feed off each other regardless of Zoramthanga.
But Zoramthanga is indeed centre-stage ahead of assembly elections in Mizoram on November 7. His Mizo National Front (MNF) is seeking a second successive term, but Zoramthanga is in a delicate position because Mizoram is overwhelmingly Christian and MNF is a BJP ally.
MNF is a partner in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). But the partnership has become a huge liability in Mizoram — where Christians account for more than 87% of the population and are in an overwhelming majority in eight out of eight districts — after the pogrom against Kuki Christians in BJP-ruled Manipur. So Zoramthanga is pulling out all stops to distance himself from the BJP. And refusing to share a stage with Modi is part of his survival strategy.
Zoramthanga keeping Modi at an arm’s length so that his electoral prospects are not marred by the anti-Christian violence, naturally puts Manipur under the spotlight. But the CM’s stand is, of course, an utter farce. A principled path would have been to walk out of NDA and NEDA and not have any truck with the BJP any more, rather than hoodwinking voters by pretending that he is boycotting Modi. Zoramthanga is simply taking Mizoram’s Christians for a ride even as he claims to be their saviour. Not for nothing is it said that politics is the last refuge of scoundrels. Maybe the church, Mizoram’s most powerful institution, should step in and call out the hypocrisy.
SNM Abdi is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics