Our honourable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, manages to find time for anything and everything under the sun — except for Manipur where a full-blown communal conflict is raging for seven months with no end in sight, so much so that the state seems to have simply withered away.
Recently, I was listening intently to Modi holding forth before journalists on the new trend of using Artificial Intelligence for deepfakes at a Diwali Milan programme organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi, when it suddenly struck me that the PM should be worried more about the nightmare in Manipur than about the misuse of AI. Ironically, I heard Modi say expansively that “deepfakes can create crisis in diverse societies like ours”. Well so can Hindutva and majoritarianism, if Manipur is anything to go by!
At least I can’t fault the Congress party for taking a swipe at Modi, saying that he found the time to attend the Cricket World Cup final match at Ahmedabad in his home state of Gujarat, but is yet to visit Manipur which has become a byword for lawlessness and a stigma for India since May. Yet Modi refuses to go to the blighted state or say a single word about it.
Incredibly, the killings haven’t stopped in Manipur. From the word go, Kukis, who are Christians, have been at the receiving end of a premeditated onslaught by Meiteis, who are Hindus and enjoy the full backing of the BJP government. Among the nearly 200 killed so far, over two-thirds are Kukis in what is clearly an unequal fight between Kuki Christians, accounting for 18% of the population, and Meitei Hindus who are a whopping 54%.
Initially, there were attempts to project the sectarian violence as ethnic clashes between Kuki tribespeople and Meitei plainspeople, to play down its religious nature. But the communal character of the violence has been underlined and nailed even by the Supreme Court of India as well as the European Union. Another dead giveaway is the large-scale destruction of churches and Christian-run educational institutions.
Last week itself, three more Kukis were murdered — one was killed on November 21 and two on November 25 — in the Kuki-majority Kangpokpi district by Meitei gunmen, exacerbating the already badly disproportionate death toll. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that this month the apex Kuki body, Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum, declared its intention to set up a “self government” with a “separate chief minister” in areas dominated by the community, “whether the central government recognises it or not”.
Instead of introspecting and reaching out to the small religious minority, the BJP government responded to the self-rule call by registering a First Information Report in a police station against ITLF general secretary Muan Tombing for sedition and hatching a criminal conspiracy for waging war against the government of India. The sordid reaction exposes the depth of the widening divide and the urgent need for a dialogue to restore normalcy. But Chief Minister Biren Singh, a Meitei Hindu in the good books of the BJP’s central leadership, is stubbornly refusing to defuse the situation, clearly taking a cue from Modi who is himself behaving as if nothing untoward has happened in Manipur and all’s well there.
While Modi and Singh are sitting pretty, a delegation of leaders from 10 Opposition parties this month called on Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey to use her good offices to persuade the PM to kickstart long-overdue talks to bridge the gulf between Kukis and Meiteis and address the civil war-like situation. The delegation consisted of AAP, All India Forward Bloc, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M), Congress, JD(U), NCP, RSP and Shiv Sena (UBT) leaders. Their memorandum categorically stated that the PM is the only hope for bringing peace in the state. But Uikey obviously knows her limits. A Raj Bhavan statement issued after she met Opposition leaders simply said that steps would be taken to start a dialogue between the two communities, but steered clear of Modi.
Importantly, Singh — who refuses to address legitimate Kuki grievances — has written to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for an advance of Rs 600 crore to tide over economic difficulties caused by the recent loss of state revenue. The letter doesn’t go into the reasons for the revenue shortfall. But the SoS nonetheless amounts to acknowledgement of an unprecedented breakdown of law and order and the failure of the administration to restore normalcy. BJP governments, whether in states or at the Centre, have a history of not admitting their failures. And Singh’s strategy is no different while seeking an economic bailout after plunging Manipur into anarchy by flouting the Constitution he swore by while taking the oath of office.
Men in military uniform tend to be blunt and outspoken. And Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita, GoC, Eastern Command is no exception. Calling a spade a spade, he has described the violence in Manipur as a “political problem”, and openly declared that it will fester as long as nearly 4,000 guns, including automatic weapons, looted from police armouries are not recovered. And it’s hardly a secret that 90% of looted weapons are in the hands of Meiteis. Our armed forces have the wherewithal to retrieve all the snatched guns from militias in less than a week if they are given a free hand. But will Modi ever give the army and paramilitary the green signal to perform their sacred duty amid his own inaction and deafening silence over Manipur?
The author is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics