In the summer of 64 AD, nearly 2000 years ago, Rome, more or less, was completely razed to the ground in a fire that lasted six days. The hapless citizens, in utter frustration, turned on their much-despised Emperor, Nero. He was a patron of the arts, fond of music, with a talent for playing the Cithara or Kithára, an ancient Greek string instrument, not unlike our very own Sitar. Clearly that old and well-known adage “Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned”, was grossly unfair to him, not least, because the fiddle was only invented 1500 years later.
By any measure, the situation is bleak and what makes it even worse is the fact that thousands of weapons have been looted from police armouries…
In a manner of speaking, one cannot avoid but feel that our political establishment has, in many ways, ended up playing the proverbial fiddle as Manipur burns, as the only matters they seemingly have time for, are elections and inaugurations. And burning it is, though one would get a distinctly different impression, if our wonderful mainstream media is to be taken at face value. Fortunately, it seems that after nearly a month of unmitigated violence, they have finally been shamed into at least mentioning violence and Manipur together, though their coverage remains scanty and cursory, to say the least.
That is not a charge one can levy at the local press. If their reports, and accounts from civil society and social media, that are filtering through, are taken at face value, then Manipur is in dire straits. Reports suggest Imphal is now a “Kuki Free” town. The State is isolated with all approaches, apart by air, blocked. Even within the State, roads leading to the hills have been blocked. Relief convoys are unable to go in as their safety is not assured.
Not only does this imply that prices of provisions, rations, cooking gas and fuel have escalated exponentially, but what is far worse and damaging, local militias instead of the government are calling the shots. People have been killed in their hundreds, with thousands more displaced. Destruction and damage to property has been enormous, with houses razed, places of worship defiled and electricity and water connections cut. Add to that the fact that the district administration has collapsed, especially in the hill districts, as officials have fled to safer climes as their offices, records and all, have been torched.
By any measure, the situation is bleak and what makes it even worse is the fact that thousands of weapons have been looted from police armouries, and there are reports of mortar fire being exchanged between rival militias. As is the almost unthinking and unimaginative response in such circumstances, the government has cut off the internet, thereby causing immense hardship to the local population, but also to the many others scattered around the country and abroad who are unable to access funds or contact kin. The fact is this in no way prevents organisers of the violence from gaining intelligence, coordinating the violence or disseminating information. It is nothing more than a weak and lazy attempt by government to show it is in control.
Whatever may have been the reasons that have led to this conflagration, and many have been given, it seems obvious that none of the protagonists are blameless, as it always takes two hands to clap.
Again, as appears to have become the standard perception anywhere in this country that is rocked by violence, the local authorities and the police are accused of partisanship and seen as untrustworthy. Thus, the Army and Assam Rifles have once again been given the unenviable task of pulling the government’s fat out of the fire, as the government reaps what it has sown through political one-upmanship and mis-governance over the intervening years. There can be little doubt that by comparison the fire in Rome was nothing more than a simple camp bonfire.
Whatever may have been the reasons that have led to this conflagration, and many have been given, it seems obvious that none of the protagonists are blameless, as it always takes two hands to clap. It is also undeniable that the State and Central Government bear much of the responsibility for this, especially for letting things get out of hand.
One wonders why we have heard nothing from the National Security Advisor or what circumstances prevented the Home Minister from visiting the state earlier. Not that his visit seems to have made any material difference to the unrelenting violence being perpetrated there.
The geopolitical and security implications of all that has occurred are horrendous and yet to be fully comprehended. For starters, peace in the region is now only a distant mirage, and clearly the Government’s moribund “Act East” policy is doomed as well. Moreover, there are already calls emanating from the Mizo factions for unity among the kindred tribes, the Chin, Kuki and Darlong, and it seems only a matter of time before the demand for a Greater Mizoram, that includes areas in Manipur and Tripura, is once again voiced, as it had been by Laldenga and the MNF way back in 1981.This is bound to have a knock-on effect, and while the Naga tribes have not been involved one way or the other presently, there are those who will see this as an ideal opportunity to renew calls for a Greater Nagaland. If any of this were to come about, Manipur and especially the dominant Meitei community would be adversely impacted.
Given the strategic importance of the region, the alternative is too depressing to contemplate.
There can also be no disagreement that an internally disturbed and flaming North East will greatly hamper and adversely impact our military preparedness, capabilities and posture in Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, the only one to gain from this sordid episode China. Given the tenuous state of our relationship with them and their proclivity for using information warfare, one cannot help but wonder, if we are victims of a malicious, well organised and sophisticated information warfare campaign. It is probably aimed at damaging our socio-economic cohesion, maligning our government, hurting us economically and degrading our military.
If there is even a modicum of truth in all of this, and the results are there for all to see, then it is incumbent on the Central and State Governments to get their act together quickly. This is not the time for political manipulation and calls for a rapid and mature response. Given the strategic importance of the region, the alternative is too depressing to contemplate.