Home Minister’s Visit & Beyond
The Indian Home Minister, Shri Amit Shah, visited Manipur’s troubled state from 29 May till 01 June 23. The long-awaited visit by a central minister was late in coming. Nevertheless, it was not short on expectations and hope. This is the longest duration any Home Minister has spent in an Indian state. Four days this time, and he has promised to return in 15 days, allowing time to implement his directions. The duration indicates the seriousness of the problem and the central government commitment to deal with the problem. In the article on the same subject, which was uploaded on 31 May in the IDR online issue, the origins of the problem as also the security and drugs angle were covered in detail. This piece is more about crystal ball glazing: what is likely to happen in future, including measures to be taken for the situation to make a reversal.
One month and counting, the violence in Manipur has not ceased. Every day a new case of violence comes up. To expect that life would get back to normal in a hurry because the Home Minister visited the state would be a gross underestimation of the seriousness of the situation. Things would take a long time to get to normal as and when they do, provided steps are taken in earnest and in time. The pessimism flows from reality on the ground. The month-long clashes have left a deep chasmin Manipur. Unknown and only scantily reported by the mainstream media, there has been a population shift and an ‘ethnic’ division which has occurred in the state of Manipur. The Kukis and Nagas, especially Kukis have vacated enmass from the Imphal valley. All, including the police personnel of Kuki and Naga origins, have left the valley on some pretext and found safe places in the hill areas. Similarly, the Meitei from the hills have all come down to the valley. In the first two weeks, gangs of Meteis and Kukis were hunting each other in mobs and killing any rival group member if found. The NH2, a highway which connects Dimapur (Nagaland) to Kohima, wore a deserted look because, in Kangpokpi, which is a border district in the North of Manipur, Kuki gangs were intercepting all vehicles and lynching any Meitei found on board. That is why this national highway is blocked. The Meitei have become sworn enemies of the other ethnic groups. It is hard to bridge such a deep divide in a short time. The Home Minister must be well aware of this reality and hence had come to prevent the situation from falling into an abyss. He has taken many forward-thinkingsteps. This article examines the measures announced by the Home Minister and then analyses their implementation.
Home Minister’s Visit
The Home Minister took five major initiatives to restore peace and normalcy in the state. These were: Restoration of Law & Order; Expedite relief measures; Compensation for families of those killed; Restoring communication; and Counter rumour mongering. These metamorphosed into:Nine Steps Forward
- A one-member judicial commission led by a retired High Court Judge has been set up to probe into the causes of the recent violence and find the culprits responsible.
- 10 Lakh INR to be paid to the families [via DBT (Direct bank Transfer)] of those who have lost their lives in the recent violence. For the injured, the state government will announce the package.
- Under the chairmanship of the governor of Manipur, a peace committee has been set up. The members of this committee will be from all walks of life and all communities.
- For better coordination of security agencies in the state, the DG-CRPF (Director General- Central Reserve Police Force) and the state security advisor Kuldip Singh have been given the responsibility for overseeing an Interagency Unified Command.
- CBI will investigate six selected cases of violence out of the cases registered in FIRs (First Information Report).
- 10 km of Indo-Myanmar border fencing is complete. Tenders for the balance of 80 km will follow shortly. A biometric scan of every foreigner entering India will be data-based to trace miscreants.
- Provisioning 30000 metric tonnes of rice for Manipur in the next two months. Steps taken to ensure diesel and petrol being made available for people through 15 petrol pumps which would function 24×7. Supply of essential medicines will be undertaken and can be accessed through medical relief camps.
- Plans for online courts and student competitive exams are being worked out.
- A helicopter service from Moreh, Churachandpur, and Kangpoki would be free for people to come to the airport at Imphal.
The home minister met with the representatives of all the affected parties. The Kukis, Nagas, the opposition parties, the members of the security forces, women groups and prominent citizens. He has heard every angle and visited all the troubled spots, such as Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, and Moreh. His initiatives stated above have emerged from these meetings and discussions held.
Important to note; he has not backed the demand for abrogation of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement of the state government. Instead, he has appealed to all groups to surrender the arms looted from the police constabulary. On two separate occasions, approx 4000 weapons were looted by rioters. Estimates of recovery suggest recovery of only 18% of arms to date. The SoO is an old provision signed by the PM Manmohan Singh government in 2008 with 32 Kuki insurgent groups. Later it became a tripartite agreement when the state government also signed it. As per the agreement, an understanding was reached between the security forces and the insurgent groups that they would cease operations against each other. The insurgent would deposit their arms in an adhoc armoury duly locked with keys held by both the parties (Police and the Insurgent Groups). However, the agreement had a life of only a year and needed an annual renewal. This year in March, N Biren Singh’s government in Manipur unilaterally walked out of this agreement, starting a chain reaction which gained critical mass and exploded on 03 May 23. The situation on the ground has thus got complicated. While the police could fire at the Kukis or other insurgent groups as they are no longer part of the agreement, the paramilitary force, Assam Rifles and the Army are constrained to fire at them due to the SoO agreement unless they are the targets. This ambiguity has led to situations where the army and the Assam Rifles have been accused of not actively pursuing the Kuki Militants attacking the Meitei villages.
Consequences of the Visit
It is too early to judge if the Home Minister’s initiatives are bearing fruits. Also, to what extent they are implementable. There is no denying that the measures suggested are positive and would yield results if implemented in letter and spirit. Also, a new DGP is named: Mr Rajiv Singh. An officer of the Tripura cadre, he was DGP Tripura and now moved and given the charge of Manipur. The Home Minister has made it clear to the ten Hill Council MLAs who were demanding a separate state of the Hill Areas that the integrity of Manipur would not be compromised. Hence, not to pursue this divisive agenda.
Would the above mentioned nine steps solve the problem? ‘Optimistic’, would be the word that would come to mind. The state government and the committees must work with the leaders who call the shots. Their first priority would be bringing normalcy back to Manipur and sustaining it. Two questions need answers at this stage: Who benefits from the violence, and what is the desired end state? And second: what measures to take to address the trust deficit?
Tackling the first one first; who benefits from the violence? It is hard to pinpoint individuals, but they can be shortlisted as a class. First are the people who do not want the rule of law to prevail in the state, so they benefit from the chaos. Most of this class are the Leaders of Insurgent groups, Drug cartel, and Political leaders who want power to themselves. They unleash the miscreants to do their bidding by resorting to violence and sacrificing peace and lives of innocent citizens on the altar. The second question which flows from this is, what is the end state desired? Is it separation from India, is it more money, or is it more power? From analysing the Manipur conundrum, the desired end state could be a mix of more power and money. The power is now concentrated in the hands of the state government, seen as a Meitei government. Many Tribal groups want that power to be shared by seeking something for themselves. Making independent Hill Area councils is one such measure. Some may demand a separate state or an autonomous region. These demands were presented to the Home Minister this time, as also many times earlier. The demand for separation or autonomy is not linked with better governance and winding up corruption, for that would continue. It is because an autonomous status allows the direct flow of funds from Delhi to their coffers and not routed via Imphal. It is the second link of the ‘Power and Money’ equation.
The Indian government is wise to understand the nefarious desires of these parties and hence unlikely to give in to the demands for autonomy. Yet, reorganising the hill areas and giving them more powers within the state’s constitution is a distinct possibility. Also, the conduct of fresh elections and allowing new aspirants to run the hill councils would be foremost on the Home Minister’s mind. The menace of poppy cultivation is at the root of this problem. To stop it and find another source of cash crop for the hill farmers would be a precondition for any fresh initiative.
One suspects that the Home Minister’s visit is not the end of such initiatives but only the beginning. Since the writ of the state government has weakened in the wake of the riots, it would be up to the security forces and peace committees to bring normalcy through the measures announced by the Home Minister. His next visit of can then be followed up by a new set of initiatives like the one suggested in the paragraph above. The peace committee and the latest security set-up must ensure endto destruction and violence. Only then the Sadbhavna operations can be launched. That is making the various ethnic groups trust each other and get back to the status quo ante. The second stage is tough to achieve and requires management of the highest order.
Way Out of the Mess
All concerned parties, including the central government, understand the complexity of the issue at hand which they are dealing with in Manipur. The saving grace in this crisis has been the patience and courage displayed by many sensible citizens cutting across ethnic lines. There are instances of Kuki women sheltering Meitei women folk from armed gangs in Churachandpur, and the next day Meitei women saving Kuki women at Manipur University. The fine example of former world boxing champion: Sarita Devi sheltering Kuki boys in the boxing training academy is noteworthy. Also, the Naga groups’ passivity in Nagaland and north Manipur has been a blessing. To imagine, Manipur burning at both ends would be a national emergency. The Meitei’s armed gangs did not target Naga’s in the current violence. Security forces safely escorted most of them out of the valley to their respective villages. Learning from this experience, the use of good books of Nagaland and their leaders could be starting point to rein in the militant elements of the Kuki organisations. Down south, too, Mizoram bravely accepted Kukis fleeing Manipur and gave them shelter without raising a red flag. Their good books could be used too to rein in Kuki hostile groups. The central government is better positioned to achieve this than the state government. The North East Council, which has in its fold all the CMs of the eight states in North East (Seven Sisters plus Sikkim), also could be a body to discuss and bring warring factions together. The above-mentionedbodies can help normalise the situation, for which bringing down violence and sustaining peace is mandatory.
The government of India has to look for a long-term solution to these ethnic differences in the North Eastern states. They have surfaced in Manipur and might surface in another state like Nagaland or Mizoram tomorrow. A sure way to create a long-term permanent solution is to intertwine the economies of the hill people and the valley of Manipur. If one community is affected, the other community cannot escape its consequences. Interlinking economic spheres is essential. For, e.g. the Kuki’s and Naga tribal leaders, by tradition, have the right to donate land to their people or outsiders within their domain. This factor resulted in a proliferation of new settlements and farming areas in the Hill Areas. Should the state government have taken the initiative and announced certain benefits such as subsidised electricity or free telephone landline services to settlements beyond a population figure of a certain number which is substantial and large, it would incentivise the tribal chiefs to accommodate more in one settlement to reach that magic figure. This example is hypothetical, and more thought needs to be given to the economic aspects of such initiatives. The point is to create economic incentives to solve complex ethnic problems. The central government can help, but the execution has to be the baby of the state governments, and hence choosing capable leaders is an essential need for the Northeast.
The Home Minister’s visit is an effort to douse the fire and mend the broken relationships. The state’s future is at stake, not allowing it to fall into the hands of elements who benefit from a common man’s loss. The incentive for the evil side is substantial; if they win, they become the kings of a disturbed state with more money and power. But an ordinary citizen of Manipur will lose his peace and his life. The conflict is not about religion. It is about exploiting differences between people. It does not matter what they are. Any difference would do if it could cause a disturbance. Every peace-loving Manipuri in the majority must understand and stop his brethren from being exploited on both sides of the divide. But charity must begin at home.