Is Manipur limping back to normalcy? That depends on who you ask: the Army insists, as is their mandate, that the state is returning to normalcy with increased vehicular movement, safe passage for people as and where needed, and increased focus on the border regions. The civil society members, as is their right, are highlighting the growing problems being faced by people both in the shelter camps and those outside it. Water tankers have jacked up their rates, prepaid electricity users are now confused about how to recharge their accounts and children living outside Manipur are now waiting, and hoping, to receive money from home. Church associations are still counting the extent of damages to their religious places, relief is trickling in, but more is needed, and the state managed to escape the worst of the Cyclone Mocha. Mizoram was less lucky.
But the politicians have once again shown us that no matter what happens on the ground, they are almost guaranteed to first save their chairs even if it means an imminent collapse of society as we know it.
Now, I am not going to spend my time nitpicking everything the leaders have said because, let us be honest, that will make this article 3,000 words long.
I will instead stick to how they have once again betrayed their constituencies, communities and all the political promises they made during peaceful times.
Allow me to elaborate.
One of the strongest planks for N Biren Singh’s resounding victory in the 2022 elections was the call for Ching-Tam (Hill-Valley) Unity. In 2021, months before the 2022 elections, Singh, to much fanfare, launched an outreach programme – “Go To Hills 2.0” – to ensure people in remote places avail benefits of various welfare schemes at their doorsteps. The location of the programme? Peace Ground, Tuibong, Churachandpur district.
Politics does make fiction look boring.
The politicians, in their ever-growing need to paper over all gaps so that they come across as powerful, were caught napping and are now jumping over each other to come across as caring, credible and impactful. What has happened in Manipur is not only N Biren Singh’s fault. Sure, as the CM, he must take responsibility, but the MLAs are not without their mistakes. Seven of the 10 Kuki MLAs who are now demanding separate administration are from the BJP. These are the same MLAs who not only supported N Biren Singh’s Go to Hills campaign, but in fact, benefited from the same. They were too happy to maintain the status quo. Now, they wish to act like they had no idea what was conspiring in the state.
When everyone quarrels, everyone loses
The MLAs cutting across political parties and ideologies are now running around like headless chicken in their attempts to come across as leaders of their community, while seemingly forgetting that they are members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, not a Kuki Assembly or a Meitei Assembly.
Ever since the violence started, political parties from both sides have been usurping each other in making sensational claims on television channels.
Kuki leaders asking for separate administration, to them I ask: what do you expect to happen? How are you making this demand when you are more than aware that thousands of Kukis have to return to the Valley not because they want to, but because they have to? Similarly, when Meitei leaders claim that ‘no one can hurt the state’s integrity’, they once again ignore ground realities.
Trust has been completely decimated and eroded among the communities and the scars and wounds will be deep and painful.
The violence is a failure of every administrator at every level: if the intelligence department failed to comprehend the magnitude of the ATSUM rally on May 3, politicians cutting across political ideologies were caught napping when their fake narratives were exposed in front of all.
Now, instead of helping communities come together and heal, they are sowing further seeds of hatred. At this point, I cannot genuinely distinguish between statements made by student bodies and politicians and that is never a good thing. A politician must go beyond love and hate to think about the people they represent.
This is not the time to further your hidden agendas: this is the time to suppress them. The future of these communities may be separate from each other, but their paths cannot be different. The communities have to not only live with, but among, each other. Any attempt to separate them for good will only cause more bloodshed. Not that the politicians care.
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I hope that the common people will see beyond this hatred: Kuki students should have the right to return to the schools they were studying in in Imphal, just as Meiteis who have lived for generations in Churachandpur have the right to return to their homes and call Churachandpur what it has always been: home.
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