Over three weeks after the Manipur violence, Union Home Minister Amit Shah finally set foot on 29 May, in what seemed like the first peace-building measure from the Union government. While his response is rather late, it is always better than never.
Both conflicting parties-the Kukis and the Meiteis-have pinned high hopes on him to restore normalcy and bring a permanent solution to the long ethnic conflict in the state. While the Kukis bat for separate administration under the Constitution of India, most Meities are opposed to such a move. It, therefore, demands the wisdom of the Centre to tackle the matter tactfully to avoid future mayhem.
As soon as the Union Home minister landed in Imphal, he immediately chaired a cabinet meeting and assured a return to normalcy. The next day he went to Churachandpur, a Kuki-dominated area where the conflict is said to have begun. In the meeting, Kuki leaders, including five MLAs, highlighted their grievances and submitted their demands. The Home Minister assured a solution but asked the Kuki leaders to wait 15 days.
While the discussion was going on, reports were emerging of Kuki villages in Chandel and Kangpokpi districts attacked by state-armed forces along with valley-based militants. Similar incidents of gunfights and torching of homes continue on the second day when the Union Home Minister visits Moreh and Kangpokpi, another two Kuki townships.
According to Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) reports, about 18 villages belonging to Kukis were burnt during the Union Home minister’s three-day visit to the state.
Now similar concerns are being raised by conflicting parties if Shah will restore normalcy. He didn’t seem bothered by events taking place around him. He was in his flow. On the fourth day, he held a press conference and after that, he flew to New Delhi. Unlike his predecessors, he has been too careful in choosing his words, avoiding going straight to the state’s integrity issues expected in the first minute.
He stuck to restoring normalcy and bringing offenders to justice, besides offering immediate needs such as food and medical supplies. To a certain observer, he seems helpless. But to others, he shows statesmanship.
Shah made some silent moves which are believed to have a positive change in the already chaotic state administration. First, a senior IPS officer, Rajiv Singh (on deputation) was appointed as the new Director General of Police (DGP), replacing P Doungel, belonging to a Kuki community.
Some raised questions about why such measures were taken when the state has dozens of qualified police officers to head the department. Such measures have become a necessity as the government is completely divided along communal lines. For the N Biren Singh government, replacing Doungel with any other Manipur-cadre IPS seemed problematic as he was followed by another four Kuki senior officers in succession. Therefore, the Union Minister’s intervention seems strategic and inevitable, which everyone should agree to.
Secondly, Shah appointed Kuldiep Singh as Chairman of Inter-Agency Unified Command for better coordination among all security agencies present on the ground. Singh, an IPS officer and former head of CRPF, is now armed with more authority from his earlier role as security advisor to the state government. Certainly, this is a result of the state government’s complete failure to protect its citizens irrespective of their ethnicity. The looting of thousands of arms and ammunition from police stations without any resistance from its security forces suggests a total breakdown of law in the state. While the state’s CM has yet to issue a strong statement on the looting incident, Shah blamed the Kuki militants under Suspension of Operation (SOO) for the continuing violence. With Kuldiep Singh assuming Shah’s assignment, combing operations have begun, and there are reports of recoveries made by security forces.
With the overall security now in the hands of two experienced and capable officers, the initial expectations were high that peace would prevail soon. However, there are incidents of firing and burning down of Kuki villages in the Chandel and Kangpokpi districts. The alleged involvement of security personnel from state police commandoes, Manipur Rifles (MR), and Indian Reserved Battalion (IRB) along with Meitei militants in the forefront with assault rifles, mortars and drones is also a disturbing trend, if reports and accounts are to be believed.
This has cast doubt if the Union Home Minister and has given the state authority a free hand to attack Kukis and uproot them from their settlements. It has also cast doubts on the sincerity of the two newly appointed state DGP and Inter-Agency chiefs in protecting the lives of civilians and properties in the state.
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While violence continues unabated, there are reports of political negotiations for political solutions in Manipur. It is uncertain what Shah’s next move would be and how it would conclude. For his tactful moves, the union home minister Amit Shah has been referred to as the reincarnation of Chanakya, a legendary Indian strategist and planner. However, to be a real Chanakya of the east, he needs to solve Manipur’s complex problem spanning the last 70 years, and more importantly, bring justice to the victims of the state’s atrocities against a minority community. If he did so, he would be revered, If he doesn’t solve this time, he would be demonised as someone behind these bloody scenes.
The writer teaches Journalism at Royal Global University, Guwahati. Views expressed are personal.
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