Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Education, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the threat of “Balkanization along ethnic lines” in Manipur. The BJP MP, whose Lok Sabha constituency is Inner Manipur, called on the prime minister to use a “strong hand” to contain and control any attempt to break up the northeastern state, home to 35 ethnic groups.
More than 70 people have died in clashes between the Meiteis, who live in and around the state capital Imphal Valley, and the Kuki tribe, who live in the hills, since May 3, because the valley dwellers refused to join the Scheduled Tribes demanded (category ST). Ten tribal MPs in BJP-ruled Manipur then wrote a letter to Interior Minister Amit Shah calling for separate administration for tribal people within the state and saying they “can no longer live together”.
“From May 3rd there was complete chaos for a few days and the trust between the two communities – Meiteis and Kukis – evaporated. Completely dismayed and frustrated, the Kuki leaders and their deputies have begun to demand their own political administration for their people. Perhaps they are under tremendous pressure from various quarters, including militants,” Mr Singh said in the letter sent to Prime Minister Modi on Saturday.
“This is a very dangerous undertaking for a small state with 35 ethnic groups. Peaceful coexistence should be the norm. The Naga-Kuki conflict, the Meitei-Pangan (Muslim) clash and now the Meitei-Kuki uprising must be treated as deviations. These should be contained and controlled by a strong hand. “No ethnic balkanization should be encouraged at any cost,” the state minister for foreign affairs said in the letter.
He said public figures calling the violence “ethnic cleansing” were wrong and should refrain from using “such dangerous language”.
Manipur Police Director-General P. Doungel also dismissed claims by the 10 tribal MLAs in a statement on Friday that Manipur Police stripped Kuki police officers of all powers and “disarmed” them before violence erupted came between the Meiteis and the Kukis. Manipur Police said: “…All Kuki/Meitei police officers, from DGP (Director General of Police) down to the lowest rank, whether dressed in khaki or in green, carry out all their duties to the best of their ability wherever they are deployed.”
The union minister said in the letter that the clash between the two communities was sparked by a peaceful rally that suddenly turned violent and that activists were unfortunately giving the tragedy a communal veneer.
“Some activists are trying to bring in the religious aspect that Meiteis are mostly Hindus and Kukis are Christians. They try to blame the people who radicalize in the name of religion and culture. The burning of churches and temples is cited to create a community aspect. This is unbearable. Violent mobs are burning and destroying everything in their path… It was impossible for the local police to control the rioters until the army and paramilitary forces arrived and intervened,” Mr Singh said in the letter.
“When some clever minds try to create a political demarcation through such heinous crimes, such plans should never succeed. You cannot fool the Union government by making a plan. Sacrificing innocent lives to advance a political agenda is undesirable and unwelcome. Peaceful coexistence must be the solution. “Dismemberment will never be a solution,” said the Union Minister.
“We are not to blame for any community or ethnic group… The harmonious relations between ethnic groups are often violated by leaders in order to achieve their political goals.” Short-sighted politicians often play with the lives and feelings of the common people… They have had enough of society damage inflicted. Their tactics are unleashing unimaginable casualties, such as the current ethnic inferno. Such local leaders must be identified and convicted,” Mr Singh said.
The Union Secretary also blamed Britain’s colonial divide-and-rule policy for laying the groundwork for the current crisis.
When Manipur came under British control after the Anglo-Manipur War in 1891, valley administration remained with the King of Manipur and mountain administration with the President of the Darbar of Manipur, who was entirely British, Mr Singh wrote in the letter.
“There was a psychological gap. Even after independence, Article 371C still formed the barrier between the hills and the valley,” Mr Singh said.
Mr Singh called on Prime Minister Modi to work to eliminate “mechanical divisions” in Manipur, exacerbated by religious affiliations.
“The state should belong to the people as a whole – without distinction between hill people and valley people – along the lines of Himachal Pradesh.” Article 371C can be amended if necessary,” Mr Singh said, referring to a constitutional guarantee specific to Manipur relates.
Meitei groups have claimed that the Kuki tribes’ protest against the Meitei’s claim to be inducted into the ST category was merely a pretext to further their main goal – the formation of a separate Kuki country. Manipur BJP Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said Manipur’s territorial integrity would be protected.
The outbreak of violence on May 3 was preceded by tensions over the eviction of Kuki villagers and suspected illegal immigrants from reserved and protected forests and the destruction of poppy fields.
The state government’s inability to answer the question of how to identify illegal immigrants who have come from Myanmar to avoid persecution is adding to the Meitei’s resentment.
Some of the Meiteis claim that illegal immigrants settled among tribesmen residing in Manipur because of cultural, clan, religious and family ties. They have asked the government to run the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Large-scale deforestation in the hills and in tribal-dominated districts like Churachandpur is said to be due to illegal immigrants establishing new settlements.
Poppy cultivation in Manipur also expanded to 15,400 hectares of land in the hills between 2017 and 2023, according to the state-run anti-drug unit Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB).
NAB data shows that between January 2017 and April 2023, 291 invaders were evicted from reserved and protected forests. The anti-intrusion campaign took place at 21 locations across the state during that period, according to NAB.
The Kukis have claimed that the BJP government in Manipur was systematically targeting them – under the guise of the “War on Drugs” campaign – to drive them out of the forests and their hilltop homes.
A joint statement by tribal student groups in Delhi called for an investigation into the alleged involvement of the “Arambai Tenggol” and “Meitei Leepun” – two youth organizations in Manipur – in the “pre-planned and systematic incitement of a pogrom” against the tribesmen of Delhi Manipur.
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