Has Manipur Crossed The Rubicon?

Manipur Violence 2

The BJP has done a Humpty Dumpty on Manipur. The Prime Minister’s political acumen, Maan ki Baats, high-pitched oratory, and the massive Bhakt network around the country, nothing at all, will ever put Manipur together again. Not in the way, it was, in any case. The political ploy that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) imagined in Manipur did not pan out the way they wanted. There was always an insidious thing about what was a botched attempt to use various means, mostly foul in intent, to ethnically cleanse Manipur of the Kukis.

The gambit has dreadfully miscarried. A small State with a sheer three million population has made headlines the world over. India’s democracy is once more looking glaringly drained and uncovered. The European Parliament adopted a categorical resolution in the strongest terms denouncing nationalistic rhetoric deployed by leading members of the BJP. A United States State Department spokesperson called the Manipur happenings “brutal” and “terrible” and conveyed its sympathies to the victims.

The US encouraged a peaceful and inclusive resolution to the Manipur violence and urged authorities to respond to humanitarian needs while protecting all groups, homes and places of worship. India responded on predictable lines, terming happenings in Manipur an internal matter. India must know by now that in a globalised world, everything matters to everyone. Selective isolation is not a choice. It’s all or nothing and India cannot choose to be an island in some spaces and the ocean in others.

The European resolution will, of course, carry no impact on what the BJP will or will not do. That also applies to what the US State Department has called for. These declarations are impotent in terms of potential impact and are sheer rhetoric. These are government bodies that will make pragmatic choices at the end of the day. Principles be damned. What does matter is that the world has taken note of the blatant breaches of human rights, democracy and the failure of rule of law in the country under the present dispensation.

The Ministry of External Affairs would probably file and forget the statements. Europe showed lack of intent. They did not even mildly threaten sanctions or boycotts or divestments. India’s 350-400 million consumers are needed by Europe to prop up their trade and their trade lobbies will ensure that business is unscathed.

So much so, for capitalist-class interests. It does become hard to swallow toothless speechifying under the still-colonial tendencies in the West. While the European Parliament was debating and listening to the slurs mostly by the Greens and Left in Strasbourg, the PM was conferred honours by the French President which many BJP folk (mis)took as India’s growing stature in the world. These are the political gimmicks of Western leaders offered to extract economic contracts that bring gain to their countries, the extension of colonial interests.
This underlines the imperative of building a solid network of civil society watchdog human rights in every nook and corner, the fusion of which can have a multiple impact in times of crisis. But I digress. The sponsored anarchy in Manipur was not merely hideously designed. Even shoddier, it has left behind deep and visible scars enough to last generations to feel the offences and resultant aching. At the political level, the BJP is unlikely to ever recuperate its losses. The killings, rapes, and assaults on churches and its institutions will stand out as memories for decades and more.

Reconstructing the past is ruled out. A new Manipur will require a new political architecture and the same draftspersons that brought on the disaster cannot figure in the reconstruction. Meanwhile, the gradual gains the BJP made in the North East may just wither away. The BJP stands self-exposed. There are a few myths that must occupy centre-space. Researchers and historians have uncovered information that reveals that the Kukis were probably the original inhabitants of Manipur and claim deeper historical roots than the Meiteis.

Historically, facts disclose that the Kuki Tribals were the original inhabitants of Manipur. The Meitiis came some 275 years ago. This has set the ethnic claims and counter-claims rolling with greater intensity. Families who saw their own children and others in the community killed and maimed by brutality may not ponder revenge, but there is deep-seated anger. If the Centre has even distant ideas of creating an acquiescent Kuki people, they are miscalculating in life-size terms. There’s no going back to where things were. This has simply crossed the Rubicon.

Jetting off to the US, Egypt, Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, was not an option that a wise PM should have taken. Not anyone in his cabinet had the political acumen to douse the fires. The attempts were feeble, even untruthful. He could have actually displayed a statesperson dimension of his persona. His indifference compels the question: Was there ever one? He dumped it all and left on a jet plane, got promises and salutations and receptions that were extravagant. And yet in France there was a mishap quite astounding.

The claims of a big-ticket armament deal were clouded by judicial investigations around dubious transactions. In essence, the PM’s travels around the world ended up as just that- travels in the skies and wilderness. No tangibles. In the context of Manipur, it was as if the PM chose to abscond for want of ideas on solutions to a problem that the BJP self-created with no clue that the consequences would be as bad as they have turned out to be. Either that or he chose to turn a blind eye because of what we have referred to as an ominous plan to create an apartheid-style political situation in Manipur in which the Kukis will be the victim grouping and the Meitiis the ruling power cluster. The PM lost the plot and India itself will never be the same.

It matters little if the 2024 election comes and goes and who wins and who loses. India is lost. The challenge is to retrieve India from the throes of disaster brought on by hate. Amit Shah’s Peace Committee is blowing in the air instead of hitting the ground running. A Kuki BJP MLA said words to this effect (I paraphrase): “After 79 days, the PM’s silence is shocking. And if the video of the women being stripped and paraded naked had not gone viral, it is unlikely the PM would have ever spoken up and for a video that lasted just three minutes- that was all”.

One could add to that observation this question: What chance was there that these few words would have been uttered if the Chief Justice had not threatened to act if the Government did not promptly intervene? The PM condemned the incident. Not a word about the root causes of misgovernance. The Kuki Christians are stunned that the RSS youth from ‘supposedly’ cultured backgrounds made the two girls walk naked and assaulted them. It is all well for the PM to declare they will be jailed and harshly punished. That is not his call to make. His call is to clamp down on the disorder now ravaging the Hills and the Kukis anywhere they are found. He must dismiss the government, send the CM, Biren Singh home, and impose President’s Rule here and now.

Biren Singh will also have to be punished for having allowed law to go out of control and, as many guess, tacitly permit the violence. The CM is complicit in all the violence by virtue of his alleged tacit support. His resignation followed by the theatrics of youth dressed in black demanding he take back his resignation was farcical to say the least. He withdrew the resignation after the drama concluded pretending he was a much in-demand leader who alone could set things right. The Manipuri demand- both in Manipur and around the world is: “Reclaim India from Hindutva fascism”.

Part of the political diversion included rumors that Meitii women had been raped- proven later as false propaganda. Reprisal attacks followed the lies that were spread and the retaliation included rapes, and other forms of torture. When you humiliate women, you steal the dignity of the entire community because mothers and sisters have been violated. When you kill a boy, his mother and a woman in an ambulance, that is barbarity; even the slightest semblance of humanity is lost. When the government faces it without as much as a whimper of protest and reprimand, it is the breakdown of civilisation.

An ambulance is set on fire and a taciturn police force watches as if helplessly, you know then that law and order has not just broken down, but the worst is now permissible by those who are elected to uphold the law. The Kukis demand justice-based dignity. The North East of India is one of political challenges to India and if the centre fails to douse the self-inflamed fires, it risks opening up what are already porous borders to rebels and invites political intrusions which will cross magnitudes that this government might find unmanageable. From colonial times, the Indian people have adopted discriminatory attitudes to the North East only because of their ethnicity, often humiliating them with portrayals that depict them as lesser and ethnically different. It is not uncommon for an Indian from the mainland to arrive in the North East and be introduced as ‘our friend from India’.

The North East is often described as India’s vulnerable periphery. China may simply be content to keep the embers burning by turning a blind eye to the insurgencies or even adding to them. The Manipur crisis has changed much of that. The region is not any more a far-flung geographical and political segment of India. The rest of India has recognised that the crisis in Manipur is owing to the centre’s ham-fisted obduracy. There is also a crucial economic angle that needs to be brought to the fore. It has rarely surfaced in the cacophony of the killings and destruction. The Kukis Hill areas are hugely mineral-rich. The mining industry is eyeing the exploitation of these resources with the Meitiis as the driving force.

The whole idea of designating the Meitiis also as Tribals was not just about a changed identity, but the means to capture the economic gains from the exploitation of the minerals in Kuki areas. Chromite and limestone under the surface of Kuki lands can rake in multi-millions. Corporates have the investment capacities to invest and extract them for colossal profits. They need a party in power which will comply as instruments of access to the Tribal lands for purposes of mining. To claim mining licences, they will need the informed consent of the tribal population, and that is a highly unlikely prospect.

Manipur’s economy needs development but this expansion must be rooted in a sustainable model where resources in the Hills are not plundered and looted exclusively with a view to sheer wealth. Mining that does not count sustainability will bring short-term gains to a few and long-term destruction to the area as a whole. It is getting even clearer that at the base of the Kuki-Meitei conflict are competing economic interests. Ethnicity is a handy blanket to cover these intentions. Manipur is integral to India. Indian Solidarity has poured in from quarters all over the country.

This, itself, should be a stern warning to the BJP that its attempts to capture Christian sympathies and votes both in the North East and in parts of the South, notably Kerala, are bound to be reversed. Christians are alarmed that the BJP was beginning to take Christians for granted. Thanks to opportunistic Bishops in the church hierarchy, a church that is ghetto-oriented, and the lack of prophetic talk from the pulpits, the church is seen displaying fear and wants to play it off both sides. They are also keen to gain from benefits that the government offers them – Protection from the ED, IB, and access to FCRI.

This will change and the pews of the church will guarantee that. Lay people in the church are claiming: “We are the church. Not the clergy who take feeble positions and do nothing of courage and substance.” The Lay faithful see justice as the cornerstone of their faith and want the Government to feel the obligation to do justice and act with mercy and intent to protect the powerless and oppressed. The solidarity has been a national mutual embrace of each other especially as people from different corners reach out to support the politically-socially-economically people of Manipur. Innumerable fact-finding teams and relief groups have descended in Manipur firmly on the side of the Kukis. Manipur has lost its humanity.

Armed gangs backed by the ruling party are responsible. The police are responsible. Law and order has collapsed. The Meitiis and Kukis seemingly stand separated forever. One asks the most difficult question: Is reconciliation possible? Has the revulsion crossed the Rubicon? In Mizoram the Mizos have called on the Meitiis to leave Mizoram. In retaliation the All Assam Manipur Students Union has asked Mizos living in the Meiteis areas of the Barak Valley to evacuate in haste. Hate has become a mass production entity in Manipur and surroundings especially where Mizos, Meitiis, and Kukis once co-existed in harmony.

It would be naïve to argue that it was all peaceful but the antagonisms have never reached such heights. The Kuki people cannot visualise a status quo in which normalcy will gradually be restored. Their fears are far too deep and their wounds too yawning. In their reckoning, only a separate administration for the Hill districts seems to be the demand of the Kukis. At another level, a representative voice of Kuki legislators is that if a separate State were not feasible, they would rather merge with Mizoram. Even then, they would assert their right to an amalgamation where the Manipur Hill areas are contiguous with Mizoram and within which they can have Territorial Council inside Mizoram. This is an accord they are seeking to find consensus around.

Could this be the Greater Mizoram that the Kukis view as a way forward that will offer them justice? Is the centre prepared for an honest dialogue within which they concede the Kuki’s integrity, security, and aspirations?

Ranjan Solomon is a political commentator and a human rights activist.

Originally published in The Citizen

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