Friday, September 29, 2023
Top Stories

“No balkanisation on ethnic lines”: Union Minister writes to PM on Manipur

Rajkumar Ranjan Singh

NEW DELHI/IMPHAL, MAY 21: Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, the Minister of State for External Affairs and Education, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the threat of “Balkanisation on ethnic lines” in Manipur.
The BJP MP, whose Lok Sabha constituency is Inner Manipur, asked the Prime Minister to “curb and control” with “a strong hand” any attempt at breaking up the Northeast State, where 35 ethnic groups live.
Over 70 people have died since May 3 in clashes between the Meiteis, who live in and around the State capital Imphal valley, and the Kuki tribe, who are settled in the hills, over the valley residents’ demand for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category. Following this, 10 tribal MLAs in BJP-ruled Manipur wrote a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah, demanding a separate administration for tribals within the State, saying they “cannot live together anymore”.
“From May 3 and for a few days there was complete chaos and trust vanished into thin air between the two communities – Meiteis and Kukis. In complete dismay and frustration, Kuki leaders including their MLAs have started demanding a separate political administration for their people. Perhaps they are under tremendous pressure from various quarters including militants”, Singh said in the letter sent to PM Modi on Saturday.
“This is a very dangerous proposition for a tiny State having 35 ethnic groups. Peaceful co-existence should be the norm. Naga-Kuki conflict, Meitei-Pangan (Muslim) clash and now
Meitei-Kuki riot must be treated as aberrations. These should be curbed and controlled by a strong hand. No Balkanisation on ethnic lines should be encouraged at any cost”, the Minister of State for External Affairs said in the letter.
He said public figures calling the violence “ethnic cleansing” is wrong and they must restrain themselves from using “such dangerous expressions”.
Manipur Director General of Police P Doungel in a statement on Friday also denied the allegations by the 10 tribal MLAs that the Manipur Police “stripped” Kuki cops of all powers and”disarmed” them before violence broke out between the Meiteis and the Kukis. The Manipur Police said, “… All the Kuki/Meitei policemen right from DGP (Director General of Police) to the lowest rank, whether in khaki or in green, are all performing their duties to their best wherever they are assigned”.
The Union Minister in the letter said the clash between the two communities was triggered by a peaceful rally that suddenly turned violent, and unfortunately, activists are giving it a communal colour.
“A few activists are trying to bring in the religious angle that Meiteis are mostly Hindus and Kukis are Christians. They try to blame the people who are radicalised in the name of religion and culture. Burning of churches and temples are being cited to bring in a communal angle. This is untenable. Violent mobs burn and destroy everything on their way… It was impossible for the local police to control the rioters until the army and paramilitary forces arrived and intervened”, Singh said in the letter. “If some shrewd minds are trying to create a political demarcation through such heinous crimes, such plans should never be made successful. They can’t bluff the Union Government by putting up a game plan. Sacrificing innocent human lives to achieve a political agenda is unwanted and undesirable. To work out a peaceful co-existence must be the solution. Dismemberment will never be a solution”, the Union Minister said.
“We are not to blame any community or ethnic group… The harmonious relations among ethnic groups are often violated by leaders for getting their political ends. Myopic politicians often play with the lives and emotions of the common people… They have done enough damage to society. Their tactics trigger unimaginable losses, for instance the present ethnic inferno. Such local leaders must be identified and condemned”, Singh said.
The Union Minister also blamed the British’s colonial policy of divide-and-rule for sowing the seeds of the current crisis.
When Manipur came under British control after the Anglo-Manipur war in 1891, the valley administration remained with Manipur’s King and the hill administration remained with the president of the Manipur darbar, who was invariably a British, Singh wrote in the letter.
“A psychological gap was being created. After Independence, too, Article 371C still made the barrier between the hills and the valley”, Singh said.
Singh asked PM Modi to work towards removing the “mechanical divisions” in Manipur, made wider by religious affiliations.
“The State should belong to the people as a whole – without any distinction of hill inhabitants or valley people – in the pattern of Himachal Pradesh. If required, Article 371C may be amended”, Singh said, referring to a constitutional guarantee that specifically deals with Manipur.
Meitei groups have alleged the protest by the Kuki tribals against the Meiteis’ demand to be included in the ST category was only an excuse to push for their main goal – the formation of a separate Kuki land. Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who is from the BJP, has said the territorial integrity of Manipur will be protected.
Tensions over the eviction of Kuki villagers and alleged illegal immigrants from reserved and protected forests, and the destruction of poppy fields preceded the violence that broke out on May 3.
The State Government’s inability to answer the question of how to identify illegal immigrants who have come from Myanmar to escape persecution is a contributing factor to the Meiteis’ resentment.
A section of the Meiteis have alleged illegal immigrants have been settling in among tribals who have been living in Manipur, owing to cultural, clan, religious and familial ties. They have asked the Government to carry out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise. Large-scale deforestation in the hills and tribal-dominated districts, such as Churachandpur, is allegedly attributed to illegal immigrants making new settlements.
The scale of poppy cultivation in Manipur has also spread across 15,400 acres of land in the hills between 2017 and 2023, according to data from the State’s special anti-drugs unit Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB).
The NAB data shows 291 encroachers have been evicted from reserved and protected forests between January 2017 and April 2023. The anti-encroachment action happened at 21 locations across the State between this period, according to the NAB.
The Kukis have alleged the BJP Government in Manipur has been targeting them systematically ~ using the war on drugs campaign as the cover ~ to remove them from the forests and their homes in the hills.
A joint statement by tribal student groups in Delhi demanded investigation into the alleged involvement of the “Arambai Tenggol” and “Meitei Leepun” ~ two youth organisations in Manipur ~ in the “pre-planned and systematic unleashing of a pogrom” against the tribals of Manipur.