What is still unclear is what kind of political steps are being envisaged by the Centre
Although it could have come earlier and helped save lives and de-escalate the large-scale violence and destruction that has caused nationwide anxiety over the sensitive border state of Manipur, it is hoped that the just-ended visit of Union home minister Amit Shah to the northeastern state will help calm the situation, although complex processes take time to take effect.
It is important that, in addition to the security grid, the home minister should have met the leading civil society organisations across the ethnic faultlines that are currently aflame. His visit to Moreh and other areas on the border with Myanmar is also intended to convey that the Union government will not hesitate to take strong measures on the security side, besides helping to assuage sentiments amongst the groups in conflict.
The preponderance of arms that float in from the Myanmar side and become the readily available weapons of violence in a state known to have a history of ethnic strife, as well as the local narcotics production and trade from the Myanmar side that badly muddy the picture, are said to be some of the leading factors that fuel violence and cause instability.
It does not appear that the security sector in Manipur has been successful in grappling with this problem. Guns and narcotics are the bane of stability in several regions of the world. It has been seen that crooked political actors, security personnel, as well as unscrupulous elements of the civilian administration, engage in profiteering through such illegal activity. To what extent is this the case in Manipur? The question acquires an urgent dimension in light of the mayhem witnessed in the state for the past four weeks.
Mr Shah’s announcement that a panel headed by a retired high court judge would conduct an independent probe along with a CBI investigation into some serious incidents is extremely welcome. It is in answer to a demand made in the state and outside. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge had, in fact, recently written to President Droupadi Murmu, urging an inquiry by a sitting or retired judge. The terms of reference of the judicial probe need to have a bearing on the security factor, including gun-running and narcotics cultivation and smuggling.
Seeing the sheer scale of the violence the state has suffered, which seems to have a religious communal angle as well, a fortnight ago, 10 Manipur MLAs from the Kuki-Zomi tribal groups, eight of whom are from the BJP and two from the Kuki People’s Front that supports the BJP government of chief minister N. Birendra Singh, had demanded the taking out of the tribal areas from the territory of Manipur. This may be a cry of desperation. However, the remedy lies in fixing things within the existing boundaries of Manipur. This was underscored by the Congress president and has been reiterated by many eminent personalities of the state, including prominent sportspersons.
To soothe frayed nerves, the home minister has done well to hold out the promise of a separate administration for the tribal areas once normal conditions are restored, and also looking at the option of President’s Rule demanded by the tribal groups. But he and his party need to do more. It will go a long way in restoring confidence if the current CM, whose inadequacy stands exposed, steps down, making way for another leader. The high court judge, whose irresponsible order to confer tribal status on the majority Meitei, who inhabit the Imphal valley, “preferably within four weeks”, lit the fire, should also be subjected to scrutiny by the appropriate quarters.
However, what is still unclear is what kind of political steps are being envisaged by the Centre.