In hindsight it appears that the steps proposed by the home minister did not show sufficient understanding of the situation on the ground.
The ceaseless flow of very bad news from Manipur for the past month and a half lays bare the failure of the state administration as well as that of the Centre. Much was expected from the visit of Union home minister Amit Shah to the state at the end of May, which alas came nearly a month after incendiary developments had commenced in the border state, but the situation only seems to have turned more explosive.
In hindsight it appears that the steps proposed by the home minister did not show sufficient understanding of the situation on the ground. Assurances of President’s rule if need be and a separate administration for the tribal areas within the framework of the present state, besides the creation of a state-level peace committee presided over by the governor, have yielded no result. A unified security grid has been established but this has made no difference to the situation. Mr Shah’s visit to the border areas with Myanmar to bolster the drive against the illegal crossing of weapons and drugs appears to have been bereft of impact.
Murderous ethnic clashes have continued unabated in and around the capital, Imphal, and Churachandpur in the tribal areas in the hills region. The way it’s going, legitimate fears have been expressed of disaffection spreading to the other states of the northeast that have a variety of tribal groups. This is on account of the growing apprehension that the ruling BJP in the state has exacerbated the religious divide — with the bulk of the Meitei population of the Imphal valley being Hindu and the tribal Kuki-Zo and the Naga people being Christian — given its well-known ideological stance, and its political preference for polarisation as an election gambit which has been seen in other states, too.
Early on Wednesday, nine people were killed and 10 seriously injured in the bloodiest day of clashes since trouble erupted on May 3. A mob torched the official residence of the industry and commerce minister in the state capital. More than 100 people have been killed and about 40,000 displaced from their homes on account of the unending clashes. The administration, the police, the thousands of paramilitary forces and the Army that have been deployed to deal with the volatile situation have a various serious job on their hands. But reports suggest that the state police are split on ethnic lines, and the politicians and administration are similarly riven. Chief minister N. Biren Singh is said to be openly siding with one side.
Tens of thousands of weapons have been looted from the police armoury and five lakh rounds of ammunition have gone missing. This had not happened even in J&K at the points of the worst crisis in that former state where Pakistan had fuelled religious extremism and militancy that had once left the Indian State reeling. Is this possible without official connivance at the highest level? The Central forces find their way blocked by civilians, which is akin to the situation in Kashmir at one time.
President’s Rule brooks no delay. But Central administration may have a difficult run as the ruling BJP is rocked by the putative revelation made recently that it had sought and secured the support of the United Kuki Liberation Front, a leading militant group, in the Assembly election of 2017 and the general election of 2019. Ram Madhav, then BJP general secretary, and Assam CM Hemanta Biswa Sarma, have been named as intermediaries, though the former denies this. There is no word from the Union home ministry. But the Centre’s capacity to deal with a state in crisis will be hampered in the wake of suspicion that the ruling party was in bed with an armed militant outfit for electoral gains and has also stoked the communal cauldron.