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Inter-Ethnicity Conflict In Manipur: The Needed Response


What is painfully surprising is that the present government has not displayed any kind of thoughtful orientation and commitment to digest the dynamics of what had gone wrong; it is an absolute tragedy that the Kukis and the Meeteis in Manipur, says Prof Amar Yumnam

By Amar Yumnam

In this immediate aftermath of the recent Inter-Ethnic Clash in Manipur, certain very significant developments are getting unfolded. Of these, I would take one as particularly significant:

Arguments and counter arguments, presumably to rationalize the actions are coming out in the open. This means certain kind of open discussions across ethnicities has emerged. This is important ab initio. 

Now these rationalization attempts reveal some very momentous characteristics about the Government:

  1. The government of the day has not found it important and paramount to be alive to the feelings of the people in general and the differential feelings, if any, of the different ethnicities in a diverse society;
  2. The government, with all her various organs to make governance possible, has not found it imperative to continuously monitor, analyse and explore the convergence of the various ethnic interests. If divergences were visible, it is the full responsibility of the government to explore the potential reasons; the policy responses to these would be on the basis of the exploration and finding of the differences.
  3. Government interventions have necessarily to be based on the analyses and understanding of the socio-economic-politico dynamics of the society and founded on the Constitutional framework; the rule of law is important even to impose the wishes of the Leader of the Government. Any intervention should not only be a Justice but also look like a Justice.

But what is painfully surprising is that the present government has not displayed any kind of mental orientation and commitment to digest the dynamics of what had gone wrong; it is an absolute tragedy that the Kukis and the Meeteis in Manipur have clashed and killed each other. For about three days, it was followed-up by something that looked like the prelude to the crisis in terms of political articulations, free for all statements, allegations and what not. Whereas the usual understanding of such crises is in terms of explaining the process and the outcome of what has just happened, but I feel strongly that such an approach would be very inappropriate to understand and explain the present crisis – we need to have an idea of the ethnicity building-ups at least during the previous few decades, the emergence of new shared feelings within each ethnicity, the qualitative as well as quantitative dynamics of demographic characteristics of each ethnicity, and the unfolding overall development dynamics of the economy and society.

During the last two decades or so, a very healthy and positive social strength of the Kukis has become visible. Increasingly, we are witnessing robust youths – both boys and girls – among the Kukis becoming competent professionals ranging from plain academics to professional degrees[1]. This has invariably enhanced the Social Aspirations of their community. This transformation must definitely have had a kind of behavioural implications for them. During the last thirty/forty years, the Kukis have been manifesting preference to settle in a location in a rather permanent way and in a way different from their earlier social habits. In this the fast decline in the coverage of the Protected Forest Areas of the government must naturally have attracted their attention; while the geographic size remains the same, the trees (as huge as they are) in the Protected Forest areas have been the easy targets of the powers that be and the high-ranking officials. So when the Kukis express their preference for these areas for settlement, the moral ground for rejection is naturally weak.

This reality has been coupled by the establishment of military rule in the neighbouring country of Myanmar. There are signs that the Kukis on both sides of the country have been able to augment their interactions with potential encouragements from China. Since the borders are porous and significant political developments are happening across the border, it is imperative that India has a Myanmar Policy with the North East, particularly Manipur, in the background. But does India have a Myanmar Policy? NO.

With the different ethnic groupings constituting the society of Manipur, and with the inter- and intra-ethnic qualitative and quantitative dimensions undergoing changes, it is of utmost significance that there is a Demographic (Population) Policy keeping in mind the domestic as well as international political economic implications and also reflecting the socio-cultural dimensions. Does India (for that matter, Manipur) have one? NO.

Since there has been different property rights regimes in an otherwise small region like Manipur, it is imperative that a land policy is evolved to ultimately align the varied interests of the ethnicities. Does Manipur have a Land Policy? NO.

Because of history of association, the affiliation of the Kukis to the social sector structure of Manipur, both in terms of participation and alliance, is more robust than elsewhere.

In this more-ethnicity oriented social complex, there has recently emerged a more rigorous religious-oriented political arrangement.

These unfoldings are happening in a context of Manipur where there has not emerged any long-term dynamics of development and for socio-political endeavours for shared development. This is a convenient atmosphere for various agents to manoeuvre for upmanship. During the last few months, groupings of the various ethnicities – the Kukis and the Meeteis – have been making fairly provocative statements reflecting rising intentions of engagements. This is the moment for the governance to come in and put in place the desired lines of action and compliance. While Government has been there, but the Governance has not been visible.

Thus the twin absence of Policy and Governance have led to a crisis of inter-ethnic conflict in Manipur. But the inherited general strength of the population has been there for sharing and appreciation for ages across ethnicities, and it does possess elements for continuous sustainability.

Now that the pre-crisis verbal and other mobilisations are displaying a kind of transformation towards sharing the grievances and mutual appreciation of the potential areas of conflict. This is the moment for the government to come into the picture and actively involve in leading the society towards a kind of shared development; the prevailing government character of engaging in whatever she feels like has to give way to one where there is a robust commitment to lead the people together towards a shared direction for development.

But here lies the biggest challenge. The present government has to go and replaced it by another. The decision as to whether a President’s Rule for about two years or just a change of leadership would be enough has to be taken now. For me, let me caste my preference. Given the revealed weaknesses of the government, I would certainly prefer a PR where the number of Advisors should be four or five reflecting the core areas where we wish to push for development towards which the public would be naturally committed.


(Amar Yumnam is Former Vice-Chancellor, Manipur University. Now Visiting Professor, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad)


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