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PM Modi breaks his silence on sexual violence but not on ethnic conflict


Narendra Modi may have opened his mouth, but has not addressed the real issues of Manipur. He shrewdly spoke of dishonourable behaviour naming Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Manipur leaving an opening for the BJP spokespersons to talk of rape in all these states and say that such behaviour is common everywhere. Nothing humane, but Realpolitik.

By Ngaranmi Shimray

Everyone waited in great expectation that the Prime Minister of India will talk on Manipur’s current ethnic conflict after a video on brutal sexual violence went viral. And he did speak! But it was only about the alleged rape and sexual violence video clip case which became viral. He said that the rape has shamed 140 crore people of India and urged all state governments to enforce law and order and safeguard women. Many people were thinking that the Prime Minister is too embarrassed/ashamed/angry of the ongoing ethnic conflict in Manipur between the Meitei community and the Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribes to dignify it with a statement? PM Modi did speak on rape, but did not speak on the ethnic killings which is the primary problem currently faced by Manipur. The PM failed to acknowledge the ethnic killings and condemn it with strong words.

Remember, PM Modi had chided Putin at the international stage on the ongoing Russia and Ukraine war and said that this is not the ‘era for war’. He is right! Everyone appreciated his courageous statement made to Putin. The days of imperialism, hegemony and jingoism are over. The youth and the world is more worried about climate change and over-exploitation of natural resources. Everyone is worried of what type of universe they will leave behind for the future generations. In respect of Manipur, PM Modi may have opened his mouth, but has not addressed the real issues of Manipur namely the ethnic conflict. He shrewdly spoke of dishonourable behaviour naming Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Manipur leaving an opening for the BJP spokespersons to talk of rape in all these states and say that such behaviour is common everywhere. Nothing humane, but Realpolitik.

The current conflict in Manipur, in spite of what government says, without a doubt, is an ethnic cleansing conflict. It is not a mere law and order problem. Meira Paibis are still seeking out Chin-Kuki-Mizo people from the streets of Imphal valley and are handing them over to the radicalised youths to decide the fate of individuals in their impromptu kangaroo court. After 78 days of ethnic clashes, Moreh town and whole of Kangpokpi and Churachandpur districts are cleansed of Meiteis. On the other side, the state capital city of Imphal and in the Imphal valley are cleansed of Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribes. Strange you may say, but this is sadly the reality that the society of the state is already divided. Governments, both centre and state, have not been able to do much in last 78 days or more to change the situation in Imphal and the peripheral areas adjoining the Imphal valley. Provoked into speaking against the rape, PM Modi had only talked about how this single incident has shamed the nation and asked the state governments across the nation to administer law and order properly to ensure the safety of women. He did not talk about the shameful ethnic killings going on in Manipur. He did not say anything about the deep ethnic divide in Manipur or condemn the ongoing ethnic killings.

The Chin-Kuki-Mizo people have not returned to Imphal and the affected villages in the state are still deserted without any efforts to resettle or rebuild them. The two warring communities are wary and suspicious of each other and the Nagas are worried that they may be dragged into the conflict.

Even today, the Meira Paibis (women vigilante group) are seeking out persons belonging to the other warring side in imphal valley and are handing them over to the radicalised youths (kangaroo courts. This happened recently to one Mrs M. Lucy Maring, a single mother of a class 10th girl who suffered from mental health issues. She herself said she was a Naga and it was confirmed over a telephone conversation. The barbaric act is shocking to say the least. But why kill an innocent harmless and defenceless woman regardless of what ethnicity she belongs to. What can any person or organisation hope to achieve by snuffing out a harmless woman? Has it now become a war of attrition and counting number of deaths, houses and villages burnt to avenge them?

One thing is clear – such killings are senseless. The Kuki volunteers are snipping at the farmers making it impossible for them to cultivate paddy in the flat lands by the foothills. The desperate Meitei farmers are sending their recently armed untrained volunteers to the hills to clear them of snipers but are suffering needless casualties. Nagas are concerned that they may get dragged into the conflict if stray killings of Nagas continue. It would appear that both sides have lost faith in humanity, compassion, love and co-existence. The Bible says – Love thy neighbour as thyself. We need to search for humane values in our hearts and imbibe it on others.

The two warring communities have not started talking between themselves, but both are talking to Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India. How will there be peace when the two feuding communities are yet to sit down across the table, talk and thrash out their difference to resolve their grievances and find a solution? This is not a mere law and order problem. It is much deeper and insidious than that and needs better understanding at the political level to resolve the ethnic conflict.

Delhi has given what the state needs-close to 50,000 paramilitary forces, relief funds of about Rs.100 crore, an able security advisor, instituted an Inquiry Commission and constituted a peace committee. Delhi has not changed Chief Minister Mr Biren or promulgated President’s rule but has allowed him to stay and reposed confidence on his leadership. With all these support the state government should have by now been able to show some tangible progress of controlling the law & order situation. But sadly nothing tangible is evident to halt the ethnic killings.

State government’s effort for confidence building has not even started. The immediate priority should be to create a safe, secure and habitable environment for the displaced state government employees to return to Imphal. Real and serious efforts should be made to get back all the missing looted/gifted guns. Informers leading to recovery of guns should be rewarded handsomely and persons in possession of illegal arms should be booked and airlifted to jails in Assam and Meghalaya.There is also an observation that feels even Meira Paibis and Civil Society Organisations should be controlled and contained as they have been the main obstruction for the state machinery to carry out their duties and they should be meted out similar treatment. In an already vitiated environment Meira Paibis have often allegedly added fuel to the fire. Security observers feel that their activities in the streets have become detrimental to the ability of the armed forces to discharge their duties.

I have been inclined to endorse the silence of PM Modi as to why we should look at Delhi whenever we are in trouble and seek intervention when matters can be resolved amongst the parties concerned through talks? The  Chin-Kuki-Mizo and Nagas have been living along side with the Meiteis for generations except for a phase during the Naga-Kuki violence in the 1990s. The Chin-Kuki-Mizo were there before the British colonial power ruled Manipur. The prickly question is the allegation of recently migrating groups from Myanmar settling down in Manipur thereby evoking the fear of upsetting the demography of the state. The current crisis is a domestic disagreement and it was started by mishandling the situations which could have been better managed with tack (eviction) and transparency (Meitei ST demand in court). Like in every household there are disagreements and they get resolved through conversations amongst the family members. The warring sides and the neutral party need to sit down together and have a serious conversation. No mediator from outside the state is required. If needed, the Nagas could act as mediator even though the community was a party to an ethnic conflict in 1990s.

Losses will be recounted and acknowledged, mistakes will be admitted and pardoned/forgiven, and assurance and pledged made that the misunderstanding will not be allowed to happen, and if it does, will be sorted out through discussions. If resources/funds are needed to glue the bonds of understanding and agreement, the parties concerned should work out their fund requirements and place it before Delhi with their plan for peace and harmonious relationship. The different communities need to behave like adults and resolve the problems amongst themselves. Both sides should have the onerous task of making the reconciliation plan work.

Everyone knows that the clashes was a reaction to the State government’s actions. The first expression of unhappiness was caused by stern action of eviction from protected forest which could have been dealt with in a more tactful manner. The second action was the non-action and opaqueness on the part of the state government who failed to be transparent with the current ST of Manipur and also deliberately failed to ask for more time from the High Court in the Meitei ST demand Writ Petition. The government knew the seriousness of the matter and that it would be strongly objected by the current STs of Manipur, but in its act of deceit thought that they could surreptitiously obtain a favourable court’s order. The state government knew very well that there was no tribal organisation or individual made a party/respondent in the Writ Petition and it suffers from non-participant of necessary parties. The rest is history.

We must not forget that the Prime Minister is a very busy man and has many other more important things to worry about like building friendship with powerful foreign countries, strengthening the defence system of the country through purchase of submarines and fighter aircrafts, taking India to a new economic height, conquering space by sending a rocket to the moon, preparing plans and setting the agenda for the next elections in 2024 and making the Indian diaspora proud when he goes abroad of a new and modern India under his leadership.

The Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA), with Home Minister Mr Amit Shah in command, has all the authority, access and power to work out draft agreements for various demands made across north eastern States – namely, the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) demand in Nagaland, the Tipra Motha demand in Tripura, the separate administration demand by Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribes in Manipur and the Indo-Naga talks for a final Naga settlement.

The MHA would like all these to be hammered out as soon as possible to flaunt a feather on PM Modi’s cap before the coming Lok Sabha elections in 2024. The likelihood of a Big Bang announcement happening by solving all politically related issues in different states of North Eastern Region (NER) before 2024 elections is very bright. It seems, the MHA has already worked out a template proposal for ENPO which could be offered, with suitable modifications, to Tripura and Manipur groups too. As far as Indo-Naga peace talk is concerned, considering that the talks have been painstakingly going on for 26 years and everything possible could already have been discussed and covered many times over and there is no reason why a draft accord document cannot be tabled for final consultation and conclusion in the coming months before the 2024 elections.

Apparently the government of India has ruled out a flag and constitution (Yehzabo) for the Nagas in view of their stand on Kashmir leading to the revocation of Article 370. The Naga public are now suspecting that NSCN is very comfortable with the ceasefire and would like to continue with the ceasefire if they are given a chance. The MHA, government of India appears to have woken up to this fact and is ready to shove an agreement down the throat of the NSCN, whether they like it or not. This is a new development and potent trouble, but likely to be put to action as parliamentary elections loom large.

When this happens, the Prime Minister Mr Modi will talk more elaborately and proudly blow his trumpet. Just be patient. We have reasons to be optimistic of an unprecedented event that will transform the north eastern region for the better. Meanwhile, the policy appears to be to allow Manipur to burn. The Centre will not be perturbed even if the Nagas get dragged into the current conflict in Manipur.

(Ngaranmi Shimray is a New Delhi based political observer. He can be reached at [email protected])

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