Manipur, a case of intensifying politics of communal polarisation

Anything more than that, and certainly 80 days and more in Manipur, and the reality of state collusion becomes indisputable. 

Published: 30th July 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th July 2023 04:08 PM   |  A+A-

In 2021 (the last official data available) Manipur’s police-population ratio was 917 to 1,00,000, against the Indian average of 152.5. According to current estimates and the state government’s submission to the Supreme Court on current police strength, this ratio now stands at 1,388 per 1,00,000. In addition, there are thousands of Central Paramilitary Force and army personnel deployed in the state. Yet, there is no sign of an end to the ethnic violence even after over two-and-a-half months. What could be the possible cause?

KPS Gill, who ended the insurgency in Punjab, and tackled some of the worst crises in Assam, often said any riot, anywhere in India, that lasts more than 24 hours, is collusive, not spontaneous; the state is itself supporting or orchestrating the violence. This may be too exacting a standard, and in some cases, it may take 48, or even 72 hours, for the state, acting in good faith, to bring the disorders under control. Anything more than that, and certainly 80 days and more in Manipur, and the reality of state collusion becomes indisputable. 

Within this context, it serves no purpose to speak of the number of policemen or Central Forces on the ground. Within our constitutional scheme, the elected representatives have a stranglehold at the apex of power. Nothing can happen without them. All talk of police autonomy is sheer nonsense; it cannot be sustained in the absence of good faith in the political executive. P Doungel, the Kuki Director General of Police, Manipur, it may be recalled, was summarily removed from his post on June 1. Before this, a group of Members of the Legislative Assembly had written to Home Minister Amit Shah that the violence was premeditated and that “all Kuki police officers from the DG/Addl DG, Jt DG, down to the constables were stripped of all powers, disarmed and rendered inactive much prior to May 3, while Meitei police were let loose upon Kuki residents of the city as well as of the foothill villages on May 3 and thereafter. As a result of the backlash in the hill areas, all Meitei police staff have abandoned their posts in all hill stations”.

It is useful to recall that on July 11, the Supreme Court, while refusing to intervene to oversee the deployment of the armed forces in Manipur as petitioned by the Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi, nevertheless found it necessary to “impress upon the Union of India and the State of Manipur to ensure arrangements to protect the lives of citizens of Manipur”, underlining the visible failure of both the Centre and the state to fulfil this fundamental duty despite the overwhelming presence of the forces.
It is clear that nothing can be done by the security forces if the political mandate is itself perverted, and if officials are moved about, and forces deployed, along communal lines, to push a polarising agenda. There is overwhelming evidence that Chief Minister N Biren Singh has acted in a manner that was intentionally provocative, that other members of his party were directly involved in inciting radical Meitei formations to violence, and that the police were either joining the Meitei mobs or were looking the other way while they rampaged across the state. 

It must also be noted that the attacks against Kuki women commenced immediately after the circulation of a fake allegation of the rape and murder of a Meitei woman in Churachandpur. There appears to be no indication of any effort to identify the individuals who first circulated this news and a photograph from a completely different context, with clear intent to incite violence and those who helped spread this fake news. The problem, however, does not stop at the state government. There has been a tremendous national and international response to the video documenting disgraceful atrocities against two Kuki women who were paraded naked and sexually assaulted by Meitei mobs. It is important to recognise, however, that this is far from the only case of such atrocities.

The National Commission for Women had received several such complaints, but had failed to respond before the furore over the shameful video was released. The Prime Minister has now seen fit to make a statement on the shocking incident, but sought to muddy the waters by referring to “incidents in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Manipur, in any corner of India”. In any event, the Centre cannot absolve itself of responsibility. On May 4, 2023, there was an announcement in Imphal that the Centre had invoked Article 355 to take over the security of Manipur. No subsequent notification was issued, however. With months of disorder following, this option remained open, but New Delhi, instead, preferred a deafening silence. 

What we are witnessing in Manipur is the continuation, indeed, intensification, of the politics of communal polarisation that has become the mainstay of the BJP’s mobilisation strategy. While it has long provided abundant electoral dividends to the party, in a country as diverse and divided it can only do great harm to the nation.

Ajai Sahni

Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, South Asia Terrorism Portal

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