Rapacious rajneeti causes Manipur mayhem

Perhaps thinking that his opponents would distort any comment by him, Modi was maybe waiting for the right time and an appropriate venue to express his resolve.
Kuki tribal protestors, in New Delhi, shout slogans during a demonstration against deadly ethnic clashes in Manipur, on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Photo | AP)
Kuki tribal protestors, in New Delhi, shout slogans during a demonstration against deadly ethnic clashes in Manipur, on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Photo | AP)

"Which holy river of this country can wash the stairs of flesh clean from our rapes? Which gods of the country have paid heed when we were disrobed?" Poem by DMK Lok Sabha MP Thamizhachi Thangapandian 

The drums of fear beat loud in the Valley of Death. A paradise is drenched in blood. In the past three months, over 150 Manipuris died savagely at the hands of their fellow men. Over 30 per cent of the state's population live as refugees in their own country, displaced and desperate, in makeshift, unsanitary camps. Women hid in jungles where two-legged beasts possessed by lust and hate prowled for prey. Women were dragged out of their homes, stripped naked, groped and paraded in public before being gang raped. Police armouries were looted, and the houses of politicians burned. Violence has cleaved Manipur into two, between the valley and the hills. Shockingly, its uniformed guardians surrendered their weapons to communal criminals as a cynical state government dozed with one eye open.

Tiny verdant Manipur, with a population of just 2.5 million, once symbolised the best of India in unity in diversity. Hundreds of castes, tribes and three faiths lived in harmony. But politics was weaponised under the leadership of Chief Minister N Biren Singh after the majority Meiteis—mainly Hindus who are 52 per cent of the state's headcount—were accorded Schedule Tribe status in May. This posed a threat to the Kukis, mainly tribal Christians, Nagas and Muslims. For two months, as Manipur cried for help and the world watched in horror, national leaders from the BJP and a spineless media averted their faces. Instead, they celebrated celebrities in politics, business and cinema. It took an online video of two violated women being publicly dishonoured to force Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak; his party and ministers, who didn't open their mouths until he did, began to babble banalities. But the government went into the defensive more. Its leaders, including the Chief Minister, organised protests against the video and not against the barbaric act. After the European Union condemned the Manipur massacres, South Block fumed against "external interference in India's internal affairs." However, the Supreme Court was furious. Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud warned, "We are deeply disturbed by the video that emerged yesterday..." Visuals that have appeared in the media indicate gross constitutional violation and infraction of human rights, remarked the court, adding that the "use of women as instruments of violence in a charged atmosphere is unacceptable in a constitutional democracy".

Perhaps thinking that his opponents would distort any comment by him, Modi was maybe waiting for the right time and an appropriate venue to express his resolve. He stated, "The entire country has been shamed" and "I want to assure the nation, no guilty [people] will be spared..." "Action will be taken according to the law. What happened to the daughters of Manipur can never be forgiven… my heart is filled with pain and anger." Immediately, his party leaders went into moral overdrive. But Manipur's Chief Minister N Biren Singh, the villain of the hour, avoided tough questions from a conveniently conscientious press. He just tweeted, "A thorough investigation is currently underway, and we will ensure strict action is taken against all the perpetrators, including considering the possibility of capital punishment." Why did it take him over two months to even promise an investigation and take action?

Fortunately, all political parties had the good sense not to exploit the mayhem communally. But the consensus was that the bloodbath was Biren's political ploy to keep his chair; a politician of two decades, he is a Meiti icon with strong Hindutva leanings. The 62-year-old former footballer and ex-Congress neta began his career in the BSF before joining the regional Democratic Revolutionary Peoples Party and won from Heingang Assembly Constituency in 2002. He joined the Congress in 2003 and became a minister. He jumped ship to the BJP in 2016, contested the 2017 Assembly elections and won a record fourth term. He was the natural choice for Chief Minister. Biren's agenda is to leverage maximum political rights for his community. He cleverly exploited his brand of Hindutva to hoodwink the leadership and the Centre. Even during Home Minister Amit Shah's four-day visit to Manipur, he never displayed remorse. If local sources are to be trusted, he hid all horrendous details from Shah. A visibly incensed HM visited violence-affected Kuki areas without Biren. He ordered the constitution of a Peace Committee under Governor Anasuiya Uike. But Biren sabotaged its efforts. According to a report by a pro-establishment portal, Amit Shah had advised Biren to quit or face the consequences. The CM dug in, and the Centre replaced the pro-Meitei DGP.

The BJP made the strategic mistake of keeping schtum for over two months, allowing its hardcore elements to dictate the narrative, which invited charges of communal connivance. Some leaders tried to politicise the Army, which promptly denied any bias; Army Chief General Manoj Pande visited Manipur. But incendiary comments by Assam's chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who heads the North East Democratic Alliance and is the current poster boy of hardcore Hindutva, told a journalist that "the distribution of population is such that seventy per cent of people are in thirty per cent landmass. Kukis and Nagas can come to the valley, but Meiteis cannot go to the hills. It is the same thing in Assam also, with regard to Bodoland."

RR Singh, BJP MP from Inner Manipur and a Minister of State for External Affairs, has reportedly demanded the abolition of Article 371, which prevents non-tribals from acquiring land in the state's hill areas. Such ideological rhetoric led to total neutrality from the Centre. No overzealous TV warrior took a clear stand on the pogrom. BJP netas ducked when faced by the media or Opposition leaders. The silence was counterproductive. It allowed Modi's enemies to castigate him for inaction. Rahul Gandhi and many anti-BJP netas visited Manipur. Parliament became a battleground of conscience. Since both the Opposition and the saffron establishment are unwilling to step back from the precipice of confrontation, Manipur faces irreparable damage to its identity. Tragically, India, with all its strengths, cannot tame community goons who feast on blood and pain. The BJP must realise that losing two Lok Sabha seats from tiny Manipur cannot affect the outcome of the 2024 polls. Biren Singh and his sponsors are a serious threat to the idea of Vishwa Guru Bharat.

Last week, an anguished Naga woman poet wrote, "Women to women! Yes, the violence is flesh to flesh, brothers. But the judgement is soul to soul." The soul of Manipur is scarred, and the flesh of its women has been shredded by beasts with political protection. History neither forgives nor forgets the mangulation of innocents. The epitaphs of political reputations through the ages are proof of its vengeance.

Prabhu Chawla
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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