Skip to main content

BJP's divide and rule 'experiment' in Manipur on a people known for fighting injustice

By Sandeep Pandey* 

Manipur has been known for more than just the existence of numerous insurgent groups. It is known for the bravery of its people, especially women, against the injustices of the state. Who doesn’t remember the one of its kind protest, in 2004, in front of Assam Rifles headquarters when 2-3 dozen naked women protested with the banner ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ after the abduction and murder of a young lady Manorama or the 16 years long lonely battle that Irom Sharmila fought from the hospital with a rubber tube inserted in her nose to feed her as she fasted against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act? 
More recently, Manipur fame has been extended to sports, with the female sportspersons such as Mary Kom and Mirabai Chanu bringing laurels to the country, in fields not normally considered the domain for women in this country, and becoming national icons. The mothers’ organisation Meira Paibi would keep a vigil all night to ensure that the Army did not pick up their youth in the name of insurgents. The term ‘brave’ aptly characterises the people of Manipur.
Historically, there have been conflicts between the majority Meitei community, largely inhabited in the valley, and the Kuki and Naga, both tribal communities who live in hills, but never so bad to result in large scale or long term violence. What is happening in Manipur now is rare. Meiteis have long been identified as a Hindu community. 
Although there is a small percentage of Muslim ‘Pangal’ Meiteis, there has been a definite Sanskritisation of their culture in history. If there is one community in the entire Northeast outside of Assam which would most easily amalgamate with the mainland Indian culture it is the Meiteis. The aspiration of this community to seek a Scheduled Tribe status seems to be driven more by the material considerations. Numerically smaller Kukis and Nagas felt threatened by this demand as this would have allowed Meiteis to buy lands in hills. This has provoked the conflagration.
Kuki and Naga are mostly Christians as is the most tribal population in Northeast. However, historical conflicts in the region have largely followed ethnic lines rather than religious divisions. Kidnappings and killings are a common feature of these conflicts. But attacks on Churches is something new. There appears to be a sinister design to give the non-tribal tribal conflict a Hindu Christian clash colour. And the suspect is Bhartiya Janata Party whose ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has always targeted Christian missionaries for being involved in religious conversions and the duo have immensely electorally benefitted from creating Hindu Muslim divide elsewhere in the country. 
BJP, in power in Manipur, used to claim that religious riots don’t happen in its rule. How is it that with their government in power the riots have gone on for almost two months now? There is an apprehension that BJP stands to gain from these clashes as by the end of it, it would have got the Meiteis solidly on its side for a long time to come. 
There is another reason for the failure of law and order in Manipur, which BJP’s own legislators have admitted. The state has been under Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This draconian Act gave immunity to Army to carry out the most egregious human rights violations without being held accountable. The police were marginalised. The weakened police apparatus suffers from this historical baggage and is unable to take on the miscreants in the current conflict. For the same reason, the government seems to be paralysed. In states where AFSPA has been in force the democratically elected governments were never sovereign.
The Chief Ministers and State Assemblies of Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Nagaland in the past have asked for the repeal of AFSPA but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. The security forces have been partisan. They have massacred people on some occasions, like on 4 December 2021 in Mon, Nagaland, and on others have stood by and watched as other groups have indulged in bloodbath, for example against the alleged foreigners in Assam.
Complaints of security forces playing a partisan role in Manipur this time too have surfaced. How do we expect the State government, always dependent on the Union government, and a weakened and partisan security force to counter the onslaught of militants? The price for interference by various Indian governments in the governance structures of NE will have to be paid unfortunately with the lives of citizens living here. The situation is so bad that people don’t identify with elected governments, which are seen merely as stooges of the Indian government.
There needs to be a serious thought on how to rectify the situation in Manipur and in general in NE. Strengthening the democratic polity in the region is crucial and the key to this is active public participation. The people must feel that it is their own government. This will necessarily mean less role for the Union government. The same applies to J&K.
In addition, there needs to be application of balm on deepened ethnic schisms due to sectarian and narrow approach of the ruling BJP. Its handling of the situation has been most inept. It is an irony that this, so called, nationalist party which supposedly works to strengthen the nation, has created deep seated animosities between communities everywhere, thereby weakening the social fabric of society. 
This reflects in the demand for a separate homeland for Kuki-Zomis in the current strife in Manipur. The demand for a Sixth Schedule status for this tribal community will have to acceded to, sooner or later. Otherwise, this festering wound would rankle for a long time to come. For the time being BJP has been successful in converting a people known for valiantly fighting injustice to now fighting among themselves – a classic case of divide and rule.
---
*Magsaysay award winning social activist-academic, general secretary of Socialist Party (India)

Comments

Thank you for this Quite educative article.You have Very well articulated the complexity of North Eastern region.During our Sanvidhan Sanman Yatra we had some talk with few BJP brainwashed Youth in Aasam that I remembered while reading your article.

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Living standards in 'model' Gujarat worse than major states: Govt of India document

By Rajiv Shah  Amidst raging controversy over whether the latest Government of India’s “Household Consumption Expenditure Survey 2022-23 Fact Sheet: August 2022-July 2023” suggests that India’s poverty levels are actually down to 4.5 to 5%  during the decade-long Narendra Modi rule, a state-wise breakup in the 27-page document shows that “model” Gujarat’s average consumption expenditure is far below most of the so-called developed states.

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.

Not livable in summer, Chitrakut PM-Awas houses 'push' tribals in moneylender trap

By Bharat Dogra*  Those who are in-charge of implementing the PM-Awas scheme of rural housing can rightly take pride in what has been achieved in Dafai hamlet (Karvi block, Chitrakut district, Uttar Pradesh). All the Kol tribal families here are extremely poor and vulnerable. In a rare achievement, almost all of them have received housing assistance under PM Awas. 

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Narmada Valley's fossil evidence: Ground for 'nationalists' to argue primates' India roots?

By Saurav Sarkar*  In December 1982, a geologist digging in India’s Central Narmada Valley found something he did not expect. Arun Sonakia, who at the time worked for the Geological Survey of India, unearthed a hominid fossil skullcap from the Pleistocene era. The discovery sent shockwaves through the field of paleoanthropology and put South Asia on the map of human prehistory. Some experts concluded that the skull likely belonged to a member of a predecessor species of ours, Homo heidelbergensis , or perhaps was a hybrid of homo species, while Sonakia himself suggested “ an affinity… to Homo erectus .”

Development? This tribal hamlet in Chitrakut has no toilets, no electricity connections yet

By Bharat Dogra*  As we moved away from the starting point of the Bundelkhand Expressway and a famous pilgrimage site into a side-road, the hills of Chitrakut here appeared to be more and more isolated. Another turn, and we appeared to have reached almost a dead-end. However it is here that over 80 households of the Kol tribal community have been living for a long time.