Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Manipur requires a solution for the long term, fast

It was a pleasant afternoon in 1994, but our minds were disturbed. We were on our way to a Kuki village that had been set on fire a few hours ago. Those were the days of the Kuki-Naga clashes.

The Manipur assembly election was nearing. The state was under President’s rule for a couple of months but the assembly had not been dissolved. Even before the polls, Rishang Keishing was appointed chief minister with the assistance of New Delhi. A tussle between him and governor Lt Gen V.K. Nayar was known to all. Nayar, whose sympathies lay with the insurgent Naga factions, believed Keishing was not fulfilling his constitutional duties. But the government in New Delhi turned a deaf ear to Nayar, who resigned shortly before the elections.

We spent nearly a week in conflict-torn Manipur and Nagaland. Poverty and insecurity were rampant in both states. On one side were separatist factions, while on the other were uniformed gunmen. Both caused problems for the ordinary people.

Let me give an example.

We had gone out with a CRPF team on a night patrol. a state-wide undeclared-unannounced night curfew was in effect. We were moving forward cautiously over the slippery, steep terrain, when suddenly two young men appeared at a bend. They were taken aback by the large number of uniformed personnel. The patrol team rounded them up before they could understand what was happening or could explain anything. Under the guise of searching, the men were being mauled. I later complained to a top officer, but all he did was smile. What was the meaning of his smile: disobedience, defiance or disdain? Whatever it may be, it disturbs me till date.

I have witnessed the war against terrorism in Punjab and in Kashmir, but the situation here was different. There, money was being showered from government coffers in the guise of development. Gunmen from both sides were always on the lookout for ways to prevent this help from reaching the people.

Were they allies or foes? A lot of water has flowed down the rivers since. I couldn’t return to Manipur, but the rise in number of tourists there reassured me that the situation had normalized. That illusion broke in the last three months. Compare it with the situation in 1993-1994. Only the faces have altered. Previously, Naga and Kuki were at odds; now, Meitei and Kuki are in conflict. Manipur has returned to the grip of gun culture. It is pointless to wish for peace in that region in a hurry.

It takes longer for old wounds to heal. Most Meiteis in Manipur are Krishna devotees; they should not forget the Mahabharata. A disaster was caused by the disrobing of Draupadi. This time, all the daughters have become victims of the same vile desire. It’s no surprise that the ruling party’s Kuki MLAs are suddenly calling for a separate state. Both New Delhi and Imphal are going through challenging times.

The Manipur issue is impeding Parliament’s work during the monsoon session. The opposition is adamant that the Prime Minister make a statement on the matter, while home minister Amit Shah has stated that he is prepared to speak on its all aspects in the House. Shah is personally involved in this issue. He is the first home minister to visit troubled Manipur for three days. Some 30,000 armed troops were deployed in less than 36 hours to put an end to the violence, exodus and malpractices. Nityanand Rai, his colleague, stayed there for 22 days and oversaw the entire arrangement. While doing so, both leaders recognized that it would take time to restore peace, but that immediate action was required.

This is why, despite the fact that no significant news of mob violence has emerged in recent days, the political temperature in Delhi has risen. Both Houses of Parliament are gripped by unparalleled political animosity. The opposition parties have moved a no-confidence motion against the government. On Tuesday and Wednesday, there will be a discussion on this. During the talks, both parties are free to say whatever they want, but will it be enough to alleviate Manipuris’ pain? The heart-wrenching questions I had three decades ago while experiencing the sorrow of that area have yet to be answered.

This is the responsibility of all factions of the political spectrum. Meanwhile, the country’s Supreme Court has taken up the case. But Manipur requires a long-term solution. The entire country, and the people who live there, are looking forward to it.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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Updated: 06 Aug 2023, 08:59 PM IST

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