Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Fiddling while Manipur burns

From all indications, the ongoing violence in Manipur which has unfortunately led to loss of precious lives and largescale arson and vandalism, is the outcome of simmering discontentment against certain policies of the Biren Singh BJP government. It is also tragic that when Manipur was heading towards rapid development, a path charted by former Congress chief minister O.Ibobi Singh, the spate of violent incidents are derailing the journey. The issues that are being hotly contested are the land survey conducted to evict dwellers in the ‘encroached lands’. There is no debate that under normal laws, encroachment is illegal and those involved are to be dealt with as per the law. However, as the survey was done and eviction carried out in forest reserve areas under hill districts, the affected tribals mostly belonging to the Kuki tribe and various ethnically related tribes, are angry that they have been treated with unjustly. They complain that their homes were bulldozed even before the break of dawn. While the government maintained that the eviction was carried out against poppy cultivators( supposedly refugees from Myanmar), the majority of affected victims deny that. According to reports, those allegedly involved poppy cultivation were working doing it for some person(s) having links with some politicians in the government. Anyhow, not all those who were living inside the encroached forests were poppy cultivators. Further, the tribals maintain that as per Article 370C the tribal areas fall under autonomous councils and that the government had allegedly bypassed them. The other contentious issue that has been the fulcrum of resentment among tribals is the demand by the majority Meitei community for inclusion under Scheduled Tribe category. Tribals of Manipur believe if the majority Meitei community are classed under Scheduled Tribe then they will be at a disadvantage in matters of employment. Their fears rise from the fact that the majority community are already way ahead in education and employment. Another factor, rightly or wrongly that has raised concern, is that jobs under various categories have been filled by Meiteis since there were few ST candidates.It is ironic that meiteis who prided themselves with being high caste and who treated tribals as low cast(Hau) are now asking to be under the same status. Both ST demand and land survey could have been resolved has the state taken the tribal communities into confidence. On the other hand, it needs to be understood that governing a state like Manipur is a herculean task, no matter how efficient any government may be. Manipur has witnessed violent agitations, even in the past including issues involving the tribals and Meiteis. The current conflict will only lead to worsening of communal peace among various people in the state of Manipur. While large majority of people within the Meitei community as well as tribals, are against any provocative move or even confrontation, yet it seems some elements are playing with fire. Even in the past Manipur also had a reputation of being a failed state and it appears that the ghost of the past is trying to return. Unless peace and law and order is restored in Manipur, the problem could even affect other states such as Nagaland and to an extent, Mizoram. The need of the hour is to place Manipur under President’s rule for at least six months so as to get the state back on track.

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