Sunday, October 1, 2023

Slide to anarchy

Four months on since May 3 and Manipur continues to be rocked by unabated violence as death toll mounts and the situation becoming worse than critical with the state government and the central security forces finding themselves polarised at opposite ends. The divide between the state government and the security forces was amplified when the Manipur Police filed FIRs against the four-member fact finding team of the Editors Guild of India(EGI) which visited the state to ascertain reportage by the Manipur press. It was reported that the Army had in its letter dated July 12, requested the EGI to probe the biasness of the local Manipur media. According to the Army’s letter to the EGI the Manipur media had “been indulging in outright misrepresentation of facts that violate all norms of journalistic ethics and in the process may be one of the major contributors to the instigation of further violence.” The EGI team which visited Manipur from August 7 to 10, published a report on media coverage of the ethnic conflict. Its main conclusion was that there was one-sided coverage by journalists during the conflict and also contained observations and conclusions indicating that the State leadership was partisan during the conflict. Today, the situation has taken a dangerous constitutional crisis where the state government under the rule of a political party, has taken a biased stand. In such a situation anyone deemed to be against the majority community and the state government backing it, is treading on risky ground. After the stinging report about the Manipur situation, four members of the visiting EGI delegation were booked by the Manipur Police. However, the Supreme Court of India has directed the Manipur Police not to take any steps coercive action with regard to FIRs filed against the EGI team. The Manipur Police is only toeing the line of the state government still ruled by the BJP under chief minister Biren Singh. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had in the second week of August, directed a panel it appointed under former Maharashtra DGP Dattatray Padsalgikar to supervise the probe by the CBI and state police in Manipur and also to “investigate the allegations that certain police officers colluded with perpetrators of violence (including sexual violence) during the conflict.” The ethnic civil war has badly and deeply polarised Manipur and the state government’s biasness has been reported by several organisations both within and beyond the state. The Centre has, by retaining the same leader to preside over the state, has by default, allowed the situation to worsen way beyond being a clash between two communities. While on the streets it is a battle between ethnic communities, at the constitutional level it is between the state government and the central security forces. Even after the September 8 firing incident where some civilians were killed, the state government condemned the security forces for unwanted action. Interestingly, Manipur Police which also took part in the joint operation maintained that security forces were restrained and used minimal force against militants. This dichotomy of approach by the state government reflects a dangerous development. The local media in Manipur cannot be expected to dare to be free and independent in an atmosphere of xenophobia.


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