An eye for an eye makes everybody blind
Way ahead towards conflict resolution

Lt Gen (Dr) Konsam Himalay Singh, Retd *

The New York times dated 8th May carried a news item related to the events in Manipur which engulfed the State in an inferno not seen since its merger with Indian Union in 1949. The news item mentioned about Christian minorities in the State persecuted by the majority Hindus.

I was appalled by the speed and ferocity of the social media campaigns with very damaging perception of the image of India as an emerging power, Manipur in particular and North East India as Ashta Lakshmi.

Allegations and counter allegations of various kinds went viral as the violence spread like a wildfire. Not so well informed experts also made it a ‘Tribal-non tribal” issue in National TV channels, some even went to the extent of calling it ethnic cleansing by a particular group.

Given the fact that Christian denomination in the State (including Meitei Christians) are actually the majority in the State since only a little over half of the approximately 16 lakh Meiteis follow Hinduism today while the Christian population (including Meitei Christians) are likely to be over 11 lakh.

In the recent clashes most of the non-Kuki tribals were clearly not involved in any manner, thereby negating the tribal-non tribal narrative. The Manipur High Court verdict may have been one of the many triggers, but not by any stretch of imagination, the cause of the violence which started on 3rd May. The inquiry commission will look into it soon. But the larger question is how do we proceed from here ?

Be that as it may, the loss of life and property of people belonging to Kukis and Meiteis are extremely sad and I strongly condemn any kind of violence wherever it happened. The continuance of the violence for over a month now, with the levels of violence raised to full fledged exchange of fire of sophisticated automatic modem weapons by well trained cadres/so called volunteers from both the sides, use of mortars, drones, snipers, IEDs, walkie talkie sets, bullet proof jackets, well coordinated social media campaigns make it no more a “ a case of communal clashes’ normally seen in other parts of the country as some indicated.

In short it is a situation where many fully armed and trained to wage war against the established Government of the day are deeply involved. To a few, it is a classic case of a thin line between a ‘Law and Order Issue;’ ‘Counter- terror operations (CT)’ or ‘operations against Anti National Elements’ (ANE). Often, we are faced with such “Grey Zones” in any such scenarios in India or even the world over.

The presence of a few hundred weapons and even fewer cadres in the Kashmir Valley kept the security forces on full alert for years. Here, in Manipur we have a situation where many thousands of weapons and lakhs of ammunition looted from police armouries, another few thousands of weapons already in circulation among the peace talks groups, SoO and non SoO groups, including items acquired well after the SoO in 2005-2008.

In a highly fractured society, in proximity to a highly unstable neighbourhood, the presence of such quantities of dangerous weapons mostly in the hands of antinational elements is extremely dangerous and is a serious National security threat by all counts. The drug-lords in the region, the terror groups, other anti-social elements and inimical elements both within and outside India must be having the last laugh !

The short and long term effects, the tremors of the conflict will be felt for a number of years if not a few decades. The costs in terms of lives and property lost will be huge enough. The costs in terms of its effect on the psyche of the young generations and children in particular will be incalculable indeed. Will gun culture dominate the fragile minds of the younger generation ?

Education of displaced students, healthcare, and other normal human activities will take time to settle. Banning of internet is already affecting thousands of students who were aspiring to pursue their education elsewhere in the country. What will the future of these students be ? Pillars of governance will take time even to stitch up the wear and tear leave alone work towards a holistic and better future of the people.

It will take genuine leadership to refashion an entity like the Manipur Police as an effective instrument of good governance. The animosity, the suspicion among the affected communities will take time to heal.

Col James Johnstone, who was the political agent of the British empire in Manipur during the period prior to the Anglo-Manipur war, an ardent well wisher of Manipur, in his book ‘Manipur and Naga Hills’ described the inhabitants of Manipur as-“All natives of India are suspicious by nature but this remark applies ten fold force to the Manipuris”. Suspicions bring more and more rumours, particularly in the times of such a grave crisis.

Claims and counter claims of security machineries having taken sides will need careful handling. The Central security forces were the first and the only responders in the first week and rescued, fed and took care of over 35,000 displaced people and ensured that the situation was reasonably well taken care of till the second phase of violence broke out by third week of May.

The less said the better in terms of socio-economic costs. The news of three souls who died in the burning of an ambulance on June 4 is bound to grievously hurt the sentiments for a lifetime to the affected party. And many more brutalities real or imaginary have seeped into the psyche of the people. I wonder if these dark memories are what we desire to leave behind for posterity. History will judge us.

There are, however, hundreds and thousands of peace loving citizenry on both sides who are presently involved in the welfare of the displaced population and taking care of their needs, helping the weak and elderly. Many in and outside of the Government are known to be making honest efforts towards peace.

Many more are also involved directly or indirectly in perpetrating the violence, instigating violence as well in their false belief to outdo the other, subdue the other physically and mentally or even taking revenge as we saw the various waves of violence in recent days.

Some do it purely for their personal agendas by closing their eyes to the real issues or running away from it, hoping that things will get sorted out on its own sooner or later. Some are involved in strategizing for their future goals of land and territory.

Well, it is for us to ponder and deliberate whether these efforts to change history, geography, social fabric and such like activities will fructify in the future. We have now reached the rock bottom of distrust in all directions !

The only way to bring about a better situation is dialogue, .sanity, forgiveness, and the will of the silent majority who desire peace. Shri Amit Shah, after having consulted the State Govt and all stake holders announced a series of measures to begin with. Formation of Peace Committee, Judicial inquiry, unified command, rehabilitation measures, possible combing operations, actions to be taken against any violation of SoO agreements and so on.

These were meant to achieve short term objective of cooling down the tempers of the public at large. The rumour mongers, however, are already spreading lies, false narratives to nullify well-intentioned beginning of the process of healing the wounds. It was a welcome change when I read the news of conditional opening of NH-2 on the front page of The Sangai Express dated June 05.

I do hope that a slow and steady positive response will come from all parties. Such a complex situation, a legacy from 1826 onwards cannot be solved in a day. It will take time. The Home Minister, after having assessed the ground situation is expected to carry forward more mid and long term policy measures to bring about normalcy in the State sooner than later.

Balancing the aspirations of all stake holders in the State is the key to this effort. Issues involved are far too many and the common people are generally aware of some of these. The complexities of demands by the ethnic groups are many. A zero sum approach is unlikely to succeed. Give and take approach and flexibility of ideas will be the key.

People may have to accept reasonable issues without compromising on the idea of Manipur and suggestions in keeping with changing times, keeping the State/ National interests in mind. All the ethnic groups big or small are destined to live and survive together emotionally and under the law of the land. The history and geography compels us to be together.

The effort to exert illegal or illegitimate authority, exert pressure or control of resources by using illegal money, illegal weapons and such activities in the garb of identity, self protection/preservation will not cut ice in the long run. Issues such as illegal immigrants, over yearly 30000 Cr worth illegal drugs business, poppy cultivation, SoO activities, governance, land ownership and developmental issues for all will have to be addressed and strict actions against law breakers be taken without any delay.

The authorities will have to make it honest and sincere attempts to immediately curb the burning of is no alternative to a better all round governance in the long term. Don’t we deserve it ? As we await the unfolding of greater and more measures to bring peace and take shape on the ground, in the coming days, let us all pray and work together patiently without resorting to violence.

For a Sana leibak where all can prosper, not at the cost of the other. Each one of us have a stack in bringing peace. For “an eye for an eye, makes all of us blind”.

* Lt Gen (Dr) Konsam Himalay Singh, Retd wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 08 June 2023.

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