Dissecting the strength of Kukis in the Manipur violence – A perspective
- Part 2 -

Soubam Nongpoknganba *

However it cannot be outrightly rejected that today, politicians are mostly corrupt and they always look for self gratification and the bureaucrats with their little “push” can unblock the political block. Having so situated, Kukis have been so well capacitated to strengthen their position in the State and they have exploited their capacities to the fullest. One more reason which embolden the Kuki is their access to unlimited poppy fund.

Though it is not known, how much money the Kukis mint from poppy and other drug related business before the declaration of war on drugs by BJP Government, yet the amount cannot be small by all means. Quoting NAB, a report by NDTV says, of the 15,497 acres of land where poppy cultivation was found in the past five years, 13,122 acres were in Kuki-Chin-dominated areas, 2,340 acres in Naga-dominated areas and 35 acres under others. The NAB data further shows the areas with poppy cultivation in Kuki-Chin-dominated places increased 30 per cent from 2,001 acres in 2017-18 to 2,600 acres in 2021-22.

Though as a part of the War on Drugs campaign, quite a huge amount of poppy cultivation has been destroyed such destruction is far from satisfactory and does not cover each and every poppy plantation in the State due to various reasons.

In India, the licit cultivation of poppy which is taking place in various parts of India gives an average yield of 18 to 20 Kg of opioids per acre which in turn gives about 1.8 to 2 kg of heroin. And if the cultivation is on 2600 acres of land, the heroin which will be yielded will be around 5200 kgs. However this is as per licit production and obviously illicit production will far exceed the said licit production.

So the amount of heroin production from the Kuki dominated areas will be simply mind boggling. Here I may quote an article entitled Narco-Terrorism and India's Security published in January 2001 in a monthly journal called Strategic Analysis published by Institute for Defence Studies which says that the price of South East Asian and south West Asian heroin in the United States in the year 1996 ranges between 80,000-260,000 USD per kilogram and the mean of the said high and low gives a mind boggling USD 1,70,000 per kg and the price of 5200 kgs at this rate comes to USD 88,40,00,000 which is about Rs. 79,72,00,00,000/- (Rupees seven thousand nine hundred and seventy two crore).

However if we quote a release of Press Information Bureau of India dtd. 12/5/2023, the price of heroin in the international market 2023 is Rs. 7 crore. Even if this is quoted, the price of 5200 kgs is a mind boggling Rs 3640 crore. This amount of money, if calculated for the last so many years since they started poppy cultivation, with some plus and minus, the amount will blast the calculator. With this amount of money, one can buy the whole State and all its machineries included !! Another pillar which has lent support to the Kukis is the so-called Suspension of Operation which the Meitei has demanded to be revoked.

Nearly 32 Kuki insurgent groups operate in Manipur, 25 of which are subject to a tripartite SoO agreement with the Government of India and Manipur. On August 22, 2008, the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement was sealed with the aim of starting a political dialogue with the militant groups. Since the Kuki organisations, who had earlier called for the creation of a separate Kuki State, settled on the creation of a "Kukiland territorial council," with financial and administrative authority separate from the Manipur Assembly and Government.

The Suspension of Operation agreement has a one-year duration but the same has been extended on a yearly basis. According to the agreement, the UPF and the KNO must abide by the Constitution of India, the laws of the land and the territorial integrity of Manipur. They are prohibited from committing all kinds of atrocities, including extortion. The militant cadres are to be confined in designated camps identified by the Central Government. However it is an open secret that these “surrendered cadres” operate along the highways to collect “taxes” and their arms are always in their hands ready.

Further lending muscle to their body is that the Kukis’ settlement in the State starkly favour the Kukis than Meiteis. The Meitei lives in the small lowland called valley which is about 9% of the total area of the State which is 22,327 sq. kms and the Kuki lives in the elevated areas called hills which surrounds the said lowland.

To this add, the form of Kuki settlement which literally surrounds the lowland area and the designated camps where the members of the SoO groups are put further strengthen their strategic location against the Meitei. To put further woes of the Meitei, the Kuki can settle and purchase land in the valley area and the ongoing clash clearly indicates that the Kuki had made planned purchase of land and planned settlement in as much as their settlement literally surrounds the Kangla, the traditional seat of power of the Meitei.

In a sense it can be concluded that their settlement can be classed as two circular layers, one that surrounds that lowlands and the inner circle that surrounds the Kangla which has historical, cultural and social importance for the Meitei. This position of the Kuki has very much strengthened their fighting prowess.

Another striking feather to the Kukis’ fighting prowess is the geopolitics of today in the South and Southeast Asia more particularly the fight between India and China for supremacy in Myanmar and the resultant cascading effect in the Indo-Myanmar border areas coupled with the military success of the rebels over the Military Junta of Myanmar.

The rebels have achieved tremendous success in the areas bordering India and beyond that the Junta have hinted to breaking up the country. The operation 1027 which was launched by the rebels since 27 October has brought more areas of Myanmar under their control and such success is outpouring in this side of the border too. While being so situated, the Indian on the 20th round of India Myanmar Foreign Office Consultations which was held in New Delhi on 6th December 2023 reiterated its supports towards a transition of Myanmar to federal democracy and people-centric socio-economic developmental projects in Myanmar.

The use of words like federal democracy and people centric socio-economic development are nothing short of lending support to the rebels in as much as federal democracy and people centric Government in Naypyidaw are the objectives of the National Unity Government which was formed in exile and for which the rebels are fighting. However the course of the rebels with their huge success, is slowly changing towards formation of new sovereign country rather than just federal democracy in Naypidaw sandwiching India between the rebels’ professed objective of federal democracy and the formation of a new sovereign State and that is exactly why New Delhi is mulling new ways to readjust its approach in dealing on Myanmar including options such as establishing communication channels with ethnic groups residing in Myanmar's States bordering North East India, as cross-border migration into Mizoram and Manipur becomes a concern.

However while India is re-thinking, the support from the rebels in terms of weapons and more fighters to the Kukis in Manipur has enabled them to launch more lethal attacks on the Meiteis. At the same time, it needs no reiteration that New Delhi’s policy towards the rebels on the basis of this geopolitical consideration compels that the action of these rebels even on Indian soil be allowed to remain unchecked to a certain degree. Such compelled behavior of India bolster the Kukis to carry out strikes on the Meiteis.

Another yet very very important pillar of their strength is the present legal system in the State and the country. Article 371C of the Constitution of India. This Article provides safeguards related to the hill areas of the State of Manipur and under this provision, 91% of the total area of Manipur have been declared as Hill areas, where the Kuki resides and this Article in the name of protection of tribals, have squeezed the Meitei in the remaining 9% area of the land, and the Meiteis are practically and literally not allowed to enter this so-called Hill areas.

This is in fact a colonial legacy but still in force and under it, the Hill Areas Committee has been formed and to strengthen this position, other statutes like the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act ,1960, the Manipur Autonomous District Council Act, 1971 have been enacted.

These apart the Free Movement Regime has been framed allowing the ethnic people residing along the Indo-Myanmar Border to travel 16 Km inside each other’s territories without any papers and as such the movement of people along the border has remain unchecked.

To worsen the situation, the Assam Rifles which is constituted under the Assam Rifles Act, 2006 which has been tasked to protect the Indo-Myanmar Border has been given other statutory duties too including even policing and they have been stationed 16 km inside the Indian territories and not at Zero Km along the border calling it company deployment, which has however compromised its border protection capabilities.

Given such over protective legal regime which is in force in the State, the Kukis are emboldened to a higher degree and they do not hesitate to launch any kind of attack on the Meiteis from their vantage points from the highlands.

Still the most beautiful feather in their hat is that they are very well organized and have leadership with superb intellectual quality. Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum for Churachanpur region (or ITLF in short) and Committee on Tribal Unity (or CoTU) for Kangpokpi region are two well structured and organised groups which are spearheading the war against Meitei.

Whatever decision taken by these two groups particularly ITLF is the decision of Kuki as a whole at least in Churachandpur. This leadership provides an organized and co-ordinated action against the Meiteis.

Concluded ......

* Soubam Nongpoknganba (LLM President, Indigenous Development Mission) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 05 February 2024

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