Manipur : Complex challenges and calls for resolution

Dipak Kurmi *

Approximately nine months following the eruption of conflict in Manipur, a delegation comprising three members arrived in Imphal recently to engage in discussions with the conflicting factions. Leading the team was AK Mishra, serving as the intermediary between the Government and Kuki insurgents. Mishra has been making regular visits to the Imphal valley over the past few months.

The State continues to grapple with persistent violence. From January 16 to 19, militants claimed the lives of seven individuals, including two Manipur Police commandos and a member of the India Reserve Battalion (IRB). These assailants reportedly utilized advanced weaponry such as rocket-propelled guns during an assault on security forces at Moreh, situated on the India-Myanmar border in Tengnoupal district.

This area, predominantly inhabited by Kukis, has recently become a hotspot of clashes between Kuki insurgents and various security forces, including Manipur Police, Assam Rifles, Border Security Force, and Central Reserve Police Force. The focal point of the unrest transitioned to Moreh following the apprehension of two Kuld tribe members on charges of murdering Sub Divisional Police Officer Chingtham Anand Kumar in October of the previous year.

The Kuki community staunchly asserts the innocence of the accused duo. Denouncing the allegations as a blatant falsehood, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum, a coalition representing 13 Kuki-Zo tribes, stands firm in its rejection of the accusations. Since May of the preceding year, the region has witnessed a devastating toll, with over 210 lives lost and more than 65,000 individuals forced to flee their homes.

The prospect of returning to normalcy seems elusive. The Kukis, gripped by fear of reprisals, hesitate to enter the valley, fearing for their lives. Simultaneously, the Meiteis refrain from venturing into the hill districts, exacerbating the growing distrust between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities with each passing day.

The apprehension is so profound among the Kukis that they refrained from entering Imphal for weeks to retrieve the bodies of their kin. Only through the intervention of the Supreme Court were the bodies airlifted to Churachandpur and Kangpokpi, where mass burials were subsequently organized.

On January 24, the Arambai Tenggol convened a gathering of Meitei MLAs and MPs at the iconic Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal. Nearly all representatives assembled at the fort, pledging to advocate for their demands with the Central Government.

The articulated demands encompass several key points:
firstly, the substitution of Assam Rifles with an alternative Central paramilitary force, citing perceived partiality in their actions;
secondly, the withdrawal of the Suspension of Operations (S00) agreement with Kuki rebel outfits;
thirdly, the exclusion of Kuki-Zo tribes from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list;
fourthly, the comprehensive fencing of the India-Myanmar border, aiming to nullify the existing Free Movement Regime (FMR);
fifthly, the execution of the National Register of Citizens; and
lastly, the deportation of Myanmarese refugees to either Myanmar or Mizoram, which has been providing them refuge thus far.

Boasting a membership exceeding 50,000, the Arambai Tenggol, translating to dart-wielding cavalry, with reports indicating their presence on motorbikes clad in black uniforms within the valley, showcasing weapons allegedly plundered from police camps in Imphal East. From the approximately 3,500 weapons looted from the Manipur Police Training Centre, Manipur Rifles camp, and the MB, along with another 1,000 from Churachandpur and Bishnupur police stations, only around 1,500 have been recovered, leaving the rest in the hands of unknown entities.

Out of the 6.5 lakh rounds of ammunition looted in the initial week of May last year, approximately 20,000 have been reclaimed, highlighting the ongoing challenge of weapons and ammunition remaining outside authorized control.

Established in 2015, Meitei Leepun, mirroring the structure of Mizoram's Young M i7,0 Association, stands as another entity actively operating in the State. Led by Pramot Singh, the organization, boasting a membership of around 14,000, asserts its commitment to safeguarding Meitei

interests. Following a recent meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, CM N Biren Singh expressed confidence that the Central Government would make crucial decisions in the State's best interests. Just three days later, the Home Minister made a significant announcement declaring the comprehensive fencing of the entire 1,643-km India-Myanmar border.

This decision effectively brings an end to the Free Movement Regime (FMR), which had been implemented in 2018. Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio of Nagaland has emphasized the need for thorough discussions before the implementation of the border fencing issue. Similarly, Mizoram CM Lalduhoma has voiced his opposition to the border fencing, highlighting the familial connections that span across the border, allowing people to freely visit each other.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) has also contested the move on similar grounds. The approach the Centre will take to address this contentious issue remains uncertain. Although the Free Movement Regime (FMR) could

potentially serve as a resolution to the persistent violence plaguing the State, there are other pressing matters demanding urgent consideration. The Meiteis' insistence on excluding Kulds from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list is a contentious issue with questionable intentions. This demand becomes particularly provocative in light of the Meiteis' simultaneous pursuit of ST status, a pursuit that triggered violence last year following a directive from the Manipur High Court.

Given the tumultuous conditions prevailing in the State, it is deemed necessary to appoint a retired IPS officer or Army officer, preferably of the rank of Lt General, possessing prior experience in serving in the North-East, as the Governor.

Selecting a Governor from a different State would present the image of an unbiased mediator, capable of providing rational counsel to the conflicting parties, the security forces, and the State Government. Such an appointee could offer constructive suggestions for amicable solutions to emerging issues as they unfold.

* Dipak Kurmi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at dipaknewslive(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 18 February 2024.

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