Which factor is responsible – greed or grievance ?

Khunjamayum Nirbason Singh (Postgraduate in Geography from DSE, University of Delhi)
The ongoing tension between the Meiteis and Kuki-Zo communities have resulted in a prolonged and unresolved conflict, leaving many displaced individuals longing for the day to return home. It’s six months now, with no clear end in sight. It has caused immense suffering and loss on both sides. Families have been torn apart, and many have lost their loved ones. Returning displaced families to their homes is crucial to healing and rebuilding shattered lives.
However, the question of when this conflict will end remains unanswered. The complexities of the deep-rooted hatred make it challenging to find a sustainable solution. It requires a comprehensive approach to address the violence’s underlying causes, promote dialogue and reconciliation, and ensure justice for all parties involved. Investigating and identifying the correlation between measures of greed or grievance is essential to gaining a deeper understanding of the ongoing conflict.
Is it greed or grievance? Distinguishing between greed and grievance is crucial in compre- hending the underlying motives behind this conflict. It will give us a deeper understanding of the factors driving individuals and groups to take arms against their Govt and civilians.
At one end of the spectrum, greed plays a significant role in fuelling conflicts. It can exacerbate existing tensions and lead to violent confrontations. Groups that are motivated by greed often seek to control valuable resources, such as oil, minerals, land, and even poppy, and use violence to intimidate and exploit local populations. The narco-terrorists currently operating in Manipur can serve as a prime illustration. These groups may also engage in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking or arms smuggling, to finance their operations and enrich themselves. They would buy weapons, bribe officials, or fund propaganda campaigns to gain support from the local population. In some cases, they may even use violence to eliminate rivals or intimidate potential competitors.
On the other end, grievance is the driving force behind conflicts. In this case, insurgent groups are motivated by a deep sense of injustice and oppression, seeking to remove an unjust regime from power. They may fight against political repression, economic inequality, ethnoreligious discrimination, or systemic injustice to create an equitable and just society for their nation or group.
Understanding whether the conflict between the Meiteis and Kuki-Zo communities is primarily driven by greed or grievance is crucial for designing effective policy interventions to promote peace. If the root cause is greed, addressing the economic incentives for insurgents, such as cracking down on illicit activities or providing alternative livelihood opportunities, may be more effective in resolving the conflict. On the other hand, if the conflict is driven by grievance, addressing the underlying political, social, or economic injustices is essential for achieving lasting peace.
However, uncovering the true motivations behind insurgent groups is a complex task. Insurgent groups are unlikely to openly admit to being driven by greed, as it undermines their legitimacy and popular support. Instead, they tend to emphasise grievance narratives, framing their struggle as a righteous fight against oppression. These narratives are not only more functional externally, but they also garner sympathy and support from National and international communities.
Employing manipulation while using grievances as a cover
Furthermore, the heightened feeling of injustice can create a sense of solidarity among individuals who have experienced similar grievances. Insurgent groups often exploit this sense of shared suffering to foster a strong bond among their members. By presenting themselves as the only ones who truly understand and can address these injustices, they create a powerful narrative that resonates with those who feel marginalised or oppressed. In addition, the allure of joining an insurgent group as a champion of the oppressed can be particularly appealing to individuals who have a deep-seated desire for societal transformation. These individuals may be driven by a genuine belief in the need for change and may see joining an insurgent group as a way to contribute to that change actively. The promise of being part of a movement that fights against injustice and inequality can be a powerful motivator for these individuals.
However, it is essential to note that insurgent groups often manipulate these aspirations for their interest. While they may initially present themselves as champions of the oppressed, their true objectives may be far from noble. In reality, many insurgent groups are driven by personal gain, power, and control. They strategically exploit grievances and divisions within society, such as those based on ethnicity or religion, to further their own goals. Insurgent groups can effectively rally support and recruit new members by emphasising these divisions and exploiting existing conflict. They capitalise on the grievances and frustrations of marginalised communities, promising to address their concerns and fight for their rights. However, once these individuals join the group, they may be manipulated and used as pawns in a larger game of power and control.
The strategy of manipulating grievances and fostering ethnoreligious fractionalisation
The impact of ethnic and religious fractionalisation on conflict is a significant finding for those who prioritise grievances as the root cause. It has been observed that this fractionalisation plays a crucial role in altering the probability of conflict. A relevant example of this can be followed in this ongoing conflict: the Kuki-Zo community and its insurgent groups have attempted to portray it as a religious clash, specifically Meitei Hindus versus Kuki Christians. However, it is essential to emphasise that religion was never the underlying issue. As previously mentioned, this narrative was utilised to garner support from both National and international Christian communities.
It has created an “us versus them” mentality, where individuals identify more strongly with their ethnic or religious group than their National identity. This can lead to the collapse of social cohesion and an increase in inter-group tensions, which can ultimately lead to violence. However, it is essential to note that ethnic and religious fractionalisation is not always a precursor to conflict. In some cases, diverse societies can thrive and benefit from the contributions of different ethnic and religious groups. It is only when these differences are exploited for political gain that conflict becomes more likely. Overall, the impact of ethnic and religious fractionalisation is complex in many ways, requiring careful consideration. While it can be a significant factor in fuelling conflict, it is not the only factor and should not be viewed in isolation. Addressing social cohesion and inclusivity are crucial steps towards preventing and resolving this conflict.
The current situation suggests that pursuing personal gain has taken precedence over addressing grievances. In contemporary society, it is evident that the desire for individual prosperity has become the primary motivation behind numerous actions and choices. Individuals are increasingly fixated on amassing wealth, power, and status, often disregarding the well-being of others. This relentless pursuit of greed has fostered a culture where the needs and concerns of the less privileged are frequently overlooked or ignored.