Manipur imbroglio and our lessons
The nation or community that cannot or do not learn the lessons from history becomes history. Wise are the ones who can learn from the past and prepare for present and future. This statement becomes more significant and meaningful in the present context of Manipur. Today, Manipur is burning since the 3rd May, 2023. The failure of our political class and administrative class to speculate the sinister design and intention of Chin-Kuki-Zo plan and their expansionism at subsequent stages has landed Manipur into the present situation. False narratives, spread of fake news, playing the tribal card, Christian card and politics of nomenclature being played by Chin-Kuki-Zo community is nothing but to mislead the world; and establish themselves as indigenous community of Manipur. Formation of organization like ITLF with the word ‘Indigenous’, is nothing but to reinforce the claim of their indigeneity thereby giving a historical basis to their claim for separate administration. But the written and recorded historical facts stand testimony to the fact that they are not indigenous community of Manipur. The Chin-Kuki-Zo population can be broadly divided into the categories of citizen and immigrants. Today the large chunk of their population consists of immigrants. No hard fact is required to understand it, a mere look at the decadal growth rate and mushrooming of Chin-Kuki-Zo villages will suffice. The official record of the growth of nearly a thousand unrecognized villages in the areas dominated by the community also reveals large scale migration from the neighbouring countries. Interestingly, the growth of villages was not compact but spread far and wide with 10-20 households making a village. This pattern was encouraged with a sinister design to capture and dominate large parts of Manipur. It is on this basis that today they claim nearly 70 per cent of Manipur’s territory as their ancestral land irrespective of the historical fact that they are not indigenous to the land. Areas claimed by Chin-Kuki-Zo community include SADAR hills, Kamjong district, Chandel district, Tengnoupal district, large part of Noney and Tamenglong district etc. This only highlights their greediness over land, sinister design to dominate Manipur and it also revealed expansionist character of Kuki chieftainship, an institution that had been abolished in Mizoram, Tripura and other tribal states of Northeast India. One must understand the fact that hereditary Kuki chieftainship is inherently autocratic and expansionist. It is high time this system is completely abolished in Manipur too.
In their efforts towards area domination and expansion of villages, Chin-Kuki-Zo militants under tripartite SoO (Suspension of Operation) act as catalyst. New villages are established under the protection of SoO groups. SoO which was formalised in 2008 has become boon for the groups and their community. Under the protective shield of SoO, these groups openly extort money on highways, recruit new cadres, and encourage new settlements through population import or encouraging immigration from Myanmar and Bangladesh. The area under poppy cultivation has increased manifold after Government of India and Government of Manipur had entered into SoO agreement with around 24 militant groups belonging to Chin-Kuki-Zo community having around 2000 cadres in 2008. Instead of bringing peace and stability in Manipur, SoO only brought unprecedented instability and violence in the state. SoO groups have become instrumental in destroying the fabrics of peaceful co-existence in Manipur. Their involvement in the May 3rd incident and subsequent incidents of firing upon unarmed civilians and Manipur State Forces in Moreh and other parts of the state is well known. The sixteen SoO designated camps encircling the valley areas is not something indigestible or illogical. For just about 2000 cadres, sixteen designated camps were given and what seems to be more sinister and dangerous is the location of the camps. Like the China’s string of pearls strategy, these SoO militant camps completely encircle the valley. Consequences of lack of vision on the part of our Government while allocating the site of the camps is bearing upon us at present.
The militant groups under SoO have already violated the sanctity of the agreement by violating various ground rules. For the groups, SoO has become a licence to do what they like. So it is time, Government of India seriously ponders and reviews the pros and cons of SoO agreement to the extent of abrogating it.
The May 3rd, 2023 Kuki-Chin-Zo tribes’ unprovoked attack upon the indigenous Meitei population following the tribal solidarity march organised by ATSUM at Torbung, Bangla, Kangvai and Meetei/Meitei villages of Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts was a pre-planned and well-coordinated aggression not only upon Meetei but also upon Manipur state with a nefarious design to balkanise the state on ethnic faultline. The pretext of the violence was the Meetei/Meitei’s demand for enlisting themselves in the scheduled tribes category of India. The attack was perfectly timed, using deception and element of surprise. On the fateful day of 3rd May, 2023, honourable Vice-President of India was visiting Manipur and having interaction programme at Dhanamanjuri University and Manipur University. Thus most of the securities were deployed in Imphal for obvious reason. Meetei never ever expected that they will be attacked, killed and their houses burnt by the Chin-Kuki-Zo community. The first lesson that should be imprinted in our minds is “expect the unexpected”, and we must prepare to face such kind of eventuality in future. Interestingly the violent attack upon the Meetei villages in Bishnupur, Churandpur, Kangpokpi, Ekou, Dolathabi of Imphal East and Moreh were led by well armed SoO cadres. The video footage that went viral in social media show SoO cadres leading the miscreants to loot, shoot and burn the Meetei villages. Present ethnic conflict is imposed upon the Meetei and in the face of massive destruction of houses, sacred places and killing of innocent unarmed civilians by the Chin-Kuki-Zo militants and their armed miscreants, Meeteis unwillingly had to respond to save their life, liberty and property.
Coming to the point why aggression? It may be reminded that before the May 3rd attack upon the Yelhoume Meetei took place, there were many issues affecting the state of Manipur. There were issues of protection of reserved forests, protected forests, mushrooming of Chin-Kuki-Zo villages, demand for NRC to check the demographic imbalance and protect the rights of indigenous people of Manipur, destruction of poppy cultivation under Government of Manipur’s ‘War on Drugs’, government’s eviction drive against the illegal encroachers in forest land, both in the valley and hills. Co-incidentally all these issues directly or indirectly affect the Chin-Kuki-Zo community. To cover up all these issues and stop government from initiating further action in this regard with one single blow, the May 3 incident was orchestrated to give weight to the separate administration demand and once they achieve separate administration, they do not have to worry about all these issues. As the saying goes war is politics by other means. It is for this reason that the militants groups under SoO, their political class, intellectuals and drug cartels will desperately attempt to balkanize Manipur. They will leave no stone unturned and employ every means at their disposal to achieve their sinister objective. They will deliberately keep the pot boiling by shooting at will, releasing video of brutal killing of Meetei in the most barbaric manner to provoke the Meetei. This is part of their psychological warfare tactics and strategy to keep the crisis boiling. May 3, 2023 incident and subsequent events amount to attack by Burmese immigrants upon India’s state of Manipur. It is an attack upon the millennia old civilization of erstwhile kingdom of Manipur and upon her indigenous peoples. It is an all-out attempt to turn the history of Manipur upside down. In terms of suffering and tragedy, the scale we are suffering today is only next to the Seven Years Devastation (1819-1826) that Manipur suffered in the hands of Burmese invaders. The present crisis represents the darkest episode in the history of indigenous people of Manipur after the Seven Years Devastation.
Every serious crisis has in it a lot of lessons hidden. As the saying goes there are no mistakes, only the lessons. Our greatest achievement will be learning lessons from the present crisis and coming out stronger and more developed. The crisis calls for serious rethinking and introspection of our strengths and weaknesses; where we stand today in the ethnic geo-politics of Manipur, whom should we promote and cultivate ties etc. The present crisis is a wake-up call and eye-opener to all of us. The unfolding crisis has shown many of our weaknesses and a little of our strengths. It has thrown significant lights upon the multiple challenges. The crisis has shown us our vulnerable condition, limited living space, our stagnant demography etc. If the present trend continues, indigenous people’s condition shall become endangered and subsequently extinct. It is our bounden duty and historical responsibility to save the future generations from annihilation. It shall be our task and endeavour to save the future generations from becoming refugees in their own homeland and beggars in their own economy. If we fail to learn the lesson of the history, we shall one day doom to be history. Historically, great socio-political crises had been able to produce new leaders, innovative ideas and approach. The present crisis calls for collective and sustain efforts to ensure the dignified existence of indigenous communities and citizens in their millennia old motherland called Manipur.