From Manipur to Mumbai

Manipur is again in news for fresh violence. Ethnic conflict apart this time strife involved Manipur police commandos and militants in which one commando sustained bullet injuries in the Indo-Burma border town of Moreh. The previous violence in which 13 people died took place almost a month ago. While the continuing conflict is by and large ethnic in nature, there has been an underlying communal element to the violence, thanks to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They have long been trying to communalise the Manipur crisis to divert public attention from the real problem—the fear of dispossession of land which was at the root of the flare-up in May last year. Meiti Christians are now under attack. Even though over 40,000 Indian armed forces personnel are present in the state, firing continues on the edge of the valley and the hills. More than 4,300 weapons are said to have been looted from police armouries, mostly in Imphal valley. With a population strength of 300,000, Meiti Christians are actually, ‘a minority within a minority’. Despite being the majority ethnic group in Manipur, Meitis are an ethnic minority in India. Christian Meitis continue to feel insecure as many of their churches have been vandalised and destroyed. For quite some time there has been a silent programme to reconvert Christian Meitis to Sanamahism, the indigenous faith followed by the Meitis before their conversion to Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi will begin his second ‘Long March’ or what they call ‘Bharat NayaYatra’ from January 14, a 6,200 km journey from Manipur to Mumbai. The first March or Bharat JodoYatra last year was planned to connect North-South. This time it is the East-West phase and Mr Gandhi will cover 14 states and 85 districts. Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra will be among the states he will travel. The Gandhian party is not in power in any of the states Mr Gandhi is supposed to tour for his public relations exercise. The Congress leadership thinks the March [or Yatra] is set to conclude on March 20 ahead of the general elections. Bharat JodoYatra was credited by the party for its electoral successes in two southern states---Karnataka and Telangana. The Congress had snatched power from BJP in Karnataka and BRS in Telangana elections held not very long ago. But the March could not save them from humiliating defeat in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. How much the extensively publicised Yatra influenced voters is anybody’s guess but it certainly motivated the demoralised Congress cadres to some extent. On choosing violence-hit Manipur as the starting point the Congress leaders would like to begin the’ process of healing the wounds of the people’. The mere presence of Mr Gandhi and his foot-soldiers is not going to help the Manipuris recover from the trauma they have been in for the last several months.

The BJP-led Manipur State Government and valley-based civil society organisations attempted to portray Kuki-Zo tribes as ‘illegal immigrants’ from Burma or ‘not indigenous’ so that their constitutional right to land could be questioned and Meitis could claim their right to hilly land otherwise reserved for the scheduled tribes.

More than 200 people have died in Manipur since the riot began in last May, with over 65,000 displaced within and outside the state. Mr Gandhi’s NayaYatra (or justice march) cannot deliver justice to the victims who perpetually live in a state of fear psychosis .Yatra or no Yatra Congress has not offered any alternative economic agenda other than what BJP is preaching. Nor could they address the thorny land question that triggered the Kuki-Meiti ethnic conflict in Manipur in the first place.


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Vol 56, No. 29, Jan 14 - 20, 2024