New Delhi: Chief of defence staff General Anil Chauhan has said that the current violence in Manipur “had nothing to do with counter-insurgency and was primarily a clash between two ethnicities”. This is particularly relevant because chief minister N. Biren Singh had earlier claimed that there was no rivalries between communities in the state – and the clashes were a result of fights between Kuki militants and the security forces.
“Unfortunately, this particular situation in Manipur has nothing to do with counter-insurgency and is primarily a clash between two ethnicities,” Chauhan told reporters in Pune.
“It’s a law-and-order kind of situation and we are helping the state government. We have done an excellent job and saved a large number of lives. The challenges in Manipur have not disappeared and it will take some time but hopefully, they should settle down.”
Chief minister Singh, however, has been openly saying that the security forces are hunting and killing “terrorists” – referring to Kuki militants – in the state. On May 21, he had said that the unrest in the state was not due to a “fight between communities,” but instead because of resistance to the government’s policy of forest conservation and poppy clearing.
A former joint director with the Intelligence Bureau told The Telegraph that Singh’s remarks appeared to be aimed at labelling all members of one community as illegal immigrants. “This is nothing but vilifying a community and giving credence to the narrative of the Meiteis who have been calling the Kukis illegal immigrants. This is not expected from a chief minister of a state that is burning amid ethnic violence,” he said.
Ethnic violence has been ongoing in Manipur for almost a month now, starting from May 3. Tensions began because of the majority Meitei community’s demand for ST status, which the hill tribes say as an impingement on their rights. Tribal leaders are now demanding a separate state.
Union home minister Amit Shah is currently visiting Manipur. In the meetings he had with various groups, including leaders of hill tribes in Churachandpur, one of the centres of violence, Shah asked groups to uphold peace for 15 days, while dialogues were held, The Indian Express reported. He also reportedly promised a probe into the violence by a central agency or judicial committee.
As The Wire has reported, the violence has affected not just the trust between communities but also trust between citizens and the state and security forces. Kuki groups, particularly, are of the opinion that the security forces are working against them and allowing violence.
According to Hindustan Times, the Union government has changed the cadre of a senior police officer, Rajiv Singh, for three years and sent him to Manipur where he is likely to be given an important role. He was originally in the Tripura cadre. “The Manipur police’s operational command is currently being handled by additional director general (ADG) Ashutosh Sinha , even though the state police force is headed by his senior, director general of police (DGP) P Doungel,” the report said.
Doungel, according to the report, has been consciously asked not to take charge of this investigation as he is from a prominent Kuki family. His father, C. Doungel, a former Manipur state minister, was a prominent Kuki leader.
Doungel reportedly accompanied Shah to his meetings in Churachandpur, where the chief minister did not go.
The BJP government has been accused of fanning the flames of the violence by engaging in communal polarisation. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference Jagratha Commission has said, “As in other states, the influence of extreme Hindutva organisations was evident in the BJP’s political interventions in Manipur. Going by that, everyone in India needs to take the happenings in Manipur as a lesson.”