Monsoon Session: Manipur Crisis In Limelight As Kukis Demand Separate State

Congress plans to raise the issue of Manipur as one of its top agendas in the first Parliament session since ethnic clashes between Kukis and Meiteis erupted in BJP-ruled Manipur.

Protest over Manipur violence

The N Biren Singh-led BJP government in Manipur has been on the receiving end of widespread flak for its handling of the crisis in Manipur, where ethnic violence has killed at least 142 people in the past two months. With the monsoon session of Parliament set to begin on May 3, the BJP seems to have its work cut out for it with Congress set on bringing up the issue of the violence-stricken state as top of its agenda. Following a meeting of top leaders at Sonia Gandhi’s residence last week, Congress declared that it will raise the demand for a discussion on the Manipur situation in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh also stated told reporters that they wanted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his “maun vrat” (vow of silence) on the issue. 

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground has remained tense with ongoing clashes between the tribal Kuki and the dominant Meitei communities, especially in border villages. The Kuki Innpi Manipur (KIM), the apex civil body of the Kukis in the state, has reiterated its demand for separate administration. In a formal statement released last week, the KIM has explicitly asserted is demand for separate administration in the form of a separate state under Article 3 of the Indian Constitution. 

“The Kukis shall continue to strive together with sweat and blood to protect our rights and liberties until our political demand is realised in the form of a separate state,” KIM General Secretary Khaikhohaugh Gangte said in a statement. He further added that the “genocidal” and state-supported killings of Kukis and their termination of Imphal Valley where all the state’s development has been centred shows that the “ever-widening difference between the Kukis and Meiteis remain irreconcilable”. KIM spokesperson Thangminlen Kipgen from Kangpokpi also asserted that there would be “no solution without separate administration as the geographic, cultural and emotional divide between the two communities has become too deep to be bridged”. 

Since the violence, the Kukis who form about 25 per cent of the total population in Manipur, have accused the Biren Singh-led government as well as Manipur state police and armed forces, of helping Meitei “militants” in the annihilation of Kuki villages and attacks on the community. Meiteis form 53 per cent of the population and are centered around Imphal valley regions while Kukis and Nagas are spread out in the hills. Following complaints by Kuki Student Organisation (KSO) representatives, Manipur Police have taken legal action against Pramot Singh, the leader of the Meitei Leepun group which has been accused of causing violence against Kukis. The case was registered on July 8 at the Kangpokpi police station. The KSO and other Kuki bodies like KIM as well as Kuki locals have accused the Meitei Leepun and another Meetei nationalist group, the Arambai Tenggol, of instigating and carrying out violence against Kukis in Manipur.

On the other hand, CM Singh, who belongs to the Meitei community, has accused Kuki “militants” of causing violence. Ahead of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Manipur, he had claimed that security forces had killed “40 militants”. 

A report by the Lamka Resurgence Squad, however, stated that even while Shah was present in the state, the Meitei militant group named ‘Arambai Tenggol’ and along with Manipur state forces allegedly carried out unprovoked attacks against various Zomi-Kuki villages including Leimakhong, Nongdam Kuki, S Bongjang, Khodang, Leisan, Saichang, L Songphel, Kamusaichang, Molnom, Molkon, and Chaningpokpi.

Demands for the CM’s resignation have grown to a steady chorus with tribal civil society bodies like the Zomi Students’ Federation (ZSF) KSO issuing a press release against him. A “peace commission” formed by the centre to create a dialogue between the two conflicting communities was also rejected by Kukis on account of several Meitei leaders including Biren Singh being part of the panel. 

The Congress has been working actively to maintain the pressure on the ruling party with Rahul Gandhi visiting the state last month to meet with families of victims of violence. The Party has also repeatedly questioned the Prime Minister’s “silence” on the matter. Gandhi also shared a video of his meeting with a Manipur resident who had lost her loved ones, saying "quit hate, unite Manipur".

Aware of the sticky spot in which the party finds itself in Manipur, BJP leaders have been trying to assuage the situation. On June 17, Union Minister Anurag Thakur alleged that the Congress wanted to trigger violence in Manipur by sending its leaders there while asserting that some parties were not comfortable with peace in the country. He also said that in the past 10 days, no “untoward incident” had happened in Manipur, as quoted by news agency PTI. 

In May, 10 Kuki-Zomi MLAs of Manipur had said in a statement that the Government of Manipur tacitly supported the “unabated violence” by the majority Meitei community and had demanded separate administration. However, even as the demand is reasserted, civil society bodies within the Kuki-Zomi communities remain divided on the contours of the separation. Following the demand, the Privilege and Ethics Committee of the Manipur assembly had in June showcaused the 10 Kuki-Zomi MLAs. 

Internet services have been suspended across the state since May 3. On July 7, the Manipur High Court had directed to lift the ban on providing internet through Internet Lease Line (ILL) across the state after ensuring that all the stakeholders have complied with the safeguards given by the Expert Committee, constituted earlier by the court. The Manipur government sought the Supreme Court’s intervention in the matter against the HC order but the latter refused to interfere. The MLAs have also been under threat of retaliation. On June 14, the official residence of Nemcha Kipgen, a Kuki MLA from the Kangpokpi district, was torched by mobs. Seven of the 10 dissenting Kuki-Zomi MLAs belong to BJP. Amit Shah, however, has previously ruled out the possibility of an administrative bifurcation of Manipur between "hill people" and the valley.

Nevertheless, the crisis in Manipur is impacting the BJP in neighbouring northeastern states ruled by it like Mizoram which has seen a huge influx of Kuki-Zomi refugees. Last week, Mizoram BJP Vice-President Vanramchhuanga resigned in protest against what he called the centre's "indifference" towards the Christian community in the ongoing ethnic conflict between the Kuki-Zomi tribals and the non-tribal Meiteis in neighbouring Manipur. The development is significant as it comes in wake of the upcoming Assembly Elections in Mizoram slated for November 9. 

(With inputs from PTI)