Manipur, the hilly North-eastern state with serene natural beauty is now plunged in a orchestrated fratricidal bloodbath. It was in Moirang, a village near the capital city of Imphal, Manipur, where Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the INA flag on 14 April 1944 after overpowering the British Force. For that, the entire Manipur people still feel proud and hold Netaji in high esteem. But people of the same state having such a glorious heritage are now locked in a worst type of internecine violence showing no sign of abatement.
Officially, more than 80 people belonging to both the warring Kuki and Meitei communities of Manipur have lost their lives, 200 have been injured and over 40,000 reportedly displaced so far. Unofficially, the figures are several times more. In fact, there have been carnages as well. Many houses have been burned, churches and temples vandalized, and loot and arson galore in all five districts of the state. As the violence escalated, the Centre invoked Article 355 of the Constitution, which is a part of emergency provisions. Subsequently, convoys of trucks belonging to the Army, the Assam Rifles, the Rapid Action Force, and local police personnel have moved into the State and entered several affected areas. The state government had also ordered an internet shutdown. Despite the ban in place, videos and photographs of the current situation, from the areas including Churachandpur, continued to emerge on social media. Of the 60 MLAs of the state, 40 are from the Meiteis. Importantly, ahead of 2022 state polls, Kuki groups officially supported the BJP with the Government pledging to solve the Kuki issue if elected. The BJP retained the state. But instead of opting for an amicable solution using political process, it suspended the Suspension of Operation agreement with the Kuki groups. This further aggravated the situation. 10 MLAs from the Kuki-Zomi tribes have demanded “a separate administration under the Constitution”. CM N Biren Singh, on the other hand, has said that “the territorial integrity of Manipur will be protected”. Following that, 10 Manipur MLAs, belonging to the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi-Hmar communities, reportedly, have claimed in a memorandum to Union home minister Amit Shah their people have “lost faith” in the BJP-led state government and can “no longer” think about “resettling in the Valley” after the present violence. There has hardly been any ebbing of the violence though a huge contingent of armed forces is stationed there. According to a victim of Manipur violence, “Timely help was not provided to us at the time of Manipur violence, if the government had helped us on time and controlled the violence, then such a big incident would not have happened. This is a failure of the state government.” In fact, both BJP-led central and state governments can not absolve themselves of the responsibility to prevent this flare-up in time.
Manipur’s accession to India
When Indian freedom movement gained momentum in the mid-twentieth century, Manipur people also pressed for democracy against feudal monarchical rule. In fact, in 1930s, the princely state negotiated with the British administration its preference to continue to be part of the Indian Empire, rather than part of Burma (Now Myanmar), which was being separated from British India. Finally, Manipur was acceded to independent India on 21 September 1949. In October 1949 Manipur became part of India. Initially, it was made a Union Territory in 1956 and then a fully-fledged State in 1972 by dint of the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganization) Act, 1971. Despite amalgamation with Indian state, old ethnic disputes and ill-feelings continued to plague Manipur. The post-colonial Indian state, far from reversing the colonial schemes, has not only reproduced but also expanded these false dichotomies during the 1950s and early 1970s. Thus, the colonial category of ‘hill tribes’ has been re-rendered as ‘scheduled tribes’ (ST) and the rest as general category (later on, many of these people have been reclassified as Other Backward Classes) along with a small section, as Scheduled Castes. In fact, clashes between armed Nagas and Meiteis, as well as between Nagas and Kukis often erupted in Manipur. Introduction of a division of land though pieces of legislation such as the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act, 1960 and Article 371C.d. has further accentuated the division and conflicts.
But in our country, where the freedom struggle against British colonial rule, ended in a half-baked and truncated way due to definite socio-historic reasons the various ethnic-religious-linguistic-regional diversities, in independent India with the national bourgeoisie in power, have, instead of being gradually removed and dissolved in a common Indian national identity, only aggravated further so much so as to assume form of frequent eruption of casteist-ethnic conflicts, communal conflagrations, mutual hatred and animosity. Obvious question is, why the saner feelings and fraternity among various communities could not be the main feature in independent India? Why, instead, there is a spurt of ethnic-communal riots and carnages snuffing out hundreds of innocent lives and causing phenomenal loss of properties in, what our BJP PM says, ‘Ámritkal’? To trace an answer, we recall the invaluable teaching of Comrade Shibdas Ghosh, Founder General Secretary, SUCI(C) and an outstanding Marxist thinker of the era: “In the course of the political movement against imperialism, the Indian people speaking different languages and professing different religions became a nation politically but for failure on the part of the leadership of our national liberation movement to accomplish, in the main, the tasks of social and cultural revolutions for democratization of the society against feudalism, feudal disunity and religious bondage, the Indian people remained socially and culturally divided into different communities disunited by religion, caste, language, race, etc.” (On Communal Problems, SW Vol. II) Though the Congress leadership had scope for carrying the message of ‘Indian identity’, both before and after independence, to the simple-hearted people of not only Manipur but the entire North-East, it simply abandoned that responsibility obviously under the behest of its master, the ruling capitalist class.
What sparked the present conflagration
Manipur residents mainly belong to three communities. Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of the population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals—Nagas and Kukis—constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts. The Meiteis are reported to be being a settled agricultural community for over 2,000 years, the Kukis were brought by the British rulers in the mid-eighteenth century to settle in Manipur hills and work as their porters and hired soldiers. It is the British rulers who, to buttress their sinister agenda of ‘divide and rule’, went on fomenting discord between the Meiteis and Kukis. The situation did not change after independence as the Indian national bourgeoisie which usurped power through compromise with British imperialists also found the ethnic disharmony suited to its class interest. So, Manipur continued to remain strife-torn with occasional bursts of violence.
Situation is further complicated, if not worsened, with the arch communal BJP ascending to power. Majority of the Meiteis professes Hinduism while the Kukis are Christians. The BJP sought to appropriate the traditional religions in the North East under its banner. So, it went on fomenting hate campaign against other religions mainly Christianity and Islam. So, religious divide between the Meiteis and Kukis was further exacerbated. While the central BJP government focussed on backing the Kukis, the state BJP-government stood by the Meiteis to fan up the conflict and violence. But there are other reasons too that have added to the volatile situation becoming even more dangerous.
Tensions started in February last when the ruling BJP government began an eviction drive against “illegal settlers” in the environmentally sensitive hilly areas. But, according to the Kukis, 38 villages, with a population of over 1,000 people each, have existed for the last 50-60 years. This had prompted some of the ruling BJP’s tribal MLAs to raise this issue of a perceived bias in governance and seek a change in the party’s State leadership. Evictions ostensibly done for forest protection and in the name of removing “outsiders” tend to cause passions to rile up among people dependent upon the hills for a livelihood; doing so without recourse to resettlement and compensation only heightens a sense of injustice. In March this year, five persons were injured in Kangpokpi during a protest rally by the Kuki people against the alleged encroachment of tribal lands in the name of reserve forests. Following this incident, on 11 March, the BJP-run state virtually retaliated against the Kukis by withdrawing from the ongoing tripartite talks. It withdrew the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with two armed political groups, the Kuki National Army and the Zomi Revolutionary Army, accusing them of inciting violence. The government said the tribal outfits were provoking forest encroachers to agitate and that the rally had outfits’ backing. The government also asserted, in keeping with the present government’s declared policy of forcibly acquiring tribal-owned forest lands, evicting the forest-dwelling poor people and then hand over the same to the monopoly houses and multi-nationals to reap enormous profit by harnessing forest resources, that the forest lands in tribal hills would henceforth come under its ownership. Obviously, the tribal Kukis were infuriated at such a declaration. They apprehended that a conspiracy is being hatched to not just evict them from their home and hearth but perish them altogether.
So, they are in a rebellious mood and harping on creating a separate Kuki administration. The demand stems from the sense of being subjugated by a state perceived to privilege the Meiteis, who control political and economic power in Manipur. It is appreciated that common Kuki people are not intending to state out of Manipur though a section of bourgeois press is trying to spread this incorrect interpretation of separate administration.
A separate administration, the Kukis argue, would save their identity. In the meanwhile, the BJP CM of Manipur who belongs to Meitei community issued a statement accusing involvement of entire Kuki populace in the illegal poppy cultivation and drug business. The Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), the apex body of the Kukis in Manipur, termed the allegation as false and intended to divert attention from the dissent of the tribal communities against the “authoritarian rule” in Manipur. The anger within the Kuki community against what it sees as its “selective targeting” by the BJP-run state government was also accumulating. Situation worsened further when on 27 March this year, the Manipur High Court directed the state government to consider the request by Meitei Tribe Union to accord them Scheduled Tribe status within four weeks and send a recommendation to the Union government for its consideration. This added fuel to the fire. Hitherto, the non-tribals are not allowed to buy land in tribal areas (meaning that Meiteis and other non-tribals can only own land in the plains) while tribal people can own and buy land in the plains. The land rights of tribal groups in states like Manipur are protected by the Constitution. But if the Meiteis are granted ST status, they would entitled to buy forest lands much to the detriment of the interest of the Kukis.
Moreover, the state BJP government has been accusing the Kuki population in general to be engaged in illegal poppy cultivation and smuggle the produce out to bordering Myanmar. It also alleged that this illicit poppy trade is nurturing a mafiadom and drug smuggling. This is illegal and hence needs to be curbed. So, a large scale crackdown on forest areas was resorted to by the government calling it war against “drug lords”, a blanket term to mean all Kuki people. In the process, the security forces went on destroying 14,315 acres of poppy cultivation lands in the hill districts of Manipur, during the previous term of the present BJP government and took over a large portion of hill lands hitherto belonging to the tribals. Pertinent to mention that while rice cultivation in 1 hectare of land fetches at best Rs 1 lakh, poppy cultivation realizes around Rs 7 to 8 lakhs. The government, without taking steps to provide the Kukis with a suitable means to earn their livelihood, forced them to this poppy cultivation. Further, daily life in the Hills is very tough, becoming tougher with growing poverty. The tribal people are deprived of basic amenities of life. It is difficult to get even an ambulance or get basic blood tests or physiotherapy in Ukhrul, which is in the Hills barely three hours away from Imphal. Apart from lack of medical facilities there is an acute water shortage. Even today, people have to walk several kilometers to Ukhrul from their villages to buy items of daily use. But the government simply overlooked this reality and blamed the Kukis for poppy production. Fact is that this illegal poppy trade is controlled by a group of mafias enjoying covert blessings from the government. These mafias irrespective of their ethnic identities are nothing but armed criminals basking under the shelter of the bourgeois governments. Yet, under the pretext of dealing with drug trafficking and poppy smuggling, assault on the Kukis has continued. Aggrieved Kukis view this attack as a strategy of ‘ethnic cleansing’. On the other hand, the reactionary chauvinist forces living in Meitei areas inciting the common Meiteis by spreading fear of their being outnumbered by the ‘illegal’ Kuki intruders.
Eruption of present violence
The violence began on 3 May last, after the All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) held a solidarity march in all districts opposing the recent Manipur High Court order. It is alleged that armed militant groups attacked a Meitei settlement at Torbung in Churachandanpur district, torched Meitei houses and forced around 4000 Meiteis to flee the area. Then the Kuki armed groups swopped down from the highlands and began attacking Meitei villages. Soon, the Meitei backlash came in the valley and began targeting Kuki settlements in the Imphal area. The KIM said that it took exception to the Chief Minister’s terming of the rally participants as “encroachers, poppy cultivators, drug smugglers, and illegal immigrants”. On the other hand, triggered by the inability to bring normalcy after 20 days of spread of the flame, Kangleipak Kanba Lup (KKL), a vanguard group of the Meiteis charged the BJP CM with heading a failed state and asked him to resign. As the ethnic cauldron continued to simmer in Manipur, the Kukis have upped the ante on separate Kuki administration demand. This demand seems to have found a new life following the ethnic clashes. The Nagas, mainly belonging to the Tangkhul tribe and especially dominant in the Ukhrul district of Manipur, also oppose the Kuki demand for a separate state. But they have stayed away from the ongoing ethnic violence. The chauvinist-parochial forces among the Meiteis enjoying backing of the ruling quarters have been asserting that a large proportion of those identifying as Kuki are illegal immigrants from Myanmar who need to be detected and deported. It reminds one of the Assam scenario where genuine Indian citizens belonging to religious-linguistic minorities are being categorized as “illegal migrants” and sought to be either deported or sent to detention centres. But according to the Kukis, the 38 villages, with a population of over 1,000 people each, have existed for the last 50-60 years. The Kukis further contend that the recent violence, arson, looting, and forced migration make living alongside the Meitei within Manipur untenable. The anger within them against what it sees as its “selective targeting” by the BJP-run state government appears to have spilled over during the current protest march as well, leading to the violence.
Though the state has been burning for last one month, neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister could find time to rush there and try to quell the violence because they had camped in poll-bound Karnataka and their electoral interest far outweighed their responsibility to the suffering people as top brass of the country’s governance. But now, after being trounced in Karnataka election, the Home Minister could find time to land in Manipur on 29 May with the announcement that he would speak to various stakeholders for restoring normalcy. But he cunningly parried the question about the dubious role of the BJP-run state government in inciting and abetting the violence and instead blamed Court verdict for igniting the fire.
Armed groups belonging to all communities created by ruling capitalism to keep the state strife-torn
The situation is made even more unstable by the fact that every community in Manipur is backed by an armed groups which, as stated above, are busking in the shelter of ruling capitalist class. These armed as well as insurgent groups are also linked to political parties. There is no political party, afloat in the corridor of power, which can be singled out of this. Where are the weapons coming from? As per published media reports, more than 1,000 weapons and 10,000 rounds of bullets were looted from Manipur Police Training College, two police stations, and an IRB battalion camp in Imphal by armed gangs belonging to the Meitei community during the first few days of the violence in Manipur. Rumours are abuzz that these arms were indeed “gifted” to the armed gangs by the authorities to sustain violence. The vote-oriented political parties have also been playing into the orchestrated ethnic divisions and keeping them alive for being exploited for netting narrow political gains. The BJP’s attempt to resolve the problem by backing the Meitei community and projecting them as Hindu has only intensified the situation. Many of the Meiteis and their armed groups have rejected their Hindu connection by going back and reclaiming their pre-Hindu culture and religion. The Manipur people had voted the BJP after years of disenchantment with the Congress and the regional parties. Right-thinking Manipuris irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations are also critical of the armed groups and the chauvinist-parochial elements which are virtually incensed mercenaries of the ruling class.
Rulers of Capitalist India followed British legacy of ‘divide and rule’ policy
As the bourgeois government of India made no attempt to diffuse the persisting tension, rather sought to perpetuate the same in their bid to follow the British legacy of ‘divide and rule’ policy to suit its vile class interest, Manipur continued to remain a hotbed of ethnic violence and insurgency. Chauvinist-parochial forces who opposed to join India were later used by the ruling Indian bourgeoisie and its pliant governments to poison people’s mind with divisive mentality and sustain the divisions and disharmony. With the patronage of the ruling dispensation, various armed groups belonging to both Meiteis and Kukis also surfaced in that state which were used by the chauvinist-parochial entities to trigger communal-ethnic violence. The fissures between the Meitei and Kuki communities went on running deep. The political affiliations of the Manipur as well as central government had been changing with the passage of time. But the atmosphere surcharged with chauvinist-communal tension did not abate but escalated. Flames of ethnic-communal conflagration has again erupted in Assam and also in other North-East states fomented by the reactionary capitalist rulers and their servitors, and has taken in its sweep many innocent lives, inflicted grievous injuries to many more and rendered lakhs homeless.
Fomenting so-called ‘identity’ question and playing of ‘reservation’ card
In a multi-ethnic national or provincial setting, the accommodation of differences in a way that bestows socio-cultural recognition of identities while striving for unity and equality through governance is a must for progress. But, in capitalist India, it has been a saga of precipitated disunity among various ethnic-religious-linguistic communities. The ruling quarters with the help of their well-knit propaganda machinery are trying to paint the present violence as being centred on identity question and conflicts over ‘reservation’ in jobs and education. But what worked behind raising these issues to such a height as to culminate in ethnic violence and carnage? The ruling monopolists and their pliant bourgeois governments irrespective of hues, both at the Centre and in the north-eastern states including Assam and Manipur, have been continuously fomenting the so called ‘identity’ issue among the toiling masses to not only perpetrate but intensify divisiveness among them. The reactionary ruling quarters have been spreading false propaganda that the identity of one community is at danger in the hands of another community. Thus a kind of anti-Bengali anti-minority frenzy was developed among the common Assamese people who, in absence of due political consciousness to detect this ploy, were carried away by that baseless propaganda and ultimately the state saw a spate of worst form of ethnic-communal clashes including mass killing orchestrated by the agents of the ruling capitalism riding on the precipitated divides and frenzied mindset. Similarly, in Manipur, there has been, as stated above, a sustained bad blood between the Kukis and Meiteis on the same ‘identity’ question. the vested interest went on propagating that the Kukis are posing danger to Meitei identity and vice versa.
Likewise, the provision of ‘reservation’ has also been made a bone of contention by the ruling capitalism and its agents. There is no job, no scope for proper education. Yet, high-pitched shrieks in favour of reservation for various segments of populace based on caste, ethnicity, religion and even gender in job, promotion and education has become a ceremonial affair in our polity today. Centring on this, violent clashes are witnessed among various segments of toiling people entailing loss of precious lives. It is pertinent to mention that at the time of gaining political independence from the British rulers, there was legitimate accumulated grievance in the minds of the utterly disadvantaged dalits or backward strata of people. Under public pressure, the authors of the Constitution included a special provision of reservation for the SCs and STs in job and education with the stipulation that it would be for 10 years and thereafter a review should be taken as to how far this reservation for a limited period had met with its objective of bringing the underprivileged in the mainstream of national life. But the provision has been retained as the ruling class and its servitors find in it a convenient tool to instigate one section of people to stain their hands with the blood of another section. Fact is that all communities irrespective of caste, creed, ethnicity-religion or language are equally squeezed dry and deprived under capitalism. While they are being locked in fratricidal feuds and violence by the quarters of vested interest, the power-hungry politicians irrespective of their caste or religious background who instigate people in ethnic-communal clashes go on enjoying power, amassing fabulous wealth and swelling in self-aggrandizement, vivid examples of which are not in short supply.
Whither lies the solution
The first thing that needs to be recognized is that the people of Manipur are victims of deadly ‘identity’ politics that has kept them away from having conversations across the community. The armed groups, the insurgents, the bourgeois petty-bourgeois political parties and the intelligence agencies have all contributed to and are complicit with this growth of ‘identity’ politics and then invoking ‘reservation’ ploy only poisoned the atmosphere of the state. Wounds cannot be healed without the balm of justice and justice begins when the correct understanding about the deception of ‘identity’ politics and dangling of the carrot of ‘reservation’ would dawn upon the suffering Manipuri people belonging to all communities.
We have seen some sparkles in this dark period as well. There are people in all communities who do not approve of this violence. Pertinent to mention that despite engineered bloodbath between two fellow citizen groups, good Samaritans among both the communities are not invisible. When the army went for rescuing some Meitei people stuck in Kuki areas, the incensed chauvinist armed Kuki groups rushed to the spot for lynching them. At the same time, the army rushed to the spot to bring down brutal assault on the Kukis. Even in the midst of the brutal attacks and counter-attacks, brave humanitarian girl students and women belonging to the Kuki community formed a human chain and declared that so long they are alive, they would not allow any harm to their Meitei brethren and sisters. They not only protected Meiteis but also helped in their evacuation. Similarly, when the Meitei fanatics targeted Kuki girl students at the hostel of Manipur University, the Meitei students unitedly resisted the attackers and save their friends from being assaulted. There is ample number of similar incidents reported during any communal or ethnic flare-ups. Recently, it came to light how a group of Kashmiri pandits were saved by their Muslim neighbours from the murderous assault by the terrorists. This shows that common toiling people do not want feuds and clashes but want to co-habitat with their fellow brethren in peace and amity. But the power that be, its vested interest, precipitate divides among them and set one against the other.
Manipur is a poor state where 36% people are below poverty level. Employment opportunities are virtually nil. Only 36% are employed in organized and unorganized sectors. Most of the people are self-employed. Deprived of the basic needs of life and continuously assailed by savage attack on every sphere of life, there is mounting discontent and resentment among the toiling people irrespective of caste, creed, ethnicity or religion. There is every legitimate reason for this accumulated grievance to burst forth in all vehemence and tempestuousness. What is needed is that the toiling millions rise above all sectarian considerations, cement their unity and launch fierce organized democratic mass movement against the power that be on the burning problems of life. Instead of that, most of the outbursts of people’s wrath and anger are not surging forth as legitimate democratic movements based on genuine democratic demands of the people but are turning out to be scuffles if not gory encounters between two groups or communities centring round caste, religion, language or ethnicity. There is even loss of many lives in such agitations because of state terrorism, brutal police action or fratricidal blood-bath. But are the people getting any relief out of these fratricidal blood spilling, caste or communal clashes? Is even an iota of their hardship mitigated or is there an exacerbation of their misery? Or only there is increased precipitation of bad blood among various sections of people to make the desired solidarity of the toiling masses the worst casualty? Moreover, all the bourgeois parties including pseudo-Marxists who are now attuned to bourgeois vote politics, are misguiding the suffering populace by creating illusion about bourgeois electioneering and either openly, or in a camouflaged manner, creating their respective vote banks by inciting casteist-communal-ethnic-chauvinistic-separatist mindsets. People should no more fall into this trap. Toiling people of one community are not enemies of their counterparts of another community. In fact, their interest in so far as urge for a decent life free of misery and penury is common. All the evils in their life are bred by the ruthlessly oppressive capitalist system. So, it is incumbent on them to bury the hatchet, cement their struggling unity and fight shoulder to shoulder against the common enemy i.e., capitalism. It is urged upon all to come out of all shackles, discard all shades of provocation and join the current of genuine left-democratic movement to take forward their struggle for emancipation from inhuman capitalist rule discarding all kinds of divisive fomentations and being freed from electoral illusion. We once again reiterate that by turning away from reality and remaining oblivious of the historically adjured task, one would only exhaust oneself in a mirage hunt. Hence, our fervent appeal to all is to come forward and as members of the oppressed million build up just genuine movement of the people under correct revolutionary leadership. This and this alone is the way out.