Editor’s Note: Militarised Manipur stares at a civil war

How could the State and the Centre allow the situation to escalate to this level?

Published : Jun 29, 2023 11:00 IST - 3 MINS READ

It was on May 3 that a solidarity march was held in the hill districts to protest a High Court order directing the Manipur government to consider giving Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei community. It ended violently, with houses burnt down and clashes between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities.

We are now at the end of June and as this goes to press, more than 100 people have been killed, several hundreds injured, and hundreds of families have been displaced from their homes.

We are given to understand that more than 10,000 military and paramilitary troops have been flown in. This is in addition to the troops already posted there and the State police.

Some 4,000 arms are reportedly missing from police armouries. Nobody seems to know whether they were looted by vigilante groups, if they were handed out to them, or if they were simply left conveniently unguarded.

Manipur, with a border running alongside Myanmar, has always been a heavily militarised State. It would seem practically impossible for an armed conflagration to break out and escalate to a situation almost amounting to civil war within weeks—without the knowledge of either the State or the Centre.

Yet, it has. And the State continues to burn. Is this wilful ignorance? Is it the evil spawn of the deep state? What are the politics that have allowed it? Or, like all such stories, should we doggedly trace the money? Let us then ask who gets to control the invaluable timber and minerals in its forests and hills. And who gets a cut of the billion-dollar underground trade that thrives along the border—gun running, drug smuggling, human trafficking. Let’s also trace the shadowy dots that lead to Myanmar, where the junta is reportedly cracking down on the Chin and might have a use for willing militias.

The absence of governance in Manipur is stark. And that is the question the Meira Paibi (woman leader) on our Cover is asking. She was carrying that placard during a protest at Jantar Mantar on June 19. It seems extraordinary that the Prime Minister of a country would maintain a conspicuous and studied silence on the violent deaths of a 100-plus of his compatriots. And yet there you are. It seems absurd that a Chief Minister under whose watch a State self-destructs can continue in office for so long. Yet, there you are.

Sushanta Talukdar files a series of ground reports from Manipur for Frontline, including interviews with leaders of various factions. Angshuman Choudhury from the Centre for Policy Research chisels away at the various layers to seek the root cause of the violence.

Meanwhile, in other States, notably Uttarakhand, the State government is lighting little communal fires to spark attention away from its dismal administrative record. While in Bengal, Didi’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee gets set to take over as the State’s scion but is unable to check an unprecedented wave of violence in the lead up to the panchayat elections on July 8.

With the Gyanvapi case coming up for hearing on July 6, there is revived rivalry and buzz among the petitioners. Shreevatsa Nevatia was in Banaras to feel the issue’s pulse and reports from there.

We live in complex times. And our writers diligently strive to get behind the veils that shroud so much of public life in obscurity. This issue is dedicated to them.

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