Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Kumar Jha was part of the 21-member delegation of opposition parties that visited strife-torn Manipur on July 29 and 30, met the victims of violence, and assessed the tragedy of ethnic clashes and the status of relief camps. In a freewheeling chat with Frontline, Jha looks back in anger and anguish as he shares his experiences and understanding of the situation. Excerpts:
You were part of the opposition delegation that visited Manipur. What is the crux of the problem? How did things come to such a pass that we are seeing a civil war-like scenario there?
Frankly, the decision to go to Manipur was there from the beginning, even before the session began. Many of us had attended the all-party meeting and given suggestions but after the meeting we did not see the Home Minister actually working on any of the suggestions offered.
So, when we took the decision to visit Manipur on July 29 and 30, the decision was to see firsthand the information we had. More important was to be there in solidarity, letting people know that India cares. I would not judge the success or failure in terms of what we achieved, what kind of report we prepared, what we told the Governor and then the President.
What we realised there was that the idea of a State was conspicuously missing. And when I say idea of a State, I do not stop only at the State government. I am also referring to the Union of India. Manipur has a history of such conflicts but in the last 30 years people had developed a kind of grammar for peaceful coexistence. That grammar has been broken, and I don’t think that grammar was broken only by a High Court judgment in March. That grammar was witnessing increasing fault lines between communities in Manipur, and I believe the government knew this. Today, Manipur is a classic example of a split society, and a split society can never enrich the idea of democracy. That is worrisome.
Do you still foresee some solution that can be worked out if the government is serious enough to resolve the crisis?
Problem-solving begins when you acknowledge it first. The problem with this government at the Centre, and with the Biren Singh government in the State, is that they don’t acknowledge what has been done. As you rightly said, it’s a virtual civil war. Communities don’t trust each other anymore. One force is pitted against another—I’m talking about security forces. This is an absolute textbook example of constitutional machinery falling apart. I will not even say breaking down, it has fallen apart.
If communities have fallen apart, what then is the solution?
First the government has to acknowledge that there is a problem. Secondly it has to try to build bridges between communities. So far, it has burnt the existing bridges between communities. There were Kuki families who told us stories of their lives having been saved by Meiteis, and Meitei families told us about the lives that have been saved by Kukis in Churachandpur, Moirang, Imphal. These stories are your social capital.
Everybody says Manipur’s Chief Minister is part of the problem. [One who is] part of the problem cannot be part of the solution. You have to look for civil society members, you have to look for the stories I told you. They could be the flag-bearers of potential peace.
You say the Chief Minister is part of the problem. But the voice of the opposition has also been feeble regarding his resignation…
No, the Chief Minister’s resignation has been spoken of in so many words, but when you visit Manipur, you realise that the Chief Minister alone is not responsible. What has the Union government done? The Prime Minister’s silence has added fuel to the fire. For three months, he did not have time for Manipur. His silence is loud in Manipur.
“Today, Manipur is a classic example of a split society, and a split society can never enrich the idea of democracy.”Manoj Kumar JhaRJD MP
Would it not have been better to discuss Manipur under any rule in Parliament during the monsoon session than not having a discussion at all, thereby giving the government an exit route?
There is a provision called Rule 176 under which there is a limited-time discussion. You can have discussions under 176 on issues like, say, cloudbursts, droughts and floods in a certain area and so on, but the nature of violence, which is almost genocidal, cannot be captured under 176. I had initially given notice for discussion under 176 but later changed it to a demand for discussion under 267 after the videos of Manipur’s sisters being paraded, appeared.
In order to resolve this, we asked for a discussion under Rule 167, under which the treasury and Opposition benches collectively sit down, prepare a proposal that encapsulates what is happening in Manipur, and then discuss it. Both demands were not accepted. While a Parliamentary discussion may not resolve the problem, Manipur is looking at Parliament for words of healing, for promises of justice, for restoration of peace. These are the things a Parliamentary discussion might at least signal.
How do you explain the huge cache of arms in Manipur and the inability of the security forces to track it?
Even if there is, whose responsibility is this? It is the State’s and the Union government’s. If you look at governance only as a spectacle, one tamasha every day, then these kind of anomalies and developments take place.
Union Minister Anurag Thakur slammed the opposition for “political tourism” after their visit, while in the Lok Sabha Modi blamed the Congress for the violence in Manipur.
When Anurag Thakur calls it political tourism, I feel bad for him, I feel bad for politics, I feel bad for parliamentary democracy. Politics is not about sitting in your chamber, watching television serials or a news debate and clapping for it. If people are in crisis, what is our job? Should we sit down comfortably, sleep comfortably? Certainly not.
As for blaming the Congress, this is a standard operating procedure for the BJP. I am happy they did not say Jawaharlal Nehru did it. Governance is continuance. Political parties come and go. Every government can make some mistakes, may have some accomplishments. If there were mistakes, nine years is a long enough time. By putting the blame on previous governments, you are showing that you are incapable of governance.
The opposition parties have sought a judicial inquiry into the matter. Do you feel something will come of it?
As I said, it is a split society there today, divided by barricades. Communities are not willing to trust each other, one security force is against another security force, the hills and the plains have lost all bridges—physical as well as emotional—between them. In such situations, when the state is perceived as part of the problem, the only option left is going to the judiciary, find someone who has the faith of every stakeholder in Manipur. If that happens, peace could be a reality soon. The social order has been destroyed, and when that happens then merely putting more forces in won’t help.
Since you are talking about community divide, may I draw your attention to allegations that most of the relief camps were set up in Meitei areas. What was your impression when you visited there?
We visited both Meitei and Kuki camps. That is what I am saying—any government should be able to carry the faith of everyone. This government initially began as a champion of the Meitei cause, but they have lost that too now. What is important is to reach out to everyone with the spirit of “I belong to you all and you all belong to me”. This is really the idea of India. We know there are differences, historical differences among communities but they have lived together negotiating those differences. Here the spirit of negotiation is missing because the government seems to be missing. They have not been seen. The Chief Minister is not seen outside his bungalow.
What immediate measures are you demanding from the government?
The first immediate measure is that the Prime Minister should take all of us there. The entire opposition, one leader from each party, under the leadership of the Prime Minister. Let us go, let us take out a peace march. Make arrangements for security and let us take a peace march out in the hills as well as the valley. It will help people. The message of compassion has not gone through yet.
How do you see the scenario playing out electorally for the BJP in Manipur and the north-east where it had emerged as a dominant force in the last few years?
I will not go into an electoral cost-benefit analysis on an issue like Manipur, but the cost will not be limited to Manipur alone. When an ordinary father or mother who sees a person her child’s age being mutilated or killed, that fear—of how the government will respond if the same situation happens in their own State and neighbourhood—will not remain confined to Manipur; it will travel to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Odisha.
The government being a missing link in Manipur has tarnished the image of the Prime Minister. I never thought that when a State burns like this, the Prime Minister would not utter even a few words for days on end.