MANIPUR – A BLOT ON INDIAN DEMOCRACY! By Anto Akkara

By Anto Akkara

IN APRIL 2009, I released my maiden book ‘Kandhamal – a blot on India Secularism’ – raising “uncomfortable questions” about the orchestrated anti-Christian violence in the remote Kandhamal jungles of Odisha.
Fifteen years later, I am compelled to do the same with this article – Manipur, a blot on Indian democracy — about the protracted bloodshed, mayhem, anarchy and the abject failure of Central government to intervene and restore law and order in the northeastern state with a population of mere 37 lakh.
The country has witnessed several major bloody carnages in recent decades like the 1983 massacre of Muslim migrants in Nellie in Assam, 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, 1993 Bombay riots after Barbi Masjid demolition, 2002 post-Godhra Muslim carnage in Gujarat and 2013 Muzzarnagar bloodshed. However, in all these cases, the Indian state did not buckle for long and restored law and order within days deploying the powerful army that put its foot down.
But, in the case of Manipur that was engulfed by brutal killings and arson from May 3 evening, Prime Minister Modi heading the Central government – constitutionally duty bound to have used its emergency powers under Article 356 to enforce law order — remains dumb and deaf — silent spectator even at the threshold of the anniversary raising the question: “Is Manipur a part of India?”

CHRISTIAN TARGETS
WHEN Christian targets in the tribal region of Dangs in Gujarat went up in flames during Christmas 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee rushed in. Following the Gujarat carnage of 2002 Vajpayee cautioned then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi of his “Raj Dharma” (royal duty) to restore law and order.
Compare this reaction of Prime Minister Vajpayee to the reaction of Prime Minister Modi who remains deaf to the desperate cry for restoration of peace in Manipur where the state machinery is utterly in shambles.
Shockingly, Prime Minister Modi who waxes eloquent about “great Indian democracy” abroad, has not bothered to set foot in Manipur that continues to burn and simmer with stunning kidnapping of police officers from police stations even in Imphal and brazen attacks on army continuing in the 11th month.
The conflagration erupted in Churuchandpur, heartland of the Kukis, following a Tribal Solidarity March protesting a controversial order from the High Court of Manipur recommending ST status to the Meiteis who constitute over 52 percent of state population.
Report of Kuki attacks on Meiteis spread like wildfire in hours plunging the Imphal Valley that accommodates 90 percent of Manipur population into the orgy of violence against Kuki minorities while the Meitei settlements in the ‘Hills’ surrounding the Valley also went up in flames. The official death toll of 220 is far from the reality. The conflagration has left more than 60,000 people refugees overwhelming majority of them being ethnic Kukis (all of them Christians) while over 10,000 Meiteis have also been driven out from Kuki strongholds like Churuchandpur, Moreh and Kangpokpi.

SPREADING ANARCHY
DURING my first challenging trip to Manipur in early May as the anarchy spread, I could see hundreds of charred vehicles even on the roads, commercial buildings and skeletons of torched houses and churches as I traveled to Churuchandpur in the south, across Imphal valley and to Kangpokpi hill district in the north.
Prior to landing in Manipur, the Home Minister made a categorical statement in Guwahati on May 26 in Guwahati: The clashes in Manipur was “because of a court judgement.”
This declaration was a rebuttal of the claim what the BJP government of Manipur told Supreme Court on May 17 that “the genesis of ethnic violence in the state was the crackdown on illegal Myanmar migrants, illicit poppy cultivation and drug business in the hills…” This claim had been parroted by dozens saffron-friendly news outlets and web-portals, fanning the saffron narrative on the ethnic conflict on the nation while internet remained suspended in Manipur and the grim reality got blacked out.
Despite Home Minister Amit Shah refusing to endorse the contentious reasons put forward by the Manipur BJP government for the conflict, BJP chief minister Biren Singh remained adamant on his government claim in Supreme Court on the eve of Amit Shah’s arrival in Manipur – declaring on May 28 that “the latest clashes were not between rival communities, but between Kuki militants and security forces.”

NO PEACE FOR MANIPUR
HAD the Home Minister acted dutifully against the Chief Minister for this defiance and failure to restore peace in four weeks, Manipur would not have plunged into the present chaos.
The fact that the Manipur High Court deleted its controversial order on this Feb 22 lent credence the argument that the “unconstitutional order” was a ploy to trigger the Manipur mayhem and the judiciary has now washed its hands off like Pontious Pilot.
Chief Minister Biren Singh had admitted on May 21 that the unprecedented violence was “due to security and intelligence lapses of the state government and stated that the government is ready to take all the blame.”
But even a month after this public admission, the state administration continued to remain in limbo amid chorus of national outcry against the lawlessness, exemplified by the ambulance rushing an injured boy to hospital with his mother being torched.
June 16 witnessed the torching the residence of Ranjan Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, hailing from Manipur despite nearly two dozen 20 security officials guarding it. The wanton act further exposed the total failure of the administration to uphold rule of law from vigilante outfits like Arambai Tenggol that has become a law unto themselves after looting police armoury and spreading terror in Imphal Valley. Yet, the central government remained silent spectator.
“Law and order condition in Manipur is a total failure,” fumed the stunned deputy foreign minister of India Ranjan Singh. Yet, Modi government refused to invoke Article 356 to dismiss Biren Singh government.
Earlier in May end, when Home Minister Amit Shah visited the state – four weeks into the violence – meeting cross sections and announcing a million solatium for dependent families of those killed, the entire Christian areas of Sugnu town was torched reducing to ashes hundreds of houses, livelihood set ups along with the oldest Catholic church, convent and school occupied by vigilante group with armed forces leaving the area.

NO ACTION IN MANIPUR
THE country has witnessed how those opposing controversial policies of the government like social activist Fr Stan Samy speaking up for exploited tribals have been witch-hunted as “urban terrorists” and slapped with sedition and terrorism charges.
Indians with a conscience and concern for civil rights will not forget the treatment meted out to 22-year old university student Disha Ravi in 2021. Disha was one of the Bangalore chapter founders of Fridays For Future, a global movement begun by climate change activist teenager Greta Thunberg of Sweden. Modi’s special mandarins, flew down to arrest Disha under sedition charges after she modified a “toolkit” — a flier, tweeted by Swedish climate activist Thunberg, suggesting ways of helping the farmers.
But the NIA branded it as “call to wage economic, social, cultural and regional war against India,” and put her behind bars in Delhi. Amid the national chorus of protest, Supreme Court ordered Disha’s release.

PARALYSED DEMOCRACY
BUT, the great Indian democracy lies in pathetic state of total paralysis in Manipur with lawlessness and anarchy reigning over the state amid huge contingent of nearly 50,000 armed forces being reduced to spectators, due lack of clear direction from the Central Government to clamp down on arsonists.
The Manipur cauldron witnessed a stunning sedition case that cannot be white-washed only in a banana republic – not democracy. “Women-led mob forces security personnel to let go of 12 militants in Manipur: Army.” This June 25 headline of the “Hindustan Times” exposes the pathetic face of Indian democracy in Manipur. Security forces, the report said “were forced to let go of the 12 Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) militants they apprehended after a “women-led” mob of around 1,500 surrounded them.”
The 12 KYKL members the army apprehended earlier in the day included Moirangthem Tamba, alias Uttam, a mastermind of the 2015 ambush that killed 18 army personnel.” Killers of 18 soldiers of Dogra regiment were released from army custody by Meitei women led by “local leaders,” the army statement pointed out while local BJP Meitei MLA Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh conceded that he was “present” in the mob.

CRIME OF SEDITION
IS this not a crime of sedition? This incident shows how democracy has thrown to winds in Manipur with ultra patriotic BJP regime remaining mute spectator and failing to file a sedition case in this shocking case of the army being forced to release terrorists who had killed 18 Indian soldiers in ambush.
Such anarchic situation, aggravated by spineless administration, forced senior army officials to even share on twitter (now X) that “Women activists in #Manipur are deliberately blocking routes and interfering in Operations of Security Forces. Such unwarranted interference is detrimental to the timely response by Security Forces during critical situations to save lives and property.”
Hindutva agenda under the cover of ethnic conflict
Contrary to various reports, the number of churches damaged or destroyed in the orgy violence is over 600. This includes 247 of churches of Meitei Christians that had been damaged or destroyed in Imphal Valley in 36 hours from May 3 night as an alert army going on the offensive, adding a shocking dimension to the ethnic conflict.
When a Meitei mob was desecrating an ethnic Naga church, they were promptly called back for targeting “wrong church.” That clearly showed that there was indeed a Hindutva agenda behind the synchronized attacks on the Meitei churches. The steady spurt among Meiteis embracing the Christian faith, rising over 10 percent of Meitei population, has rattled the Saffron Parivar. The surprising May 16 editorial of “The Organizer” alleging that the bloodshed was carried out ‘with the support of the churches’ confirmed this further.
(The style book of the Hindu nationalists – displayed in Kandhamal in 2008 – was repeated in Manipur in copycat manner. Pastors of destroyed or damaged churches were made to sign affidavits that they will not return. The pastor who went to file FIR against the desecration of his church was not just threatened by the police. They called the Meitei vigilante group that proceeded to destroy completely the damaged church.)
The deep polarization that has gripped Manipur was aptly summed by Wilson Lalam Hangshing, general secretary of the Kuki People’s Alliance: “Kukis have left the (Imphal) Valley and Meitei’s have left the Hills…. The separation is complete.”
It was manifest when I made a third trip in December to the north-east to pursue Manipur holocaust after visiting refugees in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram. As I travelled from Imphal via Bishnupur to Churuchandpur, the vehicle had to be stopped over a half dozen times in two kilometers at check-points manned by different army units and Manipur police – as if one was crossing over to another state, reminding me of the travails of crossing over to LLTE-held Vavuniya from Sri Lankan mainland during the ethnic conflict.

MODI’S STOIC SILENCE
AMID such even geographical separation on ethnic lines in Manipur, the nation remains intrigued by the silence of Prime Minister Modi on the suffering of tens of thousands of refugees including Meiteis let alone Kuki Christians. But for speaking out for 36 seconds at the entrance of Parliament on July 20 on the “naked parade” of two Kuki women (on public pressure), the Prime Minister has not uttered the word “Manipur” in nearly a year despite the PIB mandarins boasting that Modi had visited the north-east 60 times since 2014.
Despite moving around the country freely including making half a dozen trips to Kerala alone in three months ahead of the Parliament elections, Modi has not found time to enter Manipur. He has no qualms going for an elephant safari on March 8 in Kaziranga national park and even feeding elephants while he could not step foot in simmering Manipur- mere 230 kms from Kaziranga — to distribute chocolates to starving homeless children.
But Modi’s inexplicable silence on Manipur is rooted in comprehensive political agenda of Sangh Parivar in Manipur. Had the army been granted given full freedom to restore law and order, the bravado of dreaded Arambai Thengol cadres could have been curbed and thereby, quietened Kuki outfits.
The BJP leadership is also wary of sacking Chief Minister Biren Singh who has been complete failure in performing constitutional duties, fearful of losing the support of majority ethnic Meiteis and antagonizing the Meitei militants.
Manipur witnessed literal trampling of the Indian democracy on January 24 at the historic Kangla Fort in Imphal. Thirty-seven Meitei MLAs and two MPs (Lok Sabha MP Ranjan Singh – deputy foreign minister, and Rajya Sabha MP Leishemba Sanajaoba – patron of Arambai Thenggol) had been summoned by the Arambai Thengol “to sign an oath to protect Manipur.”
When the Congress MLA K Meghachandra, who is also Manipur Congress president, refused to sign the “oath” he was beaten up. Two concerned Meitei BJP MLAs rushed forward to stop the assault on their fellow legislator. But they too were not spared by the Meitei militants in uniform while central security forces and Manipur police remained mute spectators.
Is this called democracy? Who is responsible for plunging Manipur into such anarchy, leaving Manipur a blackspot on the face of Indian democracy?
(Note: The St Titus Brandsma-award winning journalist, Anto Akkara is known for his investigative work on Kandhamal exposing the Hindu nationalist agenda behind the 2008 bloodshed with his books, documentaries and social media campaign for “‘Truth & Justice for Kandhamal.”

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