Is Manipur lurching towards civil war again?

Manipur appears to be veering toward massive armed attacks against the tribals – both the Kuki-Zo and Naga, with the state administration remaining ambivalent.  This is a dangerous development - civil war in a state bordering Myanmar which itself is experiencing rising violence.  

Representational Photo (Photo: Twitter)

The Manipur High Court has deleted the recommendation for granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meitei community in an important judgment of March 27, 2023, saying the ruling was passed in “misconception of law”. Meitei are 53 percent of the Manipur population and part of the Meitei community already is in Scheduled Caste (SC) or Other Backward Classes (OBC) status. The tribal youth of Manipur took out a protest march on May 3, 2023. Violent clashes between the Meitei and the Kuki-Zo have continued since then. Around 200 persons have been killed since then, hundreds injured and over 50,000 displaced.

Police and IRB armouries have been looted and clashes are continuing. The Army cannot recover the arms from Imphal Valley in the absence of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), where the so-called looted weapons were distributed to the Meitei radicals with the complicity of the state administration, according to ground sources.

The storming of Imphal by armed Arambai Tenggol riding in open gypsy vehicles, flying Kangleipak flags and masquerading as police, without security forces accosting them was covered earlier in these columns earlier. The absence of Manipur Police indicated their complicity with Arambai Tenggol, which has reportedly grown to 50-60,000 strong. Thereafter, another IRB armoury was looted in Imphal Valley, with similar ground reports of weapons distributed. The Nagas fear they will be targeted by the Meitei after the Kuki-Zo.

On February 2, 2024, the Manipur Police issued a transfer order of 177 personnel to MR/IR units, which included a number of Kuki-Zo police personnel to move to the Imphal Valley. Manipur Police says these transfers/postings are to streamline the excess manpower against the sanctioned posts available in all MR/IR units and facilitate preparation of their salaries.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), based in Churachandpur, wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah on February 23, seeking his intervention to stop the transfer of Kuki-Zo policemen to Meitei-dominated areas expressing concern over their safety since several Kuki-Zo and families have been killed in Imphal Valley in preceding months. As a result, Manipur Police has halted the movement of transferred personnel "wherever applicable, given the current crisis” (as if they are unaware of the violence), and said transfer orders remain in effect but the personnel will be moved as and when required.

Continuing violence has also witnessed police officers on duty being shot by snipers. On the night of February 23, 2024, a college student (Oinam Kenegy aged 24) was killed and another (Salam Michael aged 24) wounded in a bomb blast in HM University of Imphal. Later, the miscreants torched the office building of the civil society organization ‘United Committee Manipur (UCM), a private school, and a house. No arrests had been made till last reports. The signal appears to be for non-Meitei to get out.

On November 29, 2023, Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted on X: “The peace agreement signed today with the UNLF by the Government of India and the Government of Manipur marks the end of a six-decade-long armed movement; for all-inclusive development and providing a better future to the youths in Northeast India.”

However, on December 2, the Central Committee of UNLF issued a press release saying what was tweeted by Amit Shah is not a “Peace Agreement” but a “Peace Talks Agreement”, that too with the breakaway Pambei Group of the UNLF, not an agreement with the UNLF. The UNLF press release further states: “According to the spokesperson of Pambei Group, their agenda for the talks will be ‘the restoration of Manipur’s sovereignty and independence (

The UNLF had supposedly surrendered their weapons last November but now some 30-40 armed UNLF cadres have set up permanent camps in parts of East and West Imphal, as well as in  Churachandpur, and are roaming around freely with weapons. This is reportedly making the Armed Forces deployed in Manipur apprehensive of a potential “orchestrated” offensive against the Kuki-Zo in the coming days (

The Army and Assam Rifles in Manipur are in for turbulent times. In the recent past, there have been several attacks on the Kuki-Zo, which in one case, required intervention by the Armed Forces.  Looking at the combined armed strength of the Meitei radicals, including the Arambai Tenggol, the Manipur-based Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) cadres operating in Manipur, and now the UNLF, there is speculation in social media that intention of the state administration appears to be making Manipur altogether free of its tribal population. An extreme view is that this is a right-wing pilot project that will be applied to other states also in a phased manner. 

Manipur appears to be veering toward massive armed attacks against the tribals – both the Kuki-Zo and Naga, with the state administration remaining ambivalent.  This is a dangerous development - civil war in a state bordering Myanmar which itself is experiencing rising violence.    

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal) 

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