India's restive Northeast appears heading towards more turbulence with the situation in Manipur and the central government not moving beyond bland statements.
The disinformation campaign in Manipur is continuing. With three Kuko-Zo youth shot dead on September 12, the Press Trust of India, quoting Manipur officials, said "militants of terror groups in Kangpopki district were behind the killings; assailants came in a vehicle and attacked the villagers between the Ireng and Karam areas; dominated by tribals". The village is located in the hills.
In contrast, the mainstream media, quoting security sources, said at least nine suspected militants, disguised as police commandos, sneaked in through the buffer zone by night and ambushed a vehicle on a mud road around 6.30 am killing three Kuk-Zo youth aged 30, 32 and 37. The report marked this second violent incident in four days after three tribals were killed at Pallell in Tengnoupal district and over 50 were injured on September 8; the incident on September 8 was 5th major violent incident in four months.
The next day, on the morning of September 13, a tribal police sub-inspector on duty in Churachandpur district was shot dead by a sniper.
In his article published on August 15, 2023, veteran Lt. Gen. Prakash Menon (retd), Director Strategic Studies at Takshashila Institution, wrote “What is particularly galling is that the state’s political leadership is utilizing its armed instruments on behalf of the Meitei community to inflict revenge, and has, apparently, accumulated blood on its hands in the process”.
Partisan role of Manipur Police?
These Manipur Police commandos are obviously now brazen enough to operate in uniforms after five months of brutalities and killings. Uniforms would also facilitate sneaking through buffer zones; even if discovered by Army/AR, the excuse would be inadvertent crossing into the buffer zone while on routine patrol.
Quoting Manipur officials, the local media described the incident on September 8 as a 30,000-strong armed crowd, mobilized by a "valley-based organization", that deified curfew and attempted to break through an Indian Army barricade along the Churachandpur-Bishnupur border. The injured included an Army Lieutenant Colonel who received gunshot wounds.
If this 30,000-strong armed mob did not have state connivance, why was it allowed to assemble during the curfew and allowed to proceed to the Churachandpur-Bishnupur buffer zone by the Manipur Police and all the Central Armed Police units placed under command of the DG Police of Manipur? Why were they not halted, barricaded, tear gassed, smoked, or fired upon since they bore weapons? Besides, if this mob was actually mobilized by a “valley-based organization”, why are leaders of this so-called organization not arrested and being prosecuted?
The Manipur Police which had earlier filed an FIR against the AR, has now registered an FIR against the Editor’s Guild of India (EGI). The report of EGI’s recent fact-finding mission to Manipur is in the public domain; it says EGI received several representations of Manipur media playing a partisan role, and also complaint from the Army citing specific examples of the Manipur media that it may be playing a major role in arousing passion and not letting sustainable peace to come in.
This is hardly surprising. One major example is the silence of the Manipur media when a Manipur MLA heading a 1,000-plus mob of women forced an Army column to hand over 12 armed KYKL terrorists. Where are these KYKL terrorists now – leading Manipur police commandos, recruited as SPOs or held reserves as state guests? Why is Manipur media silent on who is behind the anti-Army/AR videos in circulation to incite the Meitei? On whose behest are mobs protesting against the Army/AR demanding their ouster from Manipur? On whose instructions are women protesters demanding identification cards and their religion from soldiers; is this not programmed political prostitution?
Army left with no powers
The EGI report estimates that the narcotics trade alone in Manipur has an annual turnover of Rs 50,000 crore compared to the annual state budget of about Rs 30,000 crore. Many would like to ask if this is the reason behind the apparent inaction of the state administration in letting Manipur burn!
The move behind removing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), was specific to make the Army ineffective altogether and give the political authority an “absolutely free hand”. Tribals have been asking to use the Army to recover the over 4,000 weapons and over 50,000 rounds of ammunition “looted” from armouries, which according to ground reports were “distributed”. But without AFSPA, the Army has no powers to search in the Imphal Valley where the weapons are. Looking at the political and immense economic benefits from the happenings in Manipur, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has already written to the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to remove AFSPA completely from Assam.
On September 12, the Nagaland assembly unanimously adopted a resolution; strongly urging the state to be completely exempted from the purview of the proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC). But this apart, India's restive Northeast appears heading towards more turbulence with the situation in Manipur and the central government not moving beyond bland statements.
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal)