Manipur BJP MLA Paolienlal Haokip, one of the 10 tribal legislators of the northeastern state who in May wrote to Chief Minister N Biren Singh demanding a separate administration for the Kuki-dominated districts in the state, has alleged “complicity of the state” in the ethnic violence as one of the reasons why it took time to be contained.
“Proof of state complicity can clearly be discerned from the fact that what started out as a purely ethnic-communal violence was later on attempted to be portrayed by the Chief Minister as the state’s war on ‘narco terrorists’,” Mr Haokip wrote in an opinion article for India Today.
The 10 MLAs who wrote the letter in May, seven of them from the BJP, had also alleged that the violence was perpetrated by the valley-majority Meitei community and was “tacitly supported” by the BJP-run state government. The Chief Minister had rejected the demand for a separate administration, saying “the territorial integrity of Manipur will be protected”.
The ‘narco terrorists’ narrative seemed to be aimed at justifying the use of state forces to aid the radicalised Meitei militia in attacking and burning down Kuki-Zo settlements in the foothills surrounding the Imphal valley, beyond which it doesn’t seem to hold much water, Paolienlal Haokip wrote, adding that conflict over rights under the Constitution which had been simmering since the pre-statehood days was another reason for the prolonged violence.
Reiterating claims by several Kuki leaders of a bias in resource allocation, stifling of the powers of Hill Areas Committee, and vested parties ‘managing’ reservations in state jobs to curtail due representation of Scheduled Tribes, Mr Haokip said the ethnic violence in a way “is perceived as war of liberation from such gross injustices by the tribal Kuki Zo people, while the Meitei militia see it as a war to claim tribal land”.
The BJP MLA didn’t spare the Chief Minister too, saying he “is known to be hand in glove” with radical groups like Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tenggol, who he alleged were “the main executors of the ethnic cleansing of Kuki Zo community”.
Notably, a former Manipur ‘super cop’, Thounaojam Brinda, had in 2020 alleged in a court document that she was under ‘pressure’ from Biren Singh to release a ‘drug lord’ from custody. She had returned the state’s Police Medal for Gallantry awarded to her by the Biren Singh government, and went on to contest last year’s assembly polls in the state against a BJP candidate, who Home Minister Amit Shah campaigned for.
“A biased government anywhere is detrimental to peace, and although such bias was always present in some degree in Manipur, it accentuated under the current Chief Minister,” Mr Haokip wrote.
In another interview with Newslaundry, the BJP MLA from Saikot in Manipur’s Churachandpur district said he believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has “misplaced priorities”, adding that he and several other MLAs from Manipur have been still trying to meet with PM Modi. However, he added that he is still optimistic that only the central government can bring peace to the state.
The hill-majority Kukis have alleged the BJP government in Manipur led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh has been targeting them systematically – using the war on drugs campaign as the cover – to remove them from the forests and their homes in the hills. The scale of poppy cultivation in Manipur, however, has spread across 15,400 acres of land in the hills between 2017 and 2023, according to data from the state’s special anti-drugs unit Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB).
The Meiteis – who cannot buy land in the hills while the tribals, who live in the hills, are allowed to own land in the valley – are worried their place in the valley will shrink over time. To this, the Kukis say the Meiteis if given ST status will expand out to the hills and take their land.
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