Northeastern View | Home ministry’s “high level” review meet on Manipur shows that New Delhi wants to take back control - Hindustan Times
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Northeastern View | Home ministry’s “high level” review meet on Manipur shows that New Delhi wants to take back control

Jun 20, 2024 09:35 PM IST

Any dialogue must be truly inclusive and justice-centric. It should directly address the core socio-political grievances of both communities

On June 17, Union home minister, Amit Shah, chaired a “high-level meeting” to review the security situation in Manipur in New Delhi. An array of senior central- and state-level security officials attended it — including the Chief of Army Staff (both outgoing and incoming), Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Director General of Assam Rifles and the Security Advisor to the government of Manipur.

**EDS: IMAGE VIA @HMOIndia** New Delhi: Union Home Minister and Minister of Cooperation Amit Shah chairs a high-level meeting to review the security situation of Manipur, in New Delhi, Monday, June 17, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI06_17_2024_000324B)(PTI) PREMIUM
**EDS: IMAGE VIA @HMOIndia** New Delhi: Union Home Minister and Minister of Cooperation Amit Shah chairs a high-level meeting to review the security situation of Manipur, in New Delhi, Monday, June 17, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI06_17_2024_000324B)(PTI)

The meeting comes days after the announcement of the Lok Sabha election results, which saw the BJP and its allies losing existing seats across the Northeast, including Manipur. So, what does it mean? Is New Delhi changing tact on Manipur after more than a year of seemingly unending ethnic violence?

Taking back control

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the home ministry’s meeting was the absence of Manipur’s BJP chief minister, Biren Singh. It is unclear if he was invited or if the Union government decided to go ahead without him. According to a senior minister in the Manipur government, Singh did not attend because it was an “executive”, not a “political”, meeting. He, however, privately met three senior officials present in the meeting in his Imphal office on June 19. He has also been reportedly called to New Delhi in the coming days to discuss the crisis.

Singh’s absence from the review meeting could suggest that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the centre wants to take over the reins of the Manipur situation. It is likely because of a growing sentiment within certain political and security quarters and even the civil society in Manipur that his government has failed to bridge the ethnic divide between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities and restore calm.

The recent poll mandate only reaffirmed that the people of Manipur, regardless of their ethnicity, have lost trust in the BJP-led political dispensations in both Imphal and New Delhi. This has likely rattled the party’s high command, which now wishes to course-correct by re-establishing its writ and in turn, its popular legitimacy in the state. It is also possible that the central leadership blames Singh for its electoral downslide.

Interestingly, the meeting came just a week after the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, expressed his dissatisfaction over the situation in Manipur during an organisational rally in Nagpur. He especially called on political parties to “get over election rhetoric and focus on problems facing the nation”. This was no less than a veiled rebuke to the BJP’s central leadership, which has so far done little to fix the crisis in Manipur.

Hard talk

According to a media report, which quoted an anonymous official, officials in the meeting decided to initiate an “effective crackdown” to recover some 3500 weapons looted from state police armouries and undertake “calibrated action” against Meira Paibis — a Meitei women’s vigilante group accused of partaking in violence against the Kuki-Zo. Among those accused of stealing the weapons, Meitei militias, such as the Arambai Tenggol, are the most prominent.

A decision to deploy central forces in “sensitive pockets” was also made at the meeting. Until now, the centre had refused to directly address the issue of looted arms and Meitei vigilantism, likely to protect the Singh government’s political base. In that sense, the reported outcomes of the recent meeting are encouraging as they show the resolve to confront difficult but core aspects of the ethnic conflict. New Delhi now seems to be adopting a technocratic security approach that rises above ethnic politics.

Yet, it remains to be seen if New Delhi will use its devices to crack down on Arambai Tenggol, which has emerged as an influential political and military force in Manipur. The outfit has directly subverted the state’s authority by not just forcing elected lawmakers to take an “oath” in the middle of Imphal, but also abducting state police officials.

Because the militia is understood to be close to CM Singh and Leishemba Sanajaoba, the BJP MP in Rajya Sabha from Manipur, and the current titular Meitei king, the party's high command might be reluctant to shut it down. However, some punitive action against the Arambai’s leadership is likely in the coming days as part of New Delhi’s attempt to re-establish its political dominance.

Is dialogue possible?

A key reported outcome of the meeting was the decision to initiate dialogue between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo sides to “bridge the ethnic divide at the earliest.”

This is a welcome move from the Union government, which had so far failed to play its statutory role as a neutral arbiter in the conflict. Ideally, such a dialogue should have begun long back. Now, a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Reconciliation, nonetheless, must happen for the sake of the people of Manipur who do not deserve to live in an endless state of exception and fear.

However, any such dialogue must be truly inclusive and justice-centric. It should directly address the core socio-political grievances of both communities, rather than privileging one side over the other. No process of healing can begin without looking at the truth in its eyes, especially when the affected communities feel unheard.

New Delhi must ensure that the dialogue process does not result in the usurpation of ancestral rights over land and resources, which was one of the key factors behind the ethnic conflagration. Finally, it must focus on comprehensively rehabilitating displaced communities in a safe and dignified manner, a process that would also need a system of fair compensation for loss of lives and property.

Angshuman Choudhury is a New Delhi-based researcher and writer, formerly an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and focuses on Northeast India and Myanmar. The views expressed are personal.

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