‘Biren Singh must step down and President’s rule imposed immediately’

‘The central government can stop further destruction… if they have the political will to do so.’

On Tuesday, July 4, 2023, PTI reported a mob tried to loot weapons from an Indian Reserved Battalion camp in Manipur’s Thoubal district, leading to a clash with security forces in which a 27-year-old man was killed and an Assam Riles jawan shot at.

Clearly, the violence in the North East state, which began two months ago on May 3, 2023, continues.

“I regret to say that it is very unfortunate that for the prime minister, burning and killings in Manipur is less important than the Karnataka election, the G7 summit in Japan and other foreign trips,” Professor Lal Dena, former head of the history department, Manipur University and former vice-chancellor, Sangai University, Manipur, tells Rediff.com‘s Shobha Warrier.

The concluding segment of a two-part interview:

  • Part 1: Manipur: ‘The basic issue is land’

You said earlier that those who inhabited the valley were mostly Hindus and those in the hills followed Christianity.
Now, the violence is also portrayed as a tussle between Hindus and Christians.
Do you think the violence is based on religious lines?
Who will you hold responsible for giving it a religious colour?

The present problem is essentially an ethnic conflict between the Meiteis represented by Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepon on one side, and the Kuki-Zomi groups on the other.

This fact is clearly substantiated by the findings of the Indian army operating in the state.

It was given religious colour when rioters from the valley burnt the houses of the tribals and churches, including the Meitei churches in the valley.

Not to forget that the Kuki groups also burnt the houses of Meiteis living in the hills.

While Manipur burns, the prime minister of the country has remained silent so far.
How concerning is it for the citizens of the state? Do they feel alienated against?

I regret to say that it is very unfortunate that for the prime minister, burning and killings in Manipur is less important than the Karnataka election, the G7 Summit in Japan and other foreign trips.

Home Minister Amit Shah visited Manipur for 3 days almost one month after the violence started on May 3, 2023.

I happened to be a member of the intellectual group who met him on May 30, and I suggested that President’s rule be imposed immediately to control further outbreak of violence.

As you know, no President’s rule has happened till now despite the total failure of law and order in the state. Even Mr R K Ranjan, the Union minister of state, said so.

Not just me, many other citizens also have submitted a memorandum to the central government seeking imposition of Article 356 in the state, but there has been so response so far.

Right now, more than 30 MLAs from Manipur, both from the ruling and Opposition parties, are camping in Delhi to meet the prime minister, but till today, nobody got an appointment to meet him.

In fact, he flew to the United States without meeting them.

I would say Mr Biren Singh must step down from his position as chief minister.

There is a demand from the Kukis for a separate hill council. How dangerous is it to divide a state on ethnic lines?

The hill people have been demanding a Sixth Scheduled Provision for more than 30 years. (The Sixth Schedule has provision for the creation of Autonomous District Councils, and Regional Councils endowed with certain legislative, executive, judicial and financial powers.).

But it has been flatly rejected several times by the Manipur government.

The fact is the hill and valley are practically separated now.

There are no Kuki tribals in the valley, and there are no Meiteis in the hills.

There is also a geographical and communication line demarcation between the valley and the hills.

As things stand, building trust between the two communities will take time.

However, it is essential to initiate dialogues for any possible solution, by a third party where the state government as well as all the stakeholders must participate.

You said the hills and valley are practically separated now. Who can stop the fire from destroying the trust between the two communities further?

The central government can stop further destruction… if they have the political will to do so.

Is there a permanent solution to the problem faced by Manipur?

Yes. Every problem has its own solution, and every question has an answer.

Only a political solution can ultimately lead to a permanent solution, however late or painful it may be.

See, even after 75 years of Independence, the hill areas of Manipur have been lagging far behind.

The budget allotment for the development of the entire state and its share for the hill districts seem very unfair by the tribals in hills — the Kukis and the Nagas.

For example, 90% of the budget allotment go to the valley while only 10% go to the hills.

Till greater autonomy is given to the hills in terms of governance and finance, there will always be uneven development in the state.

The best solution is to give greater autonomy to the self-governing institutions in the hill areas of Manipur.

The situation is such that in the current assembly, the majority community from the valley has 40 representatives while the Kuki Zo and other ethnic minorities have only 10 representatives.

Naturally, the chief minister and his MLAs can pass bills and budget easily with majority votes. This is what is happening today.

  • Manipur’s Tragedy

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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