Shah meets Kuki, Meitei groups amid Manipur violence
Union home minister Amit Shah met politicians, bureaucrats and civil society groups from both warring Meitei and Kuki communities in Manipur on Tuesday, in an attempt to quell the violence that has singed the northeastern state for close to a month now and killed at least 80 people.
Guwahati/Kolkata Union home minister Amit Shah met politicians, bureaucrats and civil society groups from both warring Meitei and Kuki communities in Manipur on Tuesday, and later travelled to the worst-hit district of Churachandpur, in an attempt to quell the violence that has singed the northeastern state for close to a month now and killed at least 80 people.
Shah arrived in Manipur on Monday night and held talks with chief minister N Biren Singh, senior officers, and governor Anasuiya Uikey. On Tuesday, he reviewed the security situation with senior officers of Manipur Police, the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), and the Indian Army. In the evening, he also held an all-party meeting in Imphal.
“During the security meeting, the home minister said that peace and prosperity in Manipur was a top priority and instructed all officers to deal sternly with any activities disturbing the peace,” a home ministry spokesperson said. Shah is expected to travel to the border town of Moreh and the hill district of Kangpokpi on Wednesday.
Shah’s meetings with Meitei and Kuki groups in Imphal and Churachandpur respectively underlined the deep ethnic divide as both communities demanded action against the other. Manipur has been convulsed by ethnic violence since May 3, with the bulk of the clashes between the Meitei community, which constitutes the majority of the state’s population and lives largely in Imphal, and the Kukis, who comprise 16%of the state and live largely in the hill districts.
Shah began the day by meeting Meitei groups led by the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) that submitted an 18-page memorandum.
“There were four main points in our submission including abrogation of suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with Kuki militant groups which are violating provisions of the agreement and are engaged in violence and also urged the minister not to consider any demand for separate administration,” said Khuraijam Athouba, assistant media coordinator of COCOMI, an umbrella group of five organisations.
The memorandum, a copy of which HT has seen, demanded action against poppy cultivation and “narco terrorists”, echoing allegations also voiced by chief minister N Biren Singh, also a Meitei, on Sunday, when he blamed Kuki militant groups for fuelling violence and said 40 “Kuki terrorists” were killed by security forces.
Trouble first began in the state earlier this year when the state government unilaterally walked out of a tripartite peace accord with warring ethnic groups (the Union government was the third signatory). The Kuki groups blame the state forces for not protecting them.
Shah also met representatives of the influential women’s group, Meira Paibi — predominantly made up of Meiteis — who asked for a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state. “He said that discussions are underway to see if an NRC can be implemented,” K Santi Devi, one of the women representatives who met Shah, told journalists in Imphal.
At the end of his meetings in Imphal, Shah tweeted, “Had a fruitful discussion with members of different civil society organisations… They expressed their commitment to peace and assured that we would together contribute to paving the way to restore normalcy in Manipur.”
In the afternoon, Shah flew to the tribal district of Churachandpur, where he met Kuki organisations, at least five legislators from the community, and civil society groups. Shah was not accompanied in the Churachandpur meetings by Singh after tribal groups said they didn’t want to be part of any meeting where the chief minster was present.
As Shah’s cavalcade drove into Churachandpur, women lined the streets, with some waiving the Tricolour.
“We told the home minister about our political demand of total separation from Manipur, and asked for the imposition of President’s Rule as law and order has collapsed. Shah urged Kuki organisations to maintain peace as deliberations are held, and assured of an independent probe,” said Ginza Vualzong, spokesperson of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a Kuki organisation that met Shah.
The ITLF spokesperson said that the home minister indicated he may come back in June, and bolster security. “When we pointed out that we are constantly under attack which leaves us with no option but to defend ourselves, he said he will double the deployment of security forces along the border of the (Imphal) valley,” Vualzong added.
The Kuki Chief’s Association (KCA), another Churachandpur-based organisation, said it told Shah that locals had lost confidence in the state police. “Our first demand was that state security forces deployed by Biren Singh should be removed. We also demanded President’s Rule… He said the first priority is restoration of peace,” said Holkhomang Haokip, KCA vice-president.
Shah returned to Imphal on Tuesday evening, and then met legislators from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, alliance partners National Peoples’ Party and Naga Peoples’ Front, and members of the opposition such as the Shiv Sena and Left parties. The Congress was not present at the meeting, with a party delegation meeting President Droupadi Murmu in Delhi.
The home ministry spokesperson said that the delegations expressed their commitment to peace and assured that they would contribute to restoring normalcy in Manipur. “The delegates urged the home minister for effective intervention to restore peace and normalcy,” the spokesperson added.
Eleven sportspersons from the state — including Dhyan Chand awardee L Anita Chanu, Arjuna awardees N Kunjarani Devi, L Sarita Devi and W Sandhyarani Devi and Khel Ratna winner S Mirabai Chanu — wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking restoration of peace. “We have written to the PM seeking restoration of peace. If that doesn’t happen soon, we will give back the awards given to us by the government,” Anita Chanu said.
At least 80 people have died and another 40,000 displaced by ethnic violence between the tribal Kukis, who mostly reside in the hill districts, and the Meiteis, the dominant community in Imphal Valley.
Clashes between the Kukis and Meiteis first erupted on May 3 during a protest against a court-ordered tweak to the state’s reservation matrix, granting scheduled tribe (ST) status to the latter. Violence quickly engulfed the state where ethnic fault lines run deep, displacing tens of thousands of people who fled burning homes and neighbourhoods into jungles, often across state borders. The authorities quickly clamped a curfew and suspended internet, pumping in additional security forces to force a break in the spiraling clashes. Internet is still not back in the state.
But tensions were simmering for much longer, owing to the state government’s decision to exit the tripartite accord and move against some forest dwelling groups it termed as encroachers.