Union home minister Amit Shah, Manipur
Union home minister Amit Shah chairs a meeting with Manipur CM Biren Singh, state ministers and officials in Imphal. Pic: PTI

All eyes on Shah as he reaches strife-torn Manipur on three-day visit

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Expectations are running high in Manipur, as Union home minister Amit Shah landed in the troubled, strife-torn north-eastern state on a three-day visit. This is the first visit by the home minister since ethnic violence erupted in BJP-ruled state on May 3.

Powerful civil society organisations, who represent both the opposing communities in the state, are hopeful that Shah will help turn the situation that has further deteriorated in the past 48 hours.

At least four persons, including two Manipur police commandos, died, while 12 others were injured as violence broke out in different parts of the state on Sunday (May 28). Moreover, Chief Minister N Biren Singh claimed security forces have neutralised as many as 33 Kuki militants as part of his government’s effort to restore peace in the state.

Firing incidents were reported from several parts of the state even on Monday, just hours before Shah was to land in Imphal, as the BJP-led Manipur government has failed to bring the situation under control in the past 26 days. The trouble-torn state is now looking towards the Centre to bring back normalcy.

Meanwhile, the central and Manipur state government have decided to give a compensation of ₹10 lakh to the families of those who died during the ethnic conflict in Manipur. A member of the family of those who died in the rioting will also be provided a job.

‘Very positive step’

The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an umbrella organisation of several valley-based civil society organisations, described the visit as a “very positive step” towards restoring peace. “The people of Manipur are looking forward to his profound wisdom to restore peace and normalcy in Manipur,” read a press release issued by the COCOMI.

Also read: 40 ‘militants’ killed so far, says CM Biren Singh as fresh clashes erupt in Manipur

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) also said it’s looking forward to meeting the Union home minister to apprise him about their plight. “We welcome his visit and hope that the issues raised by us will be addressed by him,” ITLF media in-charge Gracy Haokip told The Federal.

As hope rides high among these groups, Shah reached Imphal airport past 9 pm on Monday. The home minister went straight to the chief minister’s secretariat to hold a meeting with the state cabinet headed by Biren Singh.

On Tuesday, he is expected to chair several security meetings, interact with civil society organisations from both Meitei and Kuki communities and visit hospitals where the injured victims of the violence are undergoing treatment. He is expected to be in Manipur till June 1.

Challenges before home minister

Over 80 persons were killed and 250 persons injured in the ongoing ethnic violence in the state. More importantly, to quote the Committee on Peaceful Coexistence (CPC) formed by the Meitei Pangal (Meitei Muslim) community, it has caused “significant damage to the emotional integrity of Manipur.”

Manipur, Amit Shah
Union home minister Amit Shah arrives in Imphal and is welcomed by Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh. Pic: David Mayum

The challenge before the home minister will be to “emotionally unite” the confronting communities, said Safiur Rahman Maibam, CPC co-convenor. The committee has been formed to promote peace and reconciliation among the diverse ethnic communities of Manipur through “constructive dialogue, open debates and meaningful discussions.”

Also read: Army chief arrives in strife-torn Manipur to assess ground situation

To initiate such a process, the home minister will have to ensure that he succeeds in what his party-led state government has miserably failed in doing – to win the trust of all communities. The trust deficit is the biggest impediment for return of normalcy in the state.

Trust deficit

The situation has come to such a pass that tribal groups are scared to travel to Imphal to meet Shah, while Meitei villages in the foothills continuously live in the fear of being attacked by armed militants. To change this atmosphere of fear, an administration which is perceived as neutral should be put in place, felt Suhas Chakma, director of the New Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG).

“The ongoing military operations alone are not enough to douse the flames of ethnic violence. What is required is inter-community dialogues at all levels to establish trust and peace. But, the state government has not been able to initiate any inter-community dialogue until now in the last one month,” said Chakma. “This makes the case for the imposition of President’s Rule in the state, as the Central government is seen as the only neutral and acceptable authority.”

A human rights activist of Manipur, Babloo Loitongbam, echoed Chakma’s view stating that the ouster of the present government will be the first step towards confidence building.

The ITLF will also urge the home minister to impose President’s Rule in the state and have a neutral administration to start the process of rehabilitation of the people uprooted from the Imphal valley due to the unrest, Haokip added.

Moreover, questions are also being raised about the efficacy of the present administration in protecting innocent lives and properties since clashes took place “under the watch of the state and central security forces.” And, this again, calls for fixing accountability, felt the groups working for peace.

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