Manipur: PM's silence adds to anger, frustration amid violence, flare-up
A poster of a missing person, purportedly put up in Manipur, doing rounds in social media, pokes holes in the Narendra Modi government’s North East outreach model that the BJP often flaunts in the region.
The poster carries a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It reads — Still missing. Have you seen this man? Name: Narendra Modi. Height: 5’6”, Chest: 56”. ENT status: Blind and deaf. “Last seen at Manipur Legislative Election’s rally,” it added.
The Federal, on a recent visit to violence-hit Manipur, though did not come across the poster shared on social media, but we could sense the feeling of being let down by the prime minister, conveyed in the poster, was all pervasive in the state.
From common citizens to eminent personalities of Manipur, most had a common grudge that the Prime Minister did not even bother to utter a single word on the violence, leave alone visit the state, raging for over one-and-a-half months now.
The prime minister’s silence has become more conspicuous as he never misses an opportunity to visit the region to promote his government’s new project or to campaign for the party in elections. The BJP showcases such visits as manifestation of the prime minister’s concern for the region, which according to the party was mistreated by the previous governments.
“The Prime Minister’s commitment to transforming lives in the region can be seen in his more than 50 visits and union ministers visiting the region frequently, almost every fortnight, expediting and expanding the welfare works of the government,” the BJP’s national mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh wrote in the editorial of its March 16-31 edition.
After the BJP and its allies registered spectacular victories in assembly elections in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura, Modi had said North East is neither far from Delhi nor from our dil (heart).
Modi’s silence is compelling people in Manipur to believe otherwise.
“The Government of India is very much responsible for what is happening here because it is not doing anything (to contain the situation)…. Most tragic part of this situation is that in spite of this alarming and burning situation, honourable prime minister of India Mr Narendra Modi is silent. He is muted. He is not speaking or uttering a single word over this problem. They (the government) are not thinking about us,” rued Ratan Thiyam, one of India’s leading theatre directors and playwrights.
“We have now started feeling very neglected. We are remembered only during elections,” he added.
Thiyam, a very respected voice in Manipur, refused to be part of a 51-member peace committee the Home Ministry constituted to resolve the conflict.
He felt that unless the Centre took a greater interest in resolving the issue, the peace panel would not achieve much. The fact that Thiyam was not even informed before including his name in the peace committee shows the superficial manner the Centre is trying to handle the Manipur crisis.
Thiyam was not alone to be taken aback to find his name in the peace panel by reading local newspapers.
A retired Indian Defence Accounts Service officer, J Lhungdim, too said he was not consulted or informed before including his name in the panel. Lhungdim, a Kuki representative in the panel, also pulled out of the committee, which has become a non-starter.
Padmashri Heisnam Sabitri was another eminent theatre personality of the state to question the Centre’s indifferent attitude and the PM’s inexplicable silence over the violence.
“It is so frustrating that at times I even feel like giving away the award (Padmashri),” she told The Federal.
“Despite many deaths and the violence continuing for over one month, the silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being questioned by many. People feel that the Centre simply does not care about the state,” six student organisations of the state said in a joint press statement.
Similar resentments over Modi’s silence echoed in the Kuki-majority hill districts as well.
“It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister chose to completely ignore us at this hour of our crisis,” said a Kuki Inpi leader, L Chongloi.
Criticism of the PM’s silence from various sections of the society became so intense that it compelled Chief Minister Biren Singh to take up the cudgel for the Prime Minister.
“Union Home Minister is the lieutenant of the Prime Minister. He had visited the state and stayed here for three days on the instruction of the Prime Minister,” Singh claimed at a recent media briefing.
Under the supervision of the Prime Minister, the Centre has already sanctioned a Rs 100 crore package for necessary immediate relief along with 30,000 MT rice for distribution to the affected people, the Chief Minister continued.
Such a package, however, does not hold much significance on the ground. “We don’t need a food package. We need a humane package, a peace package,” Thiyam said.
Another casualty of the current Manipur crisis is the BJP’s much-hyped theory that a double-engine sarkar, a euphemism for same-party government at the Centre and the state, is a better governance model.
Far from working in tandem to restore peace, the Centre and the state government are not even on the same page on the nature of conflict in Manipur.
Amit Shah, at a press conference in Imphal earlier this month, described the violence as an “ethnic strife”, contradicting the state government.
The Chief Minister has insisted that the ongoing violence is primarily a fight between the “security forces and the terrorists who are trying to break Manipur.”
Chief of defence staff General Anil Chauhan, after taking stock of the situation in the state, had also concluded that the violence was “primarily a clash between two ethnicities” and had nothing to do with the insurgency.
Further, the BJP government in Manipur has decided to abrogate the ceasefire with the 25 Kuki militant groups who have signed a suspension of operation (SoO) deal with the Centre and the state.
The Manipur government primarily blames these groups for the spate of violence in the state.
The Centre so far has ignored the state government’s call for scrapping the truce deal with Kuki militants.
The most embarrassing blow to the double-engine sarkar came on Friday when a Union minister and BJP MP from Manipur flayed his party government in the state for failing to maintain the law-and-order situation in the state.
The state government could not maintain the law-and-order situation despite the Central government sending a lot of protections including the Rapid Action Force, Union minister of state for external affairs Rajkumar Ranjan Singh told news agency ANI.
He was reacting to the gutting of his residence in Imphal by a mob on Thursday night when the minister was away in Kerala.
Around 40,000 central forces have been deployed in the state to assist the state police in establishing peace.
The central forces are not given free hand to carry out the operation, an official of one of the paramilitary forces deployed in the state alleged on the condition of anonymity.
He said this is the first major operation the security forces are carrying out in Manipur without the shield of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
During the AFSPA regime, the Army and the Assam Rifles could carry out the operation without the permission of the state administration, he said.
The role of some personnel of the central forces also came under scanner, further complicating the situation.
Media in Manipur came out with a CCTV wherein it’s seen that the Rapid Action Force, without any provocation, vandalised vehicles parked on an empty street at Yaiskul Yumnam Leikai, Imphal West, in the wee hours of Tuesday (June 13).
Two erring personnel have been suspended for the vandalism.
Earlier in May three personnel of the RAF were taken to custody for setting a meat shop on fire in the state capital.
The back-to-back incidents raised question about whether they were deliberately trying to provoke the situation as part of a larger conspiracy.
A-2019 letter written by a leader of the Kuki militant outfit to Home Minister Amit Shah that surfaced recently further added to BJP’s worry in the state.
In the letter submitted with an affidavit in an NIA court on June 8, United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) chairman S S Haokiclaimed that the BJP had taken the help of Kuki militant outfits to win 2017 assembly elections.
The so-called revelation coming amidst the ethnic conflict evoked sharp reactions.
“We demand (of) the central BJP leadership to clarify its stand on the claims made by the UKLF. Otherwise, the people will boycott BJP and root out the party from the soil of Manipur,” the six student organisations warned.
Evidently, the BJP is losing its plot in Manipur and that can have a larger ramification in the entire region.