Wednesday, May 29, 2024

BJP CM Biren Singh fuelled conflict in Manipur: Assam Rifles report

A new set of revelations related to the conflict in Manipur were discovered in an evaluation conducted by officials of the Assam Rifles in the state.

A good deal of the blame was pinned on Modi’s “political authoritarianism and ambition” and the state government led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh, a supporter of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The federal government’s paramilitary group in the state, known as the Assam Rifles, has a controversial history. Along with the army, it is the nation’s oldest paramilitary group and is tasked with upholding law and order in the northeast.

The Reporters’ Collective (TRC) has reviewed the assessment, made in a PowerPoint presentation, late in 2023, though the officers who showed the presentation wished to remain anonymous.

This is the first report released to the public by a government entity.

It is noteworthy because Modi claimed earlier this month, ahead of a general election, that the swift response of the federal government had resulted in a “marked improvement in the situation” in Manipur. The prime minister had mentioned the conflict just once, and this was one of those occasions. The federal minister of home affairs, meanwhile, has put his trust in the chief minister’s ability to act as a mediator, who has not succeeded in doing so yet. The state’s two constituencies in the lower house of parliament will vote in the first two rounds of the national elections on April 19 and April 26.

The political and armed Kuki leadership seeks to split off Kukiland as a distinct administrative region from Manipur. During the ethnic conflict, there has been a renewed demand for Kukiland.

Furthermore, the presentation claimed that armed groups from the Kuki tribe were supporting “volunteers” and that the militant groups from the Meitei community were arming individuals.

All of this has increased hostilities and hindered attempts by the leaders of both communities to portray the fight as a matter of regular people defending themselves against the other community.

The Assam Rifles as an organization did not support the opinions expressed in the presentation, as far as TRC could confirm.

However, Al Jazeera has examined the presentation and independently verified its credibility.

It is popularly claimed that the dominant Meitei community’s pursuit for Scheduled Tribe status—affirmative action that grants quotas of government employment and college admissions—was the direct cause of the violence, even though other tribal groups, particularly those from the Kuki-Zo community, rejected it.

Nevertheless, Assam Rifles representatives cited chief ministerial policies in their presentation that they felt fuelled the hostility between the groups. Singh’s “hard stance” on the “war on drugs” and “vocal social media dissent” were cited as contributing factors to the conflict, among other things.

Singh was charged in the presentation with sowing discord among the communities through the state’s effort to prevent drugs from being produced, traded, and sold in Manipur. His adamant opposition to the production of poppies, which are planted in the state’s high areas that border Myanmar, reinforced the sense that Kukis are his target.

The “dismemberment of law-and-order machinery” and “state forces’ tacit support” of the violence were also mentioned in the presentation.

The presentation identified “Meitei Revivalism” as another driving force to the violence. The term “revivalism” describes the long-standing Meitei community’s desire to return to its original identity prior to the introduction of Hinduism in the 18th century and the subsequent 1949 integration of Manipur into India. The campaign sparked the armed movements later on and brought Sanamahism back to life in the 1930s.

Two Meitei organizations, Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tenggol, are named in the presentation as perpetrators to the violence.

According to police sources, Arambai Tenggol was established in 2020 “under the aegis of the titular king of Manipur and BJP Member of Parliament Leishemba Sanajaoba.”

Meitei Leepun, another recently formed group, is thought to have been shaped by the principles of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella group for a number of radical Hindu groups, such as the BJP. Meitei Leepun’s leader openly declares his loyalty to Meitei leader and state chief minister Biren Singh, who leads the BJP.

Kuki leaders have accused Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tenggol of being the masterminds behind the Meitei community’s attacks on their people. Arambai Tenggol favors a more assertive Meitei nationalist position that is different from Hinduism, while Meitei Leepun supports the Hindutva movement spearheaded by the RSS and BJP.

Under the supervision of the Union government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two communities in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur have been embroiled in what is likely the nation’s longest-running ethnic conflict of the twenty-first century over the past 11 months.

There are already 60,000 displaced people, 1,100 injured, and 219 dead from the fighting. Numerous armed groups have come back to life as a result, recruiting men and youths from both populations. In the Kangpokpi area of Manipur, two Kuki-Zo “village volunteers” were slain on last Saturday and their bodies were reportedly disfigured. Tribal organizations said in their news release that the killings were carried out by “central security forces, who aided Meitei militants.”

It is a customary practice to oversimplify the conflict as a fight between the Christian Kuki-Zo and Hindu Meitei populations, which is reminiscent of the religious polarization observed in attacks on religious minorities and communal clashes throughout India. Sanamahism, the indigenous faith system of the Meitei group, is primarily followed in conjunction with a syncretic version of Hinduism, while the Kuki-Zo populations are nearly exclusively Christian. A lower percentage of Meitei people identify as Muslims and Christians.

7,831 reports of vandalism and events involving forced evictions recorded during the first two months of the conflict. A total of 189 cases of murders, assaults (including sexual assault), injuries, and missing persons were also registered. There were also 79 instances of widespread weapon theft.


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