Manipur bordering Myanmar is facing unprecedented violence since May 3, 2023 for reasons covered extensively in media. Union Home Minister Amit Shah made a three-day visit to Manipur beginning May 29 but the situation is worsening. On June 24 Shah chaired an all-party meeting on Manipur where opposition parties sought permission to send a delegation to Manipur, as well as removal of Manipur’s chief minister Biren Singh. In response, Shah stressed the need to tread cautiously in the volatile situation since every move can have consequences. He also said the government is making efforts to restore peace in Manipur.
But occurrences in Manipur on June 24 should make the nation hang its head in shame. What can be more disgraceful than 12 KYKL (Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup) terrorists apprehended by security forces (including self-styled Lt Col Moirangthem Tamba alias Uttam, with arms, ammunition and warlike stores) were forced to abandon the operation and hand back the KYKL terrorists to a mob of about 1200-1500 led by women and local leaders – read what the Army’s Spear Corps said at the following link:
Tamba alias Uttam is the mastermind of the KYKL terrorist ambush on a convoy of 6 DOGRA on June 4, 2015, killing 18 personnel of the unit. View this in backdrop of our cries at the UN and international forums for bringing to justice Pakistani terrorists and perpetrators for terror attacks in India and China vetoing even labeling them ‘terrorists’. Was this women-led mob lesser terrorists? The KYKL are Meitei terrorists and Indian Special Forces were launched to raid their camp inside Myanmar after the 6 DOGRA ambush in 2015. On whose invite is Tamba and associates inside Manipur and protected by locals? Can this be without the knowledge of the state government?
Earlier media reports said a mob of about 1,000 people attempting to burn down buildings near the palace compound on the night of June 16 was dispersed by the RAF firing tear gas shells. Another mob was reported near Manipur University – large numbers of attackers, including women, in military-style fatigue and khaki dresses and carrying “sophisticated weapons” reached Kwakta in Bishnupur district on trucks and LMVs; displaying their firearms, machetes, daggers, and improvised incendiary items openly.
Manipur has the history of using women as front. These women even shed all their clothes when protesting for removal of AFSPA in the past with obvious political support, photographs of which appeared in the media. Is this the Indian culture these Hindu women are parading to the world with not a word from politicians? With them now wielding firearms, aren’t ground reports of armouries not “looted” but weapons “distributed” true? Isn’t the State putting up posters asking for depositing weapons a poor joke? Is the Manipur Police compromised or are they doing as ordered?
With women successfully blockading roads in Manipur, why has the Centre not dispatched women units of the CAPF to Manipur even as the media says marching contingents in Republic Day Parade 2024 will be all women or women-led? Why has Biren Singh not asked for them and what about IPS officer Rajiv Singh, new DGP of Manipur who was earlier IG in CRPF? If they cannot even deal with women-led road block in Manipur, what combat situations can they be used in?
There is something called internal security assessment, which cannot be restricted to forecast how many votes which political party can pocket, how much state assembly and how many Lok Sabha seats can be won. China was training and arming the PLA of Manipur over past several years, arming-supporting Naga insurgents plus all Myanmar-based insurgents like the KYKL. It now has the opportunity to arm the Kuki-Zomi as well even though they had handed over their arms under an agreement earlier. Don’t we know that the Ataullah abu Ammar Jununi, head of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Myanmar is a Pakistani national who, in communication with Pakistan’s ISI and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), who is also getting funds from Saudi Arabia.
A proper internal security assessment of Manipur would indicate that the situation in Manipur has gone well past simple Meitei-Kuki ethnic hostility to well armed factions on both sides including terrorists organizations (like KYKL and ZRA – Zomi Revolutionary Army?), given that China-Pakistan would be foolish not to exploit such a self-inflicted asymmetric battlefield opportunity. To add to the seriousness of the situation, our present relations with Myanmar (courtesy the US) are hardly conducive to joint counter-terrorist operations.
Army in Manipur is in aid of civil authority but the practice of a magistrate accompanying military columns was dispensed with by Indian Governments long back because it is “convenient” for politicians. The judiciary is also happy because magistrates are saved the physical effort involved. There is little chance of the Supreme Court taking suo moto notice of the serious situation developing in Manipur. Instead, the judiciary would be waiting to take up human rights pleas against the Army, should the opportunity arrive.
A statement by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the predicament the Army is facing in Manipur is unlikely. On the contrary, Army in all probability would be instructed not to put factual ground reports in public. Army’s Spear Corps may even be reprimanded why it did so. Recall after the video clip showing PLA attacking an Army patrol with iron rods and stones next to Pangong Tso went on social media a few years back, instructions were issued prohibiting Army video recording such clashes. Resultantly, China keeps publicizing videos of the Galwan clash but we have no video clip to show PLA prisoners taken by our troops.
Finally, Union Home Minister Zail Singh (later President of India) was known to be entertaining and arming terrorists from Punjab in his official residence. Hopefully, Biren Singh is not treating KYKL terrorists similarly, or bringing them to Delhi for Amit Shah to follow Zail Singh’s legacy. But treating the crisis in Manipur as a simple Hindu (Meitei) – Christian (Kuki) fight and drawing as much political mileage as possible would not only be dangerous but akin to hiding one’s head in the sand like the Ostrich. Finding an early political solution to the problem will be crucial.
The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.