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Home > 2023 > Sordid Manipur Ongoings and Modispeak | Sukla Sen

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 30-31, July 22 & July 29 2023

Sordid Manipur Ongoings and Modispeak | Sukla Sen

Saturday 22 July 2023, by Sukla Sen


The Background in Brief

In April this year, a Manipur High Court verdict, in a favourable response to a demand by the (Hindu) Meitei community — constituting the dominant majority in the state inhabiting the Imphal Valley — for a Scheduled Tribe status directed the state government to make a decision on the issue preferably within four weeks.

The (Christian) tribal communities, inhabiting the surrounding hill areas, took fright and protested. The All Tribal Student Union of Manipur (ATSUM) conducted a protest march in all hill districts on May 3rd.

By the end of the march, clashes broke out between the Meitei and Kuki populations in and around the Churachandpur district bordering the Imphal Valley.

That’s how it began.[1]

As of July 4th, as per official count, 142 people have been killed in the mayhem. 462 wounded. Approximately 54,488 people are displaced, internally.[2][3]

Prime Minister Mum

Despite the pot being very much on the boil and persistent demands by the Opposition and Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi in particular[4][5][6], the Prime Minister stubbornly evaded to utter a single word on Manipur. It appeared all-too-bizarre when he in his last Mann Ki Baat, on June 18th on the immediate eve of his US-Egypt trip, praised profusely the people of Kutch for the way they had tackled the cyclone Biparjoy — just a week back, and at the same time opted to spend not a word on Manipur.[7][8]

It would be pertinent to mention that while he did assiduously avoid Manipur while visiting many other states, he had since May 3rd been to seven foreign lands too.[9]

Also relevant, the opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, despite hurdles being put up by the local administration, succeeded in visiting the state in June-end and could engage with both the communities there.[10][11][12]

That made the Prime Minister’s hands-off approach look even more bizarre and conspicuous.

The Viral Video

In the midst of the ongoing turmoil, on July 19 a video showing two (Christian) Kuki women being groped and shoved while being paraded naked in public by a (Hindu) Meitei mob of around thousand got viral.[13]

As it transpires, the incident itself had occurred back on May 4th. And a zero FIR could eventually be filed at Saikul police station in Kangpokpi district at 8.30am on May 18. This would, however, be re-registered only on June 21 at Nongpok Sekmai police station in compliance with jurisdictional norms.[14]

Interestingly, "(a)t 10.44am, minutes after the Supreme Court said “if the government does not act, we will”, CM N Biren Singh took to Twitter to report that “suo motu”[!] action after the video surfaced had led to the first arrest in the case."[14] Clearly a textbook illustration of creative reconstruction of facts. Never mind. Later the same day, in an interview to a TV channel, when asked about the delay in apprehending the culprits, in order to rationalise he would glibly assert: "Hundreds of such incidents have happened."[15] Of course, the ghastly incident captured in the viral video is far from unique.[16] Regardless, this must very well count as an act of damning self-incrimination on the part of the Chief Minister. He, however, doesn’t seem to bother.

Prime Minister Speaks!

The PM, eventually, opened his mouth[17] — for some 1:55 minutes or so — outside the Parliament Building — only to slyly bracket Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Manipur together — after 78 days of the start of the mayhem and 77 days of this utterly shameful and shocking incident — pretty promptly following the Supreme Court taking due note and issuing threat to act[18], if the government doesn’t.

The Prime Minister would thereafter, however, be only briefly present in the Parliament and refused to speak as demanded by the Opposition. Thus, the opening two days of the Monsoon Session have already turned into a virtual washout — in both the houses.[19][20]

Here it is necessary to keep in mind that Article 355 - empowering the Union Government to take charge of the law and order situation in the state - was reportedly invoked back on May 4th.[21] There’s, admittedly, some confusion as regards the issue.[22]

Anyway, the promulgation of Article 355, if true, makes the Union Home Minister and the Prime Minister directly responsible for what’s happening since that day.

At any rate, the short and sharp delivery by the Prime Minister in his signature high-pitched theatrical style merits some close attention.
The important points made therein are:

I. It’s purely a law and order problem.

No ethnic dimension. No political dimension. No role of the state in provoking and encouraging violence.

II. Hence, no talk of any remedial political initiative to address the grievances of the feuding parties. No hint of any move at reconciliation. No appeal for peace.

III. No accountability of the people in command either.

IV. The solution is a police state. More state repression.

V. Apart from those, women are to be honoured and protected because they are our "mothers and sisters". The underlying premise appears to be that (i) they, having subsidiary identity, are not equal citizens and (ii) they need our protection. An echo of sage Manu!?

Also in a "masterstroke", Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Manipur are slyly bracketed together!

Be that as it may, as Modi made much of upholding the honour and ensuring the security of "our mothers and sisters" and also the strictest punishment for criminals, let’s recall that the BJP-run Government of Gujarat, with the explicit endorsement of his own government, celebrated Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav on the 75th Independence Day by prematurely releasing all the eleven convicts serving prison terms for life in Bilkis Bano gangrape and mass murder case.[23][24][25]

Moreover, the subject gangrape and mass murder, including that of the three-year old girl of Bilkis Bano, let’s not slip out of our mind, had happened under the watch of the Prime Minister then functioning as the state Chief Minister. Not only that, as the state government then did all that it could do to obstruct the process of justice to bring the culprits to book, on the NHRC intervention and Supreme Court’s order the case had to be transferred out of the state and the investigation taken over by the CBI.[26][27]

On top of all that, on release, these eleven would be publicly felicitated.[28]

Quite remarkably, that day morning too Modi, in his customary speech from the Red Fort, had sung paeans to women’s dignity and empowerment![29]

That’s his style and that’s his track record.

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[20] The panel discussion in it and the interjection by Ms B Nepram from Manipur is particularly noteworthy.
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