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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 33, August 12, 2023

Modi’s perfunctory reaction to Manipur indicates a larger game | Faraz Ahmad

Saturday 12 August 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


August 10, 2023 may go down in the history of Indian Parliament and democracy a historic victory for the combined anti-communal, anti-democratic parties led by the Congress rechristened as INDIA, forcing a reluctant and petulant Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come to the House, though at the last minute and speak about the state of border state of Manipur, burning for over three months with communal clashes, under the watchful eyes of a BJP chief minister N.Biren Singh.

The Prime Minister after nearly 90 minutes of praising himself in a two-hour, frequently repetitive speech made a few perfunctory sentences about Manipur but it was those last sentences which exposed why he wasn’t too upset with the current Meiti tyranny against the tribal Kuki-zo Christian inhabitants of the hills when he claimed that during the Congress governments Manipur was “consumed in the conflagration of insurgency when the administration was under the sway of insurgents and the insurgents bombed the ISCKON temple when the bells of temples stopped ringing by 4 p.m. and security forces had to guard these locked temples.”

It is difficult to say how much of this is true or merely an unrepentant Modi replying to the allegations of the Mieitis of the Imphal valley burning down 300 churches in Manipur at the instance of their leaders call for ethnic cleansing of the Kuki tribals the only way to bring everlasting peace in the state. It now explains why the Prime Minister was turning a blind eye to the Manipur violence remote-controlled by chief minister Biren Singh all these months. And even after stoutly defending his government against the No confidence motion, the Prime Minister won’t commit if and when he proposed to go to Manipur or sack the chief minister, never mind the pleading of numerous delegations of the tribal people and coaxing and cajoling of the Opposition parties.

The BJP government’s resistance to raising any voice airing the plight of the Kukis is so domineering that the mic of a Mizo National Front (MNF) member of Rajya Sabha K. Vanlalvena was muted obviously at the instance of the chair. The MNF member an NDA ally, reiterating his commitment to Modi led alliance however said on record that he supported the Opposition sponsored no-confidence motion and called “the burning of 300 churches in Manipur “a new world history…it has never happened in Communist countries. Are we a secular state after burning over 300 churches. The hill areas of North-east belong to the tribal people and we must defend them…As far as the No confidence motion is concerned, the MNF supports the no-confidence motion only on the issue of Manipur.”

The MNF MP said. “The Kuki-zo tribes in Manipur belong to the Mizo community—they are our people. We are all Indians. The troubles in Manipur state have not been created by the Mynamarese refugees but by the Centre and the state governments. This was violence that was pre-planned by the Manipur government,” Mr Vanlalvena concluded later outside.

Such is the polarisation in Manipur between Biren Singh sponsored Meitis of Imphal valley and the Kukis that soon as the Parliament commenced the discussion on the issue, a delegation of 40 MLAs from the state, overwhelmingly Meitis including some Naga and even Muslims loyal to Biren Singh, arrived in the national capital and presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister’s staff, unable to secure an appointment with him. The memo demanded withdrawal of Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with Kuki groups, implicitly demanding resumption of armed suppression of Kukis by the state machinery. The 10 Kuki MLAs in the Manipur assembly (including those in the BJP, presumably) and the Congress legislators were not part of this delegation, the report stated.

Modi imagines all the time a mirror in front of him and preens how remarkable he is, accusing the Congress and INDIA group of trying to dismiss his popularity, charisma and winnability. But he and his darbaris were to be simply reminded how his alma mater the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) weighed his ability to deliver any more. In its May 3 issue, (incidentally the day when Meiti mobs had taken over the streets of Imphal burning, Kuki dwellings murdering men and stripping and gangraping Kuki women) the Sangh mouthpiece ‘The Organiser’ carried an editorial by Prafulla Ketkar in the context of BJP defeat in Karnataka and wrote, “For the BJP it is the right time to take stock of the situation. Without strong leadership and effective delivery at the regional level, Prime Minister Modi’s charisma and Hindutva as an ideological glue would not be sufficient. The positive factors, ideology and leadership, are genuine assets for the BJP when the state-level governance is operational,”

Modi and his darbaris may go to town over allegations of past corruption against Opposition leaders. But it is the BJP corruption that the RSS editorial dwelt upon. It said, “First time since Prime Minister Modi took the reins at the Centre, the BJP had to defend the corruption charges in an Assembly election.” Now this is not Rahul Gandhi speaking nor Mahua Moitra about Modi’s corporate bhai Gautam Adani. This came from Modi’s gurus and therefore cannot be dismissed lightly, however much Modi, supported by a hooting, thumping army behind him in Parliament, may laugh away Opposition charges against him on the strength of an overwhelming number of BJP MPs behind him.

Much as the Sangh may warn Modi that his charisma and Hindutva as an ideological glue may be insufficient, the last 110 months of his rule have demonstrated that the only thing he learnt for decades in the shakha of othering the minorities, (Muslims first, then Christians and others as well), has stood him in good stead. And so, in the next few months in the run-up first to a series of assembly elections, where the BJP is in direct confrontation with the Congress and then to the general elections, the country may witness very sharp and widespread communal polarisation. It seems to have succeeded in Manipur, by branding Kukis as Christian infiltrators from Myanmar. So upfront was the state patronage of the marauding armed troublemakers in the state that the Supreme Court while setting up two separate probing teams, judicial as well as investigating specifically directed the teams to probe the possibility of “collusion” of the state machinery.

The success of Manipur polarisation seems to have encouraged the BJP to try the same formula in Haryana, ruled by it. VHP and Bajrang Dal went full throttle to sow communal seeds in different parts of the state, attacking poor migrant Muslim labour and vendors. Monu Manesar, accused in the murder of Nasir and Junaid from Rajasthan and Bittu Bajrangi chose the Jal Abhishek Yatra to provoke the Muslims of Nuh by circulating videos of threats to rape girls and asking the youth to stand by to welcome them. As an observer remarked this was meant to create the kind of anger which would lead to violence and it did. The Haryana Police was aware of this yet the Police did precious little to at least scrutinise and weed out troublemakers from that yatra.

Monu Manesar has been enjoying state patronage since Nasir and Junaid were burnt to death in their car claiming without a basis or evidence of cow slaughter. With the photographs appearing of Monu in the company of senior Police officers of Haryana and even meeting Union Home Minister Amit Shah after that incident, it is crystal clear that the provocative action in Nuh was state-sponsored to drive a wedge between Hindus and their Muslim neighbours. For the time being It seems to be succeeding and serving the BJP purpose. And in the next few days the state bulldozers joined the VHP/Bajrang Dal goons to chase boycott and chase away Muslim residents of not just Gurgaon and its vicinity but even in Hissar and Sonipat and Panipat.

Noted American academic Ashutosh Varshney linked the sudden upsurge in the current spate of communal polarisation to the next general elections. He cited Southern America model where the white southerners of America have reduced the blacks to second-class citizens. That will be Modi’s Hindu Rashtra if he wins in 2024, said Varshney. He reminded how Donald Trump calculated that he needed only 70 per cent of the overall white votes to win the Presidential elections and he did.

Similarly, Modi needs only 50 per cent of Hindu votes to touch 40 percent overall and for this he needs to sharply polarise the Hindu voters and that’s what he is attempting at. The only problem, as he mentioned and is amply evident, is that this project succeeds only with state patronage therefore in BJP-ruled states. Since the VHP/Bajrang Dal and their offshoots do not enjoy state patronage in other states they are unable to create enough mischief to sufficiently polarise. If the BJP continues losing in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, and later in Haryana, its project may face some natural hurdles. On the other hand, if the Opposition makes a sincere attempt to reach out to the people with the message of fellow being and camaraderie as the panacea for many of their miseries, and the people react positively, that could neutralise Modi’s toxin.

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