The Commanding Officer of the Army’s Eastern Command, Lt Gen R.P. Kalita’s statement on November 21 in Gauhati Press Club that the ethnic violence in Manipur will stop after 4,000 odd firearms looted from the security forces in the state are recovered exhibits an incorrect understanding of the state of affairs in the beleaguered state.
It is strange that an Army Commander, who has been touted as one of the most knowledgeable of military leaders in the country, has trivialised the security situation in Manipur by stating that the possession of illegal arms is the reason for the present impasse in the “Land of Emeralds”. Illegal arms are wielded by miscreants, perpetrators and goons. The wielder will use it for a variety of reasons.
It must also be understood that in the case of Manipur the weaponry is being used at the behest of interested parties. The Arambai Tenggol or “dart wielding cavalry” (from its mediaeval Meitei roots) or the Meitei Lipun did not loot armouries and maim people of the Kuki and tribal communities on their own.
There is, of course, a leadership in persons such as Korounganba Khuman. But even a lay observer of such groups know that they have the support of not only the G-5 (earlier CorCom) which comprises Valley-Based-Insurgent Groups such as UNLF and PLA, but alleged political patronage as well.
It is important to understand that the deep seated animosity in Manipur between communities will not disappear even if there were no sophisticated weapons to battle one another.
The geographical setting itself is a reason for the divide.
As this author has been stating in his earlier columns, the co-existence of different communities, cheek-by-jowl, in the state was just being tolerated. There was always bitterness and sense of the “other” between Meiteis and tribals of Manipur.
This author has been witness to it ever since he had befriended members of both the communities while he was a student in St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. The accent, therefore, should be on engineering meetings of minds.
The Inspector General (South) Assam Rifles, while hosting a dinner for this author on 6 October 2023 in Imphal, had proposed a brilliant idea.
Major General. Rajan Sharawat felt that if six journalists each belonging to the Meitei community and the Kuki denomination could be brought to a place such as Guwahati or Shillong and made to sit across the table and confer, a beginning which is so imperative at this juncture in Manipur could be made.
Indeed, Gen. Sharawat requested this author to aid the process.
The problem in Manipur has to be addressed in a novel manner. The ethnic divide did not suddenly come to the fore with either the April 27, 2023 High Court judgement that the Metei community be considered for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list, nor when a Solidarity March was taken out by the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur on May 3, 2023 against the High Court judgement.
These were mere triggers that set off the fuse in the powder keg which was, in any event, raring to explode.
While it is important for the Indian army and the other security forces deployed in Manipur to ensure that the arms looted from various state armouries are recovered, the primary aspect that should govern trouble-shooting array in the state should be (a) reorganisation of the state on separate ethnic lines.
It is understood that such a recommendation is not going to be easy, especially as the majority Meitei community will not permit such a course of action. But it has also to be comprehended that the divide is complete with Churachandpur, for instance, having “become” New Lamka.
This author’s visit and interaction has informed him of this irreparable schism.
The recent call by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum for “self-rule” or “self-governed separate administration” in districts of Manipur which are dominated by the Kuki-Zo community has also sealed the envelope on the divide.
It is just as well that Imphal has termed it illegal, but the fact of the matter is that Kukis have refused to be governed by the Meiteis.
A neutral New Delhi should appreciate that it is encountering a grave problem and Gen. Kalita’s statement about recovery of arms and resolution is amateurish.
Light machine guns and AK-47s may be weapons that can harvest higher numbers of casualties and in a shorter time span. But as anyone with even an iota of knowledge about warfare and conflict would testify that machetes, sticks and stones are as intimidating and gruesome.
The issue, therefore, is not the 4000 weapons in the hands of mobs in Manipur, but the profound hatred that sits menacingly in the minds of the warring communities.
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In any event, groups such as Arombai Tenggol are also receiving arms from the valley-based-insurgent-groups that are entering Manipur with impunity with help from the NSCN (IM) who is presently watching the Meitei-Kuki war with glee. Indeed, the NSCN (IM) are selling arms to both the Meiteis and the Kukis.
Arms, therefore, will not disappear from the firmament even if the 4000 illegal arms are recovered. A statement to such an effect showcases very poor comprehension of the ground situation in Manipur by a senior military commander.
Manipur of the present, if it has to saved, needs out-of-the-box cerebration.
The suggestion, as aforesaid, that was made by Gen. Sharawat is great. New Delhi and all agencies charged with bringing back normalcy to Manipur should act on the lines that have been recommended by a first-rate military mind of the calibre and disposition of Major General. Rajan Sharawat.