The ongoing violence in Manipur have not only brought to the fore the age-old issue of divide between the hills and valleys in Manipur, an issue that have dominated the socio-political ethos of Manipur since last several decades but also made it clear that a strong political intent is the need of the hour to end the divide rather than high sounding rhetoric.
The bloody violence since Wednesday in Manipur have so far rendered thousands of people homeless in the state in retaliatory attacks against each other. The Indian Army have claimed to have rescued over 9000 people to safer places in different districts of Manipur. Although the government agencies have remained tight lipped over the issue of casualty, unofficial sources said that several people were killed and several injured during the clashes. Thousands of houses belonging to the communities have been set on fire in different districts since Wednesday night.
The Central government had sent 12 companies of Central Armed police force (CAPF) including six companies of the riot handling Rapid Action Force (RAF) to assist the state police and CRPF in containing the situation. Home Minister Amit Shah reviewed the security situation with the Chief Ministers of Manipur and adjoining states, Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland.
Although the BJP led government in Manipur, who came to power for the second consecutive terms in the state, claimed to have bridged the gap between the hills and valleys, the ongoing violence is a clear indication that the gap is yet to be bridged, if not widened further.
Although Chief Minister N Biren Singh led government in Manipur launched “Go to Village” campaign to bridge the developmental gaps in the hills districts of Manipur and established facilities to provide the basic amenities like healthcare and others, the initiative seems to have lacked the much needed political will to usher in a long lasting solution to the long standing inter-community conflicts. The Chief Minister also held a cabinet meeting hills during his first term in office.
The violence also has its roots in the geography and demography of the state. Geographically, Manipur is divided into two regions, the hill and the valley. The valley lies in the central part of the state and it occupies only ten percent of the state’s total landmass with a population of 60 percent. However, the hills on the other hand, that surrounds the valley, occupy about 90 percent of the state’s total area with only 40 percent of the population.
The Meiteis, who are a dominant population in the valley, has been demanding their inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category which will help them get job reservation and also empower them to buy lands in the hills. So when the Manipur High court asked the state government to recommend the proposal for inclusion of the Meities in ST category to the Centre, the Kuki-Zomi group felt it was court’s support to the Meities.
The court order created fear among the hill tribes that if the Court paves the way for the ST demand to be fulfilled, they would be marginalized by the more powerful Meiteis who already have sweeping control over policy making and also land. Apart from this, the Kuki-Zomi group was hurt further when the High court issued show cause notice to them after they under the banner of All Tribal Students Union of Manipur criticized the court order and accused them of instigating the innocent hill people against the court order.
It is also shocking as to how the Chief Minister N Biren Singh-led government failed to anticipate what was coming in the form of protests by the tribal groups in the wake of the high court order on ST status to the Meiteis. The ongoing violence have clearly indicated that more action and political will is the need of the hour to end the divide between the hills and valley in Manipur and high sounding rhetoric used by the government have not been able to touch the hearts of those living in the hills.