In the past eight months, Manipur has been witness to a profound travesty of justice. Homes have been displaced, lives lost, and the dignity of women violated, leaving the remnants of the day on the brink of ruin. The haphazard attempts to restore normalcy in the state are perplexing, and as ethnic tensions escalate, a disconcerting trend has emerged – the state seems to be relinquishing its responsibilities to a radical group, Arombai Tenggol.
This group, self-styled as the “dart-wielding horsemen” protecting Meitei supremacy, has taken alarming measures. On January 24, their leader, Kourounganba Khuman, coerced 37 Valley-based legislators and two MPs to take an oath in front of Manipur’s primordial deity Pakhangba to “protect Manipur.”
While such vigilantism is not entirely new in the North East, the severity of the chastisement witnessed in Valley Manipur is troubling. Some of the demands conveyed to New Delhi, such as instituting a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Manipur and border fencing with Myanmar, may seem valid. However, other demands, such as the replacement of Assam Rifles, abrogation of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) with Kuki militants, and the removal of “illegal Kuki immigrants” from the ST list, pose potential dangers.
The Kangla Fort episode occurring after a Government of India team visited Imphal adds to the disconcertment. The SoO with Kuki militants, formalized in 2008, has faced criticism, but its abrupt termination may exacerbate violence between the Meiteis and Kukis. The weapons looted by groups like Arombai Tenggol after the events of May 3, 2023, are now being wielded to threaten and harm.
A dialogue process is crucial for reducing violence, and New Delhi should resist the abrogation of an arrangement that has endured for 15 years. If issues arise due to ethnic conflicts, reinforcing the SoO ground rules should take precedence. Prudence dictates course correction, not severance, guided by the principles of law.
Similarly, the removal of illegal migrants among the Kuki population requires careful consideration, acknowledging the complexity of historical and social factors. A call for an NRC exercise with a 1951 cut-off date might address concerns of illegal migration automatically.
As for the demand to replace the Assam Rifles from the Valley, it appears unfounded. Accusations of partisanship must be weighed against the force’s historical contributions, acting decisively against both Meitei insurgents and Kuki militants.
In the Republic’s 75th year, it is disheartening to witness a call for the removal of a force that has diligently served Manipur. The radicalization symbolized by Arombai Tenggol demands vigilant attention, and a balanced approach is needed to navigate the intricate web of Manipur’s socio-political landscape.