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Kuki Armed Aggression on Meitei

by Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
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Kuki’s dream to create Zalen’gam (Kuki homeland) or Zogam (Zomi homeland where Kuki homeland would be a part) has always been active. To achieve it, they have adopted two correlated strategies; (a) Armed insurrection, and (b) Manipulate governance to their advantage. For the second strategy, Kuki elites are part of the collusion of forces across communities that collaborate with kleptocratic regime and extract maximum benefit for personal gain and communal agenda. They are amongst the powerful legislatures, bureaucrats, communal elites, and agents who work in collusion for gain at the cost of the general masses. While in the collusion, they work with the hidden agenda of manipulating administration to covertly carry forth the agenda of Zalen’gam or Zogam. Within the system, they trumped up tribal or minority victimhood cards both as bargaining mechanisms to extract maximum share of gain for themselves and for communal mobilisation. This is how a section of them could promote foreigner infiltration, transplantation of settler colonialists, cross-border narcoterrorism, poppy plantation, etc. without effective obstruction by Government for many years. As such, Kuki militants could freely operate, conscript more cadres, expand mass fronts, and increase armed power.
But the recent initiatives by the Government to check cross-border infiltration, population survey, war on drugs, destruction of poppy, afforestation measures, eviction of encroachers in Protected and Reserved forests, have threatened both the two correlated strategies mentioned above. They challenged the genuine demand from indigenous communities to arrest illegal infiltration and to regulate unrestraint migration. They could not tolerate any prospect of Meitei getting Scheduled Tribe status as it would affect their decades old domination in the State’s bureaucracy using ST quota at cost of other deserving minority or underprivileged tribal candidates. They therefore, play aggressive communal politics to obstruct the Government from the actions that affected Kuki elites’ vested individual opportunism and chauvinist communal interests. They devised tactics to create instability so that the incumbent chief minister is thrown out of the chair and replaced by someone who would kowtow to their trumped-up tribal victimhood card. This tactic is significant because Manipur never had any Chief Minister in the past who had ever confronted status quo on all these sensitive initiatives. If he is overthrown, it is quite uncertain if anyone who may come to power in near future would dare to take the risk of hurting Kuki elite’s opportunist aspiration and chauvinist communal goal.
Meanwhile, the valley districts also noticed counterpart Meitei communal forces (organisations and individuals) who would not remain silent to Kuki communal agenda. They are different from the conventional Meitei mass organisations who had always played big brothers’ role to defend Manipur’s collective identity by avoiding direct confrontation with any aggressive communal forces. These new organisations are as aggressive and provocative as Kuki communal protagonists. They are being dragged into communal browbeating by systematic fabrication of Manipur’s historical facts, twisted misinterpretation of historical events, communal propaganda by some Kuki organisations, intellectuals and social media bloggers. In fact, the growth of aggressive communal forces and provocative individuals has escaped the radar of the Government’s vigilance, intelligence and other democratic forces. Social media became a site of online confrontation and communal campaigns. Against the backdrop of all these communal browbeating and Government’s actions cited above; Kuki communal elites must have lost hope in the strategy of manipulating governance to their favour. The abrogation of SoO, if not stopped by some pressure tactics, would become a big blow to their covert but deferred tactic of armed insurrection. If premeditated communal violence would not unite immediately Kuki people and other allied cognates; Kuki elites’ parasitic roles at the cost of common people would soon be exposed by Meitei propaganda. It may cause divisions along Kuki clan lines getting sharper. In such a crucial situation, Kuki communal forces might have expected that Meitei would retaliate against violence with violence. Such retaliation would create a spiral of communal violence and unite Kuki and its allied cognates. Therefore, they decided for armed violence.
Kuki militants are confident in a surprise armed aggression on Meitei. They are confident because taking advantage of SoO they have built up strength and arms power. They are probably aware that Meitei insurgents are not active in Manipur. They cannot immediately enter Manipur and attack Kuki as they would have to first penetrate the powerful security defensive walls erected by the Indian armed forces along the international border. They might be aware that Meitei were rendered arm-less by the Government’s order in February 2023 that forced them to submit their arms license along with the arms registered on or before March 1, 2023. They might be expecting that by using trumped up minority or tribal victimhood cards and fabricated information they would convince the Government of India to deploy more forces against potential armed retaliation by Meitei. At the same time, as they did it with Nagas (1992-96), their armed aggression and ethnic cleansing would create exclusive and contiguous Kuki dominated areas freed from Meitei. They would create de facto boundary between Kuki occupied territory and Meitei settlement areas. Any retaliation by Meitei would be construed as attack on minority or tribal. Such propaganda would be used to claim for separate administration for Kuki. This is what the 10 Kuki MLAs exactly did when they released a press statement on May 12, 2023 demanded separation of Kuki homeland from Manipur. This is what the Zomi Chiefs Association exactly did when they submitted a memorandum to India’s Home Minister demanding a separate territory for Kuki based on invention of fabricated facts, twisting with facts and misinterpretation of history and the ongoing ethnic cleansing. Overall, Kuki elites have a premeditated and coordinated misinformation campaign to cover up the facts, mislead public opinion, and project Meitei and Manipur Government in wrong images.
Kuki armed aggression occurred on the occasion of protest against Meitei ST demand. But resentment against Meitei ST Demand was not the main cause. If they were purely against the High Court order of March 27, why would they attack forest beat offices and Meitei. They had other larger issues that they might have decided to settle violently. This is partly explained by the content of the statements released by Kuki organizations in support of the “solidarity march.” While solidarity statements by other non-Kuki tribal organisations exclusively focused on opposing Meitei ST demand, Kuki statements were beyond it.
For instance, on May 1, Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum warned, “No individual or organisation within the district [Churachandpur] should voice anything against the ongoing movement for our rights… The ongoing fight for our rights and the protest against Manipur Government’s unlawful exertion of power be continued in full vigour until our demands are met.” Joint Co-ordination Committee on Tribal Rights Manipur asserted to stand against “the step motherly treatment of the tribals by the BJP led Government of Manipur, underestimating the tribal rights including demolition of Churches, making more than 500 tribal villages overlapping to valley districts, illegally evicting tribal villages and cancellation of village gazettes where the list is unaccountable.”
Tribal Churches Leaders’ Forum, Manipur asserted, “this Solidarity March … is to collectively protect the social, political, and religious interests of the tribal people of Manipur.” On May 2, Joint U-NAU Delhi Tribal Students’ Forum stated, “We are also extremely dismayed by the highly discriminatory policies adopted and being implemented by the Government of Manipur under the guise of lawless laws and legal processes, including through the declaration of constitutionally protected tribal lands as protected forests, reserved forests, or wetlands.”The above texts exemplify multiplicity of vexed issues that they had decided to settle violently. The nature of violence and target explains that the solidarity marches in Kuki dominated areas were not meant to be peaceful. They seemed to be for an ethnic violent show down. They violently agitated on March 10, and April 27–29. Kuki Independent Army’s huge arms loot on April 8 was for violence. The “solidarity march” in all the hill districts was designed to portray it in a larger frame of all tribal manifestation, to gather solidarities by concealing diabolically premeditated violent agenda. They launched ethnic cleansing of minority Meitei from Kuki dominated districts.
(Writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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