By: Rajkumar Bobichand
It seemed that the violent conflict between the Kuki-Zomi and the Meiteis that erupted on May 3 in Churachandpur and its bordering areas of Bishnupur district would be brought under control as soon as soon as the Government of India sent Kuldiep Singh as Security Advisor.
However, even as the violent conflict has passed five months – 158 days, the attacks on the Meitei villages from the surrounding hills and counter-attacks from the peripheries of the valley areas continue unabated.
Most recently, it was reported that a gunfight erupted on October 5 around 5 am in New Keithelmanbi area on NH 37 after alleged Kuki militants launched an attack with guns and bombs at Moidangpok Khunou under Patsoi Police Station, Imphal West and New Keithelmanbi Meitei Village on October 4 night.
Notably, to contain the violence, the Government of India on May 4 sent the retired IPS officer and former CRPF chief Kuldiep Singh. As its security advisor as soon as Kuldiep Singh arrived in Imphal, he took over his responsibilities on matters of security besides law and order.
Consequently, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Ashutosh Sinha, a senior IPS officer was ordered to take over the command of all state forces and designated overall operational commander to control and bring normalcy in the state.
The order further stated that Ashutosh Sinha will work under the direct guidance and supervision of Security Advisor Kuldiep Singh.
Then, the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah had landed in Imphal in late evening on May 29 and made a big announcement that the Unified Command will be chaired by the Security Advisor, which is normally chaired by the Chief Minister of the State.
Here, it is pertinent to ask how and why a security advisor can chair the Unifed Command of the State. Many still raise the question.
Notably, national media houses broke on May 4 that the Centre invokes Article 355 in Manipur to ensure state security.
Article 355 of the Indian Constitution entitled, “Duty of the Union to protect States against external aggression and internal disturbance” reads, “It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
The question of Centre invoking Article 355 in the state of Manipur on May 4 was first raised in the media with the appointment of retired senior IPS officer Kuldiep Singh as Security Advisor for Manipur by the Government of India. Besides the Security Advisor, a new DGP was also despatched by the Union Home Ministry soon after.
However, the Security Advisor Kuldiep Singh himself had denied the imposition of Article 355.
Moreover, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had contradicted the news-reports of Article 355 being invoked in Manipur. Further, the MHA stated that it has no information on any notification issued by the Centre under Article 355 of the Constitution between January 2023 and June 13, 2023.
However, the confusion over the invocation of Article 355 remains unclear because the then DGP Paotinmang Doungel, IPS officer who belongs to Kuki tribe, had on May 5 claimed that the Centre had invoked Article 355 to address the state’s security concerns.
Furthermore, the Chief Minister of Manipur, Nongthombam Biren reportedly told a students’ delegation on September 27 that he is handicapped with the imposition of Article 355 in the state of Manipur to intervene in matters of law and order.
Earlier, the Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren refused to give a categorical answer to it and once in a press conference he also told the media that he chaired a meeting of the Unified Command.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Manipur unit on September 29 has written a letter to BJP National President, JP Nadda, flagging public’s anger as the government remains unsuccessful in controlling the violent conflict, and Article 355.
Top eight office bearers of BJP Manipur including party Spokeperson Elangbam Johson and led by State President Aribam Sarda wrote a letter to the National President JP Nadda. The leaders have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the mounting concerns.
Notably, the letter comes after a mob in the night on September 28 tried to attack the ancestral house of Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren, but security forces dispersed the mob.
Besides, a mass student protest bursted out in the state capital Imphal on September 26, a day after photos of the bodies of the two students Phijam Hemanjit and Luwangbi Hijam Linthoingambi, who went missing since July 6, went viral on social media. Even though the State government imposed total curfew anticipating mass protest, thousand of students took out protest rallies on September 27 also in different parts of the State. Security forces fired tear gas shells, smoke bombs and pellets upon the protesting students and about 200 students altogether in two days of the protest were injured and hospitalised with some are in critical conditions.
“Public anger and protest are now slowly turning the tide, putting the responsibility of this prolonged disturbances solely into the failure of the government in dealing with the situation,” the BJP leaders said in the letter.
The BJP Manipur unit pointed out that the current unrest has persisted for more than four months, spanning from May 3, 2023, to the present day. The letter highlights the significant hardships faced by the general public during this period.
The letter also urged JP Nadda to communicate with the Home Ministry for the expedited completion of the campaign to biometrically register illegal immigrants from Myanmar. This would facilitate the early implementation of the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) in the State.
The BJP Manipur unit has also called for the immediate restoration of traffic flow along the two national highways, the only life lines of the State. The State BJP leaders recommend that both the Central and the State governments employ all possible means, including coercive measures such as arresting troublemakers, to maintain traffic along these highways.
The letter also pointed out the urgent need to resettle and rehabilitate displaced individuals in their original places of residence. It calls for the government to fulfill its promises regarding compensation for those who lost their homes and provide ex-gratia payments to the injured and deceased.
Regarding the Suspension of Operations (SOO) ground rules, the letter suggests that any violation of these rules be treated as an act of terrorism and handled accordingly by both the Central and State governments.
The BJP Manipur leaders, in the letter, urged the BJP National President JP Nadda to push for the revocation of Article 355 if it has been imposed in the State, proposing that full command of the unified command be restored to the Chief Minister to enhance public confidence in the government’s ability to address the situation.
Given the different statements from the Security Advisor Kuldiep Singh, the then DGP P Doungel, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren and Union Home Ministry about the invocation of Article 355 in Manipur, besides the leaders of BJP Manipur writing to National President Nadda to push for revocation of Article 355, it is apparent that the leadership of BJP Manipur is still in darkness about the responsibility of law and order of the State even as the violent conflict has passed five months.
(The author is a Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics)
Manipur BJP Leadership Still in the Dark About its Law and Order Responsibility Even as Conflict Crosses Five Months
By: Rajkumar Bobichand