BY P.K. BALACHANDRAN/Sunday Observer
Colombo, July 16: The violent Meitei-Kuki conflict in the Eastern Indian State of Manipur, which has claimed 142 lives and displaced more than 40,000 people since May 3, is getting more complicated by the.
Worried about the Myanmar angle, Indian Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane was in Naypyidaw, Myanmar from June 30 to July 1 to discuss “illegal trans-border movements and transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and smuggling.”
“The visit provided an opportunity to raise matters relating to India’s security with the senior leadership of Myanmar,” an Indian Defence Ministry statement said.
“Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring that their respective territories would not be allowed to be used for any activities inimical to the other,” it added.
Aramane met the head of the Myanmar military junta and Chairman of the State Administrative Council (SAC), Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. He also called on the Defense Minister of Myanmar Gen. Mya Tun Oo (Retd.), the Commander-in-Chief, Myanmar Navy Admiral Moe Aung and the Chief of Defense Industries Lt. Gen. Khan Myint Than.
Noting that India’s Eastern States, including Manipur, share a 1,700-km-long, mostly unguarded border with Myanmar, the Indian Defence Ministry said any development in that country would have a direct impact on India’s border regions.
“Peace and stability in Myanmar and the well-being of its people, therefore, remain of utmost importance to India,” the Ministry added.
Myanmar is wracked by ethnic and religious tensions between the Buddhist Bamar majority, a multiplicity of Christian tribes, and the Muslim Rohingyas.
Complicating matters further, the Indo-Myanmar Border is porous. And as the people on both sides have cultural and ethnic ties, there is constant border crossing and insurgent groups as well as arms and drug smugglers go in and out.
The Manipur-Myanmar border is an “open” one for the Kuki, Chin and Zo people and they can go up to 16 km into Myanmar without passports and visas and stay for three days.
The Meiteis, who are Hindus and are four fifths of Manipur’s population of four million, are at odds with the Kukis who are mostly Christian. The Meiteis accuse the Kukis of harbouring kindred tribals like Chin and Zo, from Myanmar, thereby swelling the tribal population in Manipur and upsetting the social, cultural and population balance there.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah told a press conference in Manipur on June 1 that a permanent solution to the violence in Manipur lay in an effective sealing of the border with Myanmar. Shah said that a tender had been floated for fencing the border.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also visited the troubled State recently and urged restraint on all sides.
No doubt the proposal to fence the now-open border pleased the Meiteis but the Kukis would have none of it. Additionally, sealing the border will infuriate the Mizos of Mizoram who allow fellow Christian Kukis and Chins to come to Mizoram. The Mizoram administration in fact looks after them as a matter of official policy.
The Kukis of Manipur challenge the charge that there has been unbridled migration from neighbouring Myanmar, especially of criminal groups like drug smugglers.
They defend poppy cultivation and the poppy trade saying that these are time-honored occupations among them. The Kukis allege that the propaganda about unbridled Kuki migration is a devious ploy to drive the Kukis out of Manipur.
In August 2022, the Manipur State Assembly (MSA) passed a resolution setting up a Population Commission (PC) to test the theories about immigrations. By April, the PC had identified 1,147 undocumented Myanmar nationals in the Kuki-dominated districts of Manipur.
“Violence in Manipur: The Larger Story,” published by the Delhi Manipur Society, charged that 355 new villages in the Kuki-dominated Kangpokpi district and 262 in Churachandpur district had come up in the past five decades. The society has demanded a bar on Kuki migration from Myanmar.
In addition, the Meiteis have demanded “tribal status” for themselves so that they could buy land reserved for the Kukis in the Kuki-populated hill areas. The Meiteis’ demand for tribal status infuriated the Kukis who, as constitutionally recognised “tribals”, already enjoy some privileges like control over their ancestral lands and reservations in Government jobs.
Violence began when the Manipur High Court (MHC) asked the Manipur Government to tell the Central Government to put the Meiteis in the Tribal List.
Upon hearing this verdict, both sides indulged in a violent orgy using sophisticated weapons either looted from Government armouries or smuggled from next-door Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the Indian Government has opposed a planned debate on the Manipur crisis in the European Union (EU) or rather the European Parliament , saying it is an internal matter.
This came in the midst of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State visit to France, where he was the Chief Guest at the Bastille Day Parade on Friday (14).
Some European MPs have demanded the inclusion of a discussion on the situation in India’s northeastern State in the EU Parliament agenda for a debate on “cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Manipur”.
“We made a reach-out to the concerned EU Parliamentarians,” Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told journalists in New Delhi on Wednesday. “We made it very clear that this is a matter absolutely internal to India.”