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Walk the talk: On the Manipur crisis and reconciliation


A day after a searing speech by debutant Congress Member of Parliament, Bimol Akoijam, who questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the situation in Manipur, Mr. Modi responded by making his first substantial remarks in Parliament on the ethnic conflict that broke out over a year ago. While acknowledging the crisis, he asserted that adequate steps had been taken to restore law and order and that several institutions were functioning normally. He spoke of the need to “go beyond politics and bring peace and stability” to the State, but also blamed the Congress for the way it had handled similar incidents in the past, and suggested that the social tensions in the State are deep rooted. However, the effort must now be to focus on peace and not allow the stakeholders to continue to play the blame game. Mr. Modi has never shied away from claiming glory over achievements — his government’s or those of others — but his stock response to embarrassing questions or crises that show the regime in bad light has been one of silence. While such gestures have helped build his image and deflect criticism, the absence of a concrete reaction by the undisputed leader of India’s government to a crisis like Manipur has only exacerbated the problem. Albeit late, his remarks should revive the search for a way out of the crisis.

Manipur, unlike what Mr. Modi asserts, is not any close to normalcy. The people displaced during the conflict remain so; a report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre says Manipur accounted for 67,000 of the 69,000 displaced in South Asia last year. Kuki-Zo residents in Imphal and Meitei residents in Churachandpur among other areas are still unable to return to their homes. Even government servants and legislators from these communities remain displaced, affecting governance, welfare, schooling and health services. Self-claimed “village defence squads” or armed vigilantes still roam the valley and the hill areas as the conflict has spread to hitherto peaceful districts such as Jiribam. The State government’s remit has been supplanted by that of central agencies, as a de facto central rule, without the imposition of Article 355, seems to be in place even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah claims this has transpired with the “cooperation” of the N. Biren Singh-led government. Mr. Singh does not enjoy the confidence of his own partymen from the minority communities and any chance of a peace breakthrough or reconciliation remains difficult without any change in leadership. But neither Mr. Modi nor Mr. Shah has shown any inclination to effect it. Bluster and mere acknowledgment of the crisis will not solve the problems in Manipur and Mr. Modi has to become proactive in leading changes that will lead to peace and reconciliation.



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