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'As long as such a leader is in place...'

May 22, 2023 11:24 IST

'Given the blood on his hands, it's really hard to believe that he (Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh) has the audacity and the moral numbness to hold onto power.'

IMAGE: Indian Army and Assam Rifles personnel conduct rescue operation in violence-affected Manipur. Photograph: ANI Photo

Paolienlal Haokip is the Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Saikot (a constituency reserved for Scheduled Tribes) in Churachandpur district in the hills of Manipur.

Haokip tells Prasanna D Zore/ why he feels the BJP government in Manipur is responsible for and complicit in the violence allegedly unleashed by a section of the majority Meiteis in the Manipur valley against the Kukis and ethnic tribals residing in the hills.

According to newspaper reports, more than 71 people have lost their lives after clashes broke out between the Meiteis and ethnic tribals and the Kukis.

"This is a point of no return which is forced by the majority community in collusion with the government and the chief minister. The Kukis never anticipated such kind of hatred," says Haokip, one of the 10 BJP MLAs who wrote to the Union home ministry seeking separation of administrative powers between the hill districts and the valley.

What is the situation in the valley right now? What is the state government doing to help the people suffering due to violence in the state?

Practically, nothing yet. The relief centres and relief efforts are mostly centered in the valley, and have hardly reached the hills. This is unfortunate.

90 per cent of the settlements of the Kukis or ethnic tribals have been burnt down or completely destroyed and their movable property looted. All their vehicles have been burned down.

The entire (Kuki and tribal) population has been transferred to the Kuki districts (in the hills).

I am not sure of the exact numbers, but anywhere between 35,000 and 40,000 people have been moved to Kuki-dominated districts in the hills, which are not necessarily their homes, but that's just for their safety.

What is Chief Minister N Biren Singh doing to restore normalcy in Manipur? The Union government has sent central forces, has that brought peace in the valley?

The situation in the valley is as good as normal now because there are no longer any Kukis or tribals left out there. At least the Kukis and ethnic tribals are no longer there.

But the hills are far from normal with no relief material reaching the relief centres. There's lot of chilling tension still there (in the valley and hills of Manipur).

The Kuki community people living on the fringes (of the hills) still fear attacks (from the Meiteis).

There were incidents of violence just a few days ago, but presently, I'm not sure if violence is happening. I am myself out of the state because I cannot land at Imphal.

There are still fears of violence occurring again.

IMAGE: Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh addresses a press conference in Imphal on May 8, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Is the state government not making efforts to curb the violence and create a sense of relief for the people in the state? Hasn't the state government acted against the perpetrators of violence in the valley?

When the head of the government is in complicity with the perpetrators of such violence, what do you expect from the state government?

That's a very serious charge against the chief minister. Would you have any proof of that?

Go to the Web site of the Arambai Tenggol (a youth organisation in Manipur) or that of Meitei Leepun and look at the pictures of the leaders of the those two groups colluding with the chief minister, consulting with the chief minister, who has been nurturing them.

Not only him, but the Rajya Sabha member (of the BJP) from Manipur, the so-called Maharaja, Leishemba Sanajaoba, has been openly in his Facebook account supporting those radical groups and these two (radical groups) are known throughout the state (for their anti-Kuki and anti-tribal activities).

Take this not only from me, but cross-check it with any rational, unbiased, Meitei. They will confirm it for you, and it's all on record.

As long as such a leader (N Biren Singh) is in place, there is no possible sense of security for the Kukis or any of the ethnic people (in Manipur).

BJP MLAs from Manipur's hill districts wrote to the Union home ministry and the BJP national president asking for separation of administrative powers between the hills and the valley. How will this separation of administrative powers actually work on the ground?

The separation is already affected by the majority (Meitei) community.

The only thing we are asking for is a formalisation of that separation from the Union government because the state government has completely not only failed to protect us, but is also a party to the ethnic cleansing of our people. So what options do we have?

We have written this letter to the Union home minister (Amit A Shah) and to the national president of the BJP (J P Nadda).

What response have you got from the Union home ministry as well as the BJP president?

Nothing from the president (Nadda) as yet; we met the home minister personally, who stressed on restoring some form of normalcy first and to address the issue (of separation of administrative power) thereafter.

How will this separate administration work out on the ground?

Once the population transfers are complete (of Meiteis from the hills to the valley and of the Kukis and tribals from the valley to the hills), and of the Kukis and ethic tribals (from the valley to the hills) because the majority community (the Meiteis) have demonstrated their hatred for the Kukis and ethnic tribals.

And once the state government has also shown complicity to such hatred, how it (the separation of administrative powers) works out is for time to tell, but we have to explore a separate administration. There's no other option.

IMAGE: Charred remains of a house days after violent clashes in Manipur. Photograph: ANI Photo

Is this is a point of no return for the Meiteis and Kukis in Manipur?

This is a point of no return which is forced by the majority community in collusion with the government and the chief minister. The Kukis never anticipated such kind of hatred.

We have demanded some form of autonomy in the past which was denied, but the existing provisions for rights on land administration have been ignored over decades, and now this (violence against the Kukis) shows the kind of hatred that they hold for us. So we have no option but to seek the protection of the Union of India.

Is the Manipur government under threat after the letter written by seven BJP MLAs from the hills and three of the allies which are supporting the government?

He (N Biren Singh) may have the numbers, but given the blood on his hands, it's really hard to believe that he has the audacity and the moral numbness to hold onto power after that (the violence that led to the deaths of more than 71 people in the state).

How many people do you think would need to be transferred from the valley to the hills and vice versa?

It is not that (transfer) because already our people have been physically cleansed from the valley.

What about their properties, their land, their belongings?

The movable properties have been already looted. A free rein has been given to looters all these days.

Why hasn't the Union government acted against the state government which, as you claim, has been violating its fundamental principle of safeguarding the lives and properties of its people? Would you say that the Union government remained a mute witness when the violence and mayhem spread in Manipur?

You will have to ask that of the Union government. I am in no position to comment on that.

Would you believe that the ethnic cleansing, that you say is what has happened in the valley, could have been stopped or contained had the Union government acted swiftly?

That is something you should put to them.

What are the people on the ground saying about the delay in the Union government sending central troops to the valley? What are people like you who are elected representatives think about it?

The Union government came in late because the state government would not requisition the help of the Union government (to send the central troops as soon as the violence started).

Clearly, the violence was allowed to go on so that only the Kukis and ethnic tribals could be cleansed.

Technically, you cannot blame the Union government because it is only when the state government, in whose hands law and order is placed by the Constitution, seeks the help of the Union that the Union of India can intervene.

Now, if the (state) government deliberately chooses to delay seeking the help of the Union government can (we, the people of Manipur) technically blame the Union government for it?

How long before the restoration of normalcy returns to the valley?

That is for prophets to prophesy.