Why is Manipur in flames?

   By Vijay Darda | 08-05-2023

Bring development and crack down on drug trade for peace

Vijay Darda

The valleys of Northeast India are breathtakingly beautiful. They are so enchanting that you’ll fall in their love at first sight! This region is remarkable due to the hundreds of rivers that flow in the lap of steep mountains and dense forests. These North-Eastern states are also popularly known as the ‘Seven Sisters’. They are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura.

These states have their tribes and have historically relied on one another for their necessities, hence the name ‘Seven Sisters’. A look at the map of India reveals that a short corridor connects them to mainland India. This corridor is known as the ‘chicken neck’ because it is narrow and it looks like a hen’s neck.

When the news of violence from the beautiful valleys of ‘Seven Sisters’, reports of how the army is becoming a target of attacks and the proliferation of drug trade stream in, my heart cries. Everyone wonders why there is so much violence on one pretext or another. Why do extremism and terrorism thrive there? The most recent instance is that violence took place in Manipur and then it spread to Meghalaya.

In general, tribal groups are said to be enraged by the attempt to grant tribal status to non-tribal Meitei people. The Meitei community accounts for 64% of Manipur’s overall population. Manipur has 60 MLAs, with 40 from the Meitei community. Only 20 MLAs represent the 33 tribes that live in 90% of the difficult mountainous terrain. Meiteis are predominantly Hindu, with a few Muslims, whereas the Naga, Kuki, and other tribes are predominantly Christian. As a result, this issue has taken on a religious hue. I have always maintained that politics of religion should be discarded.

However, the issue is more than just politics of religion. There’s also the issue of drugs. The evil international drug trade has thrived not only in Manipur, but throughout Northeast India. Every month, large consignments of heroin are seized. We’ll get into the details of this drug trade another time. In short, our neighbouring country first got people addicted to drugs and is now sending them to India on a big scale. Opium, which is illegally farmed in Manipur, is being supplied to other parts of the country as well.

Since Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh has declared a war on drug mafia and is eradicating opium cultivation, the drug mafia is desperate to depose him at any cost. I believe the Chief Ministers of all the states in Northeast India, as well as the Central government, should take strict action against the drug mafia, with such severe penalties that no one would dare to run drug business in India.

Apart from the latest tragic incidents in Manipur, there have been numerous challenges in other Northeast states since Independence. I’ve travelled to many states there as a tourist and as a member of the Parliamentary Committee. I’ve seen the Northeast suffer from a lack of resources and a sense of neglect. There were no means of employment at that time, and rail and air communication is still not as prevalent as they should be. There are young players present, but no sports facilities. Dissatisfaction is certain to grow in such an environment of apathy. How will peace be achieved? I was stunned when a person told me that he was going to India when he was actually coming to Delhi!

Many tribes have been demanding autonomy. Neighbouring countries have added fuel to the fire and have nurtured extremism and terrorism on a large scale. Even today such extremists are active in many states of the Northeast. I have seen the road leading to Nagaland remaining closed for months. It is not that the Central government never intervened or attempted to resolve the conflict. Almost every prime minister made an effort in this regard. Although talks with insurgent groups have had some progress, the Northeast has never been totally quiet. In addition to Bangladeshi infiltrators, Myanmar infiltrators have exacerbated the situation.

Modiji is the first Prime Minister who has made more than 50 visits to the region with the slogan of a peaceful, developed, and conflict-free Northeast. So many visits by the Prime Minister to a particular region in nine years is not an ordinary thing. It is the result of his and Home Minister Amit Shah’s efforts that several groups of extremists came to the negotiating table. Many agreements have also been reached. Efforts to resolve the dispute between the states are going on nonstop. Recently, Shah ended the dispute over 123 villages between Arunachal and Assam. Government data says that in the last nine years, about 8,000 youths have given up arms and joined the mainstream. Violence has decreased by 67%, deaths by security forces fell by 60%, and civilian deaths by 83%.

However, instead of getting entangled in figures, it is more important to focus on finding a permanent solution to destroy the gunpowder on which the Northeast is sitting. It is obvious this cannot be done in a day, but if all the parties of the country, the chief ministers of all states, all opposition leaders are determined, then the work is not difficult either. Now the time has come to abolish the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which is applicable in many areas of the Northeast. So many means of employment should be made available to the youth there that they should not look for any other way.

Apart from this, it is very important to change the attitude of ordinary citizens towards the Northeastern states. For this, first of all the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system to go to Arunachal, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland should be abolished. If the people of these states can go to other states without any hindrance, why shouldn’t the people of other states go there? If the movement increases, people of the plains will probably be able to better understand the Northeast. There is a need to develop tourism in a grand manner and make way for development through local resources. There is a great need for an all-party comprehensive policy to solve the problems of the Northeast.

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