Manipur is not new to ethnic tensions and strife. But peace was restored each time through persistent efforts by the state government.
Context: This time around, the task of restoring peace in Manipur seems to be hobbled by seemingly unsurmountable hurdles.
Primarily, the Kukis simply do not trust Chief Minister Biren Singh and his administration, including the state police.
They accuse the police and administration of being complicit in the attacks on Kukis and doing nothing to rein in the Meitei groups targeting Kukis.
Kukis distrust Meitis and the state government. The reasons are many, as explained comprehensively by Jaideep Mazumdar in Swarajya today. In this email, let’s go over the main points:
Earlier this year, the Manipur government unilaterally declared many areas as reserve forests and evicted hundreds of Kukis from the lands.
The population of Kukis has witnessed an exponential rise in recent years. Large-scale illegal immigration from Myanmar has been cited as a reason by the state government.
More Kukis than Meities became victims — loss of life and house, and displacement — of the ethnic violence. Kukis hold that they suffered more because the state administration was biased against them.
Kukis say that Meiteis’ demand for ST status is a ploy by the majority community to take over lands belonging to the Kukis in the hills.
Two sides to the story. Meiteis allege that Kukis are seeking a demographic change in Manipur.
Kukis numbered 4.7 lakh in 2011, making up about 16.4 per cent of Manipur’s population.
According to reliable estimates, the population of Kukis in 2022 was 9.26 lakh.
If the Kuki population is projected using the 2021 state birth rate of 13.3 (per thousand), Kukis should have numbered about 5.4 lakh in 2022.
Where did the ‘extra’ Kukis come from? Meiteis and the state government say they are illegal immigrants from Myanmar.
Meiteis say Kukis are working towards a demographic change in Manipur and, therefore, an exercise to update the NRC should be conducted to detect illegal immigrants from Myanmar.
Meiteis also allege that the Kukis coming in from Myanmar have taken to large-scale cultivation of poppy in the hills, turning Manipur into a major producer of opium and a hub of the drug trade.
Meiteis also feel it is grossly unfair to be denied the right to own properties in areas outside Imphal Valley.
Other factors hindering peace. The widespread availability of arms, inept peace moves by the Centre, delayed intervention by New Delhi, and a lack of out-of-the-box thinking are among the other factors, described in detail in Mazumdar’s article.
Bottom line: A loss of faith in the state administration by both Meiteis and Kukis is now the major hurdle in the path of a return to peace.