No End in Sight
There is no end in sight to violence in Manipur with attacks being reported at regular intervals since the unprecedented ethnic conflict broke out between the Meitei and the Kuki-Zo communities in Manipur more than eight months ago, claiming more than 200 lives and rendering thousands homeless. After ending the year 2023 on a bad note with several security personnel being injured in attacks carried out by armed groups on New Year’s Eve, and a ‘village volunteer’ being killed in another gunfight, the state was rocked by fresh violence on New Year’s day as heavily armed militants killed five people (including two who succumbed to injuries later) and injured more than a dozen in Thoubal district. Amid fears of January 1 firing incident erupting into another communal conflict, the state government promptly intervened and averted it by signing an MoU with the Joint Action Committee (JAC) which was formed by people of Lilong, predominantly settled by Meitei Pangals (Meitei Muslims) in connection with the incident. A Special Investigation Team has also been constituted to probe the matter. The state government has nipped the case in the bud, which is commendable. After all, nobody wants a repeat of the 1993 Meitei-Pangal riots that claimed more than 100 lives. Had the government adopted such an approach, the ethnic conflict that erupted in May last year might not drag on for months.
Manipur is paying the price for allowing civilians and armed groups to take law into their own hands. Mob looted thousands of arms and ammunitions from police stations during the initial days of the conflict, and much of it remains un-recovered. These weapons won’t help restore peace in the state. Individuals and groups were said to be brandishing firearms and roaming on the streets, in an utter disregard for law, for which Chief Minister N Biren Singh had warned of taking strict action. However, this is a result of the failure to deal firmly with the lawbreakers when the conflict broke out on May 3 last year. The state government should learn a lesson from this lapse and take all possible measures to end the ongoing conflict which has not only caused untold sufferings to the warring groups but also affected people from other communities in Manipur and neighbouring states. The government of India should understand the violent history of the state, which is home to many armed outfits, and intervene on the matter. Or else a long drawn-out conflict can escalate terror activities in the state and can spread to neighbouring states as well.