- Manipur has been in the cross-currents of India’s oldest insurgent movements.
- Naga – The Naga movement (1950s) is the country’s longest-running insurgency which fights for the Greater Nagaland or Nagalim.
- Kuki – Kuki groups also have fought the Indian government for an ‘independent Kuki homeland’, spread across Manipur.
- The Kuki insurgency gained momentum after ethnic clashes with the Nagas of Manipur in the early 1990s.
- Meitei – The Meiteis in Manipur also opposed the merger agreement between the Manipuri king and the Indian government (1949).
Steps Taken by the Government
- Military Action:
- AFSPA: In 1980, the Centre declared the entire Manipur as a “disturbed area” and imposed the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to suppress the insurgency movement, which remains in force to date.
- Operation All Clear: Assam Rifles and the army had conducted operation “All Clear” in the hill areas, most of the militants’ hideouts had been neutralized, with many of them having shifted to the valley.
- Ceasefire Agreement:
- The NSCN-IM entered a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997, even as peace talks between them have still been continuing.
- The Kuki outfits under two umbrella groups, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and United People’s Front (UPF), also signed the tripartite Suspension of Operation (SoO) pacts with the Governments of India and Manipur on August 22, 2008.
- Many of their smaller outfits have however entered the SoO agreement with the state government, which has launched rehabilitation programs for such groups.
- However, major valley-based militant outfits (Meitei groups) such as the UNLF, PLA, KYKL, etc. are yet to come to the negotiating table.
Challenges in restoring peace in Manipur
- Many Conflicting Demands:
- The central government’s approach to a peaceful settlement with the militant outfits has proved counterproductive.
- Since, the demands of many of the outfits conflict with each other, any conventional agreement with one group becomes a cause for agitation by other groups.
- Proxy Groupings:
- Given that peace talks are on with the insurgent groups, there has been a tendency for the groups to continue the armed rebellion by another faction, with merely a change in nomenclature or by forming a new group.
- Politician-Insurgents Nexus:
- The nexus between the politicians and insurgents and criminals adds to the woes of the state.
- Some of the outfits operate as criminal gangsters thriving on extortion, kidnapping, and contract killings.
- Nonetheless, miscreants take advantage of the unrest and extort funds, disguising themselves as insurgents.
- Besides, most of the security issues are politicized by the political parties to gain mileage for vote banks by enhancing controversies.
- Border State:
- Manipur being a border state, with a porous international border in a hostile jungle environment, the inflow of arms and trans-border movement of insurgent outfits who rely on external countries for training and other required logistics support is continuing.
Reasons for the rise of Insurgency in Manipur
- Alleged forced merger and delay in granting statehood:
- The rise of separatist insurgency in Manipur is mainly attributed to perceived discontent over the alleged “forced” merger of Manipur with the Union of India and the subsequent delay in granting it full-fledged statehood.
- While the erstwhile Kingdom of Manipur was merged with India on 15th October 1949, it became a state only in 1972.
- Rise of Militancy:
- The later years saw a slew of militant outfits being formed, including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), and Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), among others.
- These valley-based outfits have been demanding an independent Manipur.
- The spillover effect of Greater Nagalim Demand:
- The Naga movement in neighboring Nagaland spilled over into Manipur’s hill districts with the NSCN-IM controlling most of it while pressing for “Nagalim” (Greater Nagaland), which is perceived in the valley as a “threat” to Manipur’s “territorial integrity”.
- Valley-Hills Conflict:
- While the hills account for nine-tenths of Manipur’s geographical area, they are sparsely populated, with most of the state’s population concentrated in the valley.
- The Meitei community forms a majority in Imphal Valley, while the surrounding hill districts are inhabited by Nagas and Kukis.
- Naga-Kuki Conflict:
- In the early 1990s, the ethnic clashes between Nagas and Kukis led to the formation of several Kuki insurgent groups, which have now scaled down their demand from a separate Kuki state to a Territorial Council.
- The further continuance of insurgency led to the formation of smaller outfits like the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), People’s United Liberation Front (PULF), and other splinter groups.
- In 1964, the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a meitei insurgent group, was formed, demanding secession from India.
- Subsequently, numerous Meitei insurgent (valley insurgent) groups like the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) came into being.
- Naga-Kuki clash – The land that the Kukis claim to be their ‘homeland’ in the Manipur hills overlaps with the Greater Nagaland or Nagalim.
- The NSCN-IM entered a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government only in 1997.
- Kuki-Zomi – In 1993, a massacre of Kukis by the NSCN-IM left thousands of Kukis homeless.
- The Kuki-Zomi tribes organized various armed groups as a reaction to this aggression of Nagas.
- Meiteis and Meitei Pangals (Muslims) – Similar clashes were taking place between them which led to the formation of the Islamist group People’s United Liberation Front (no longer active).
Violence in Manipur
Manipur has over 35 communities living in the valleys and hills and these communities have a history of violent clashes since olden times.
Manipur has 16 districts; however, “valley” and “hill” districts are how most people conceptualize the state’s division.
- The present-day valley districts of Thoubal, Bishnupur, Imphal East, and Kakching were formerly a part of the kingdom of Kangleipak, which was controlled by the Ningthouja dynasty.
- The Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi group, which consists of the Kuki, Thadou, Hmar, Paite, Vaiphei, and Zou peoples, and 15 Naga tribes dwell in the valley, which is surrounded by low hills (hill lands make up the majority of Manipur’s geographical area).
- Naga tribes who descended from the northern hills frequently invaded the Kangleipak kingdom, which was then a protectorate of the British.
- The Kuki-Zomi were sent to Manipur from the Kuki-Chin hills of Burma by the British political agent there to serve as a barrier between the Meiteis and the Nagas and defend the valley from looting.
The recent ethnic violence in Manipur
Recently, a violent ethnic clash erupted in Manipur, which has led to widespread violence, death, and displacement.
The clash involved the Meitei people, who are the majority residing in the Imphal Valley, and the tribal community from the surrounding hills, including the Kuki and Zo people.
The conflict stemmed from the Meitei people’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status under the Indian Constitution, which would grant them privileges similar to those of the tribal communities.
The situation escalated after a Manipur High Court verdict directed the state government to decide on the issue.
The Indian Army deployed troops and imposed curfews to restore order, while investigations and peace committees were established to address the root causes of the violence.
Ethnicity of Manipur
The Meiteis are the largest community in Manipur.
There are 34 recognized tribes, which are broadly classified as ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ and ‘Any Naga Tribes’.
The central valley in the state accounts for about 10% of the landmass of Manipur and is home primarily to the Meitei and Meitei Pangals who constitute roughly 64.6% of the state’s population.
The remaining 90% of the state’s geographical area comprises hills surrounding the valley, which are home to the recognized tribes, making up about 35.4% of the state’s population