BJP on the back foot in N-E as shadow of Manipur violence looms over 2024

BJP on the back foot in N-E as shadow of Manipur violence looms over 2024

IANS Photo

Imphal, December 23 (IANS) The ethnic violence in Manipur between non-tribal Meiteis and Kuki-Zo tribals was one of the key issues in the November 7 Mizoram Assembly polls and the ethnic hostilities and their associated political facets would certainly be major topics in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls not only in northeastern states but across the country.

The eight-month-long ethnic unrest in Manipur jolted the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after seven of its MLAs along with three other legislators of another party not only demanded ‘separate administrations’ (equivalent to a separate state) for the tribals but repeatedly asked Chief Minister N Biren Singh to quit and slammed the BJP leaders for the prevailing unrest.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Central and state BJP leaders and the Chief Minister on a number of occasions summarily rejected the ‘separate administrations’ demand of ten MLAs and various tribal parties, including the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF) and Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM).

All Opposition parties, led by the Congress, also severely criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his silence on the Manipur violence.

Making the protracted ethnic bloodshed a major national issue, the Opposition parties also slammed Amit Shah for his “wrong handling” of the issue.

Modi, who was scheduled to visit Mizoram for the Assembly election campaign on October 30, had cancelled his trip and the BJP had said that the Home Minister would campaign for the party candidates but he also did not visit the Christian-dominated state ahead of the polls.

Commenting on the cancellation of Modi’s visit, Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh had said that the PM cancelled his Mizoram election rally due to his silence over the Manipur violence.

Ramesh had said in a post on X, “The Prime Minister was to address an election rally in Mizoram on October 30. But now there are reports that he has cancelled his visit. Could it be because questions would be raised that he had not found time to visit the deeply-troubled neighbouring state that has been on the deep edge for almost 180 days… with what face would he go to the rally in Mizoram?”

Ten like-minded parties' bloc in Manipur led by the Congress, held rallies and many other agitational events and submitted memoranda to the state Governor Anusuiya Uikey and the Central Government claiming that the Central and state governments have “chosen the path of non-intervention to the crisis of clash between the ethnic groups.”

The leaders of ten parties, led by former three-time Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh (2002-2017) had told the Governor that despite the crisis in Manipur stretching over several months, no meaningful peace talks with the stakeholders were in sight.

“The Centre and the state government are trying to sideline the main reasons behind the crisis by taking shelter behind the theory of a conspiracy by outside militant organisations to attack India. Finding a solution by correctly analysing the causes behind the crisis requires no emphasis. It is high time that the Centre and the state authorities engage in a peace process to bring normalcy to the state,” the memorandum to the Governor said.

They added that because of the inability of the state and Central machineries to manage the failure of law and order in the state, local civil societies were trying to fill the gap of missing governance by resorting to agitations and pronouncements.

The ten parties, which also include the Aam Aadmi Party, TMC, CPI(M), CPI, Forward Bloc, RSP, Shiv Sena-UBT, Janata Dal-United and Nationalist Congress Party, demanded that the Government talk to all stakeholders for an amicable settlement of the crisis and bring lasting peace in Manipur.

The BJP returned to power in Manipur for the second-consecutive term in the 2022 February-March Assembly polls with a comfortable majority while in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls the BJP’s Rajkumar Ranjan Singh won the Inner Manipur parliamentary seat and Naga People’s Front leader Lorho S Pfoze won the Outer Manipur seat.

Singh, who is Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Education and whose house in Imphal was vandalised and burnt by a mob on June 16, had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the law and order situation in Manipur.

The BJP leader, however, held the Congress responsible for the unrest in Manipur stating that the state was ruled by the Congress till 2017 and blunders committed by them have had their fallout in the ethnic violence in the state.

“During the Congress regime, corruption, misgovernance, lack of developmental initiatives and improper educational system pushed Manipur to a backward place,” the Union Minister had said.

Ethnic violence broke out in Manipur nearly eight months ago after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts of the state to protest against the Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.

The ethnic riot between non-tribal Meitei and tribal Kuki communities has so far claimed 182 lives, injured several hundred and displaced more than 70,000 people of both communities.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals - Nagas and Kukis - constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts.

Of the 60 Assembly seats in Manipur, 19 seats are reserved for the tribals belonging to Naga, Kuki-Zo-Zomi communities. The remaining 41 seats are mostly in the Meitei-dominated valley areas.

As Manipur is now divided between hills, where the tribals reside and the valley where the Meiteis live, the ruling BJP may face a big challenge in the 2024 parliamentary polls.