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One Year on, the BJP Is Feeling the Impact of the Manipur Crisis

The state and Union governments' apathy in Manipur during the last year led to poll losses for the BJP in the Northeast.
Representative image of security forces in Manipur. Photo: X/@manipur_police

The fortunes of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in some of the northeastern states seem to be waning, as both have suffered losses to the Congress/regional parties in the 2024 parliamentary elections. The year-long ethnic conflict in Manipur, without any signs of serious efforts to resolve the crisis and restore peace and communal harmony, seem now to be more like an attempt to browbeat one of the minorities in Manipur to submission.

The minority people in the states are worried by the ill treatment meted out to their brethren in the ethnic conflict. The minority community of Kuki-Zo have suffered terribly in the hands of some majority Meiteis who are covertly, sometimes openly, supported by the state government dominated by the Meitei community. The Meiteis have 40 MLAs out of a House of 60 MLAs, and eight ministers including the chief minister, thereby controlling the state government.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Manipur has gone through more than a year of lawlessness, but the state government is not bothered by the unauthorised occupation of Kuki-Zo buildings in Imphal city by radical elements, the undeclared economic blockade of Churachandpur district by Meitei organisations, open extortion by radical elements, free movement of radical elements within Imphal city, and the inability of the ten Kuki-Zo MLAs and their tribes to return to Imphal.

As the unresolved conflict drags on, battle fatigue and despondency now prevails in the entire state. People have stopped talking about the conflict in disgust and shame. No one supports the continuation of the internecine fight between two communities any more, except the radical elements for whom the persisting conflict has become their bread and butter. The fact that there has been no serious, visible intention to resolve the crisis by the governments in the state and at the Centre has adversely affected the image of the BJP. Even the RSS chief has stated recently that the Manipur crisis needs to be resolved on priority.

The impact of the ethnic violence in Manipur on the outcome of the parliamentary election results may not be discernible in mainland India, but is clearly evident in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur, where the BJP and its allies lost parliamentary seats to the Congress and regional parties. The Manipur conflict provided an opportunity to the Congress and regional parties to paint the BJP and its allies in a bad light during the election campaign.

The knee-jerk reactions to withdraw the FMR (Free Movement Regime) with Myanmar by the Union government added salt to injury. The decision to scrap the FMR and erect a border fence, on the recommendation of the Manipur chief minister, was not taken kindly by the tribes of the affected states in Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. In fact, there are ten times more refugees from Myanmar in Mizoram than Manipur. Mizoram is sheltering more than 40,000 refugees and has not faced any crisis, as they have kept the refugees confined in camps at the border area while extending all humanitarian assistance.

Contrary to the policy adopted by Mizoram, the Manipur government adopted the policy of turning refugees back to Myanmar without realising that only a short portion of the boundary has border fencing. This made the refugees walk into the Manipur from the unfenced areas and set up shelters. Without any humanitarian assistance, they were compelled to erect their own shelters and carry out farming for sustenance, perhaps including poppy.

Had the Manipur government acted in a similar manner as the Mizoram government did, there would not have been any unauthorised settlements of refugees and farming. The remedy to the temporary movement of refugees, on account of atrocities committed against ethnic minorities in Myanmar by the ruling junta, is not the removal of FMR.

Scrapping of the FMR and erection of border fencing by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) conveyed a message to the tribes in Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur that the BJP cares more for the Meiteis than the minority tribes in the northeastern states.

The inept handling of the situation between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities not only caused deaths and destruction of properties but also adversely impacted the economy and ushered in a state of lawlessness with rising extortion. There has been a rise of radical elements, freely parading the streets of Imphal in police/armed forces uniform. The state government was brought to its knees by the radical elements who made Meitei MLAs and MPs recite an oath in the Kangla Fort with the tacit blessings of a befuddled team from home ministry.

More than half of the guns looted from police armouries are still in the hands of radical elements on both sides. The police and security forces are not doing anything to stop unlawful activities, lending credence to the suspicion that there are oral orders not to take any action against radical elements in possession of looted guns. With the BJP’s apathy being blamed for what’s happening in the state, the BJP lost the support of the people, resulting in resounding defeats by unprecedented margins in both the parliamentary seats of Manipur.

The Meiteis went against the BJP for ushering lawlessness, extortion and causing price rise and misery in the state. The Kuki-Zo voted for the Congress in the Outer Manipur constituency as they wanted to punish the BJP for abandoning them and the five Kuki-Zo BJP MLAs (out of total of ten MLAs from the community) in favour of the Meitei community. The Kuki-Zo are not in favour of voting for Naga People’s Front (NPF) for their proximity with the NSCN, their bête noire, and their alliance with the BJP. The association of the NPF with the BJP became a curse for the NPF as people started distancing themselves from the NPF.

The chief minister of Assam seems to have got a sense of why the BJP and its allies were defeated in states having a large Christian population. The ongoing Manipur conflict seems to have made church leaders decide to become proactive like their counterparts in Mizoram to save the people from an anti-minority political party and their associates. The church leaders cannot be blamed for their proactive action, as they were pushed by the anti-minority policies of the BJP.

Now that the BJP is forced to lead a coalition government at the Centre, there is hope that its strident anti-minority policies will be watered down for fear of ruffling the feathers of its powerful coalition partners.

Ngaranmi Shimray is a New Delhi-based social activist and tweets @AranShimray.

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