Political leaders from the ruling party and its supporters are claiming tongue in cheek that normalcy is slowly returning, as the number of violent encounters have reduced drastically except for a few instances of firing on a few Meitei villages, now and then fortunately without any casualty. This claim was belied by the assassination of a police officer by sniper fire at Moreh on October 31 and the ambush on the reinforcement between Senam and Boljang indicating a well prepared act.
Besides this, there are reports of groups of armed Kuki militants converging near many Meitei villages in Imphal East, Imphal West and Bishnupur area, which may perhaps be incorrect but strict precautions are necessary. Such information is all the more alarming with the threat circulated in one social media group that another round of attack may be forthcoming during Diwali and Ningol Chakkouba, which may perhaps be disinformation, but all such information must be analysed deeply so that nothing is taken by surprise.
For the Kuki-Chin demanding a separate administration, it is in their interest to keep the pot boiling or else their demand may be forgotten or kept in cold storage by all concerned. The messages that the matter for a separate administration have in principle has been agreed to by the Centre and the same may be placed during the middle of the next Parliament session seems to be misinformation to uplift the morale of the cadres many of whom are from poor families and are facing serious economic challenges and are perhaps grumbling.
Like in the Israel-Palestine war where the top leaders of Hamas are either in Qatar or Turkiye, here also the leaders are either in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Delhi or Guwahati and never on the frontline and is not even aware about the conditions in the front line. Similarly for the Meitei, those who are claiming a slow return to normalcy had hardly visited the frontline and are not aware of the conditions there.
Frustration can be seen in the declaration of Friday as holidays in Churachandpur by the Joint Students Body, which is absurd, as it is devoid of any logic except that perhaps all there had become followers of Islam.
In Imphal, Kangpokpi and Churachandpur life seems generally normal except for the price rise, lack of opportunities and extortion. But the conditions are starkly different in the frontline. Despite the claim of the Government that families have moved in to Phoubakchao Ikhai, the reality is that most of the women and kids are staying back in the relief camps while the male folks have moved and started tending their farms, etc.
Despite the strong presence of both state and central security forces (CSF), the faith in them was limited as the village defence volunteers (VDV) continued to be on their guards. Many men still do not stay overnight in their homes and prefer to stay in the few brick houses built. In other words, the apprehension of a sudden attack is palpable, especially as they have met attacks using pumpis, and the unresponsive central security forces that do not retaliate till they themselves are targeted. This led to distrust between the villagers and the CSF, though efforts seem to have been made to narrow such distrust.
Similar is the situation in other frontlines in the other districts. Though intermittent firing from the hills had occurred now and then, the CSF had not retaliated leading to similar distrust. For the CSF, the reason may be retaliating may lead to protracted firing which may cause injury or casualty. It was perhaps felt better to allow them to lose some steam by firing a few shots and wasting ammos, which are technically harmless rather than indulge in serious firing from both sides.
One complaint of the valley based VDV is that they are not well equipped to meet their opposite counterparts who are armed with sophisticated weapons. They are also very upset with the combing operations being carried out in search of looted weapons, which were the mainstay in the defence of their villages when major attacks had occurred in the past and without such weapons with only shotguns, they feel like sitting ducks. However, the CSF seems to have assured that in the event of a serious attack they will be defending the villages which were assigned to them.
The general complaint that the CSF is biased towards the hill militants was heard everywhere. On the other hand, one senior officer informed that for the Meitei due to the topography wherever any violent incident happen, reinforcement from surrounding areas including Imphal arrives in less than an hour to challenge the attackers but in the event of a counter attack by the Meitei which invariably follows, the village defence volunteers in the hill have no option but to run away as they don’t have the number to resist and the village is open to arson and the role of the CSF is to ensure that attacks by either parties are managed and villages are not destroyed. There may be some truth in this explanation but to those in the frontline it does not carry any weight or logic.
In fact the distrust is so great that relief materials from CSF are refused by the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the valley though they need these materials urgently. This is not the ego of the IDP but the utter lack of trust on the units so much so that they are willing to sacrifice comfort rather than be seen as receiving support from them. More need to be done to assuage the feeling of alienation of the valley IDP from the CSF and similarly in the hills the confidence on the state machinery need to be built up. Rebuilding trust is not easy and will take time but the rapport must be developed and extra effort needs to be put in.
It would be advisable for those who claim that normalcy is slowly returning in the state to go to the frontline and interact with the villagers. It would be better if they can stay overnight as firing usually happens in the evening or early morning and see and feel the ground reality. It would be appropriate to listen to all voices, rather than limiting to the chamchas who always tell the rosy side of any event.
For the leaders, it is paramount that all aspects are understood which will come from listening to different voices. The tendency to brusquely turn away those who tell inconvenient truth needs to go and they should have the patience to listen to alternative voices. Those who are facing the brunt of this conflict need not be lectured as they are much more aware than all of us in the city on the situation as they are firmly on ground zero.
The state government till now seems not to have any idea on how to handle the situation and allow the matter to continue with the hope that it will subside with time. Unfortunately this had not happened. It should have a clear vision and objects, and prioritise the steps that need to be taken. Some of the priority areas are the handing over of the dead bodies to the bereaved families to perform the last rites, ensuring that mass burial or cremation do not take place and these should be performed in the native village of the person who had unfortunately expired.
Relief, resettlement and rehabilitation are another area which must be prioritised and with the winter approaching, without proper planning, efforts are made to provide warm clothing. The Red Cross had started distributing in their limited way well in advance but the government seems to have woken up a bit late. This is what planning is all about, to anticipate the requirement and provide well in time.
Proper planning to resettle the IDPs in their original homesteads as the state is duty bound to protect the property of citizens under Article 300A of the Constitution. Till resettlement occurs the deep sense of anger and frustration will continue and this can be another flashpoint. Political demands can be considered only after the human aspects are satisfied and those who seek overnight political settlement over human misery are just illogical and inhumane.
Though Imphal looks outwardly normal, normalcy in the state is still too distant not as presumed by the political leaders and an incident can spiral into another bout of major conflagration. Any agitation in Imphal is responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and what not and curfew relaxation is curtailed, while in the hills nothing is done to control it. Some MLAs of the frontline are aware of the situation on the ground but those in the ruling party do not have the gut or are too weak to inform their leader.
(The views expressed are personal)