We had almost forgotten the long pending issue of Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Kuki militant groups active in the state and the widespread demands for its abrogation in the early months of the ongoing ethnic strife. In those days, attacks by militants safely ensconced in the bunkers lining the surrounding hill ridges were a daily and continuous affair.
Whenever state forces or local volunteers tried to retaliate on the attacks one or the other central forces were there to intervene or as they ‘keep the peace’ in between. Someone came up with the idea of ‘a buffer zone’ between the hill and valley areas. It is like the British dividing the valley and hills in the matter of administration during the colonial times. The wedge driven by them is still potent and it always rears up its head in building an anti-Meitei or majority-minority narrative.
So, when the Chief Minister N Biren Singh said that the state government has done its part by withdrawing from the tripartite SoO agreement and from now on it is upto to the centre to act upon it. The said statement is clearly a departure from earlier statements or public stances on the Centre’s silence with regard to Manipur government’s withdrawal from SoO. And we would like to acknowledge it. We hear you, loud and clear. But from the Chief Minister’s phrasing of his statement, one wonders whether he has failed to convince the central leadership on the urgency and need to abrogate SoO. It is no wonder that, the overall command of the Unified Command still remains with the Security Advisor despite his off the record laments to public delegations.
Violence continued even during the visit of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah. During his visit, Kuki leaders met him at Churachandpur and Kangpokpi and asked him to provide security by central forces in the vicinity of Kuki villages which was put to action. Before the Home Minister left Imphal he vested the chairmanship of Unified Command normally held by the state chief minister to the security advisor. However, the situation did not improve and violence continued.
While the Kukis clinged to the sense of security provided for by forces stationed near their villages and the continuance of SoO, a lack of security and lack of trust for central forces among the valley populace grew in leaps and bounds. If one remembers correctly, the first response of the Centre after violence broke out was parachuting a Security Advisor to the state ‘without’ officially invoking Article 355 of the Indian Constitution and vesting all security related affairs to him.
In short, the Home portfolio was wrested from the state Chief Minister, N Biren Singh, and a ‘security advisor’ was put in charge. Even, a new Director General of Police (DGP) was brought in through inter-cadre transfer. And then, several companies of para-military and central forces arrived to defuse the situation. But the crisis refused to go away. Acts of wanton violence continue to happen with attacks on periphery villages followed by retaliation and arson causing death and grievous injury to innocent bystanders with several thousands of people fleeing their homes and seeking refuge in relief camps. Whole villages were uprooted and the umbilical cord attached to the land cut mercilessly.
The SoO agreement was first signed between the central government and the Kuki militant outfits brought under two umbrella organisations and it was only later on that the state government was brought into the picture and hence, the tripartite agreement. So, the defence lobby would not bog down so easily to any kind of effort to abrogate. However, when it comes to enforcement of SoO ground rules it is not right for generals to dump the responsibility to the state home department entirely as we said before SoO is clearly their baby.