But for politics, there would not have been clashes between the two communities in recent times. Maybe, some altercation between the law enforcing agencies and those engaged in large scale narcotic business besides the powerful land grabbers in the pristine hills of the state. But, it was not expected to reach such a stage of large scale and widespread violence and hatred between the two communities, till politics took over.
The run-up to May 3 was indeed interesting for conflict watchers. With more than 33 communities inhabiting Manipur and fraught with overlapping aspirations and territorial assertions, ethnic relations in the state had been like a dormant volcano waiting to blow over anytime but for the relentless campaign of some CSOs working on emotional integration and shared historical experiences.
Of course, the need for continuance of an interdependent economic mechanism as gifted by history was always there. Yet in recent times, incidents linked with territorial assertions were provoked by the need for more forest land in poppy cultivation. Eviction of illegal encroachment and settlement in reserve and protected forest land were protested while adding a communal tinge, even though the eviction drive was taken up irrespective of community across the state.
Certain vested elements tried to project the eviction drive as being directed to the Kuki community only, while in fact illegal structures belonging to Nagas and other tribes besides that of Meiteis and Meitei Pangals were also destroyed and evicted. Then, Kuki organisations began to assert their ‘territory’ by obstructing even tree plantation drives by Forests department in the barren hill slopes saying the department needed to take the permission of village authorities before undertaking forest rejuvenation exercises leading to confrontations.
The patience of the valley population was also tested when they began to interfere in pilgrimages to holy sites and sacred spaces in Koubru and Thangjing ranges while claiming ownership of the hills and mountains. Yet, people remain calm for the sake of peace and good community lessons notwithstanding the confrontations between the self-proclaimed owner of mountains and the state government. Their objection was against the state government move of declaring both Mt Koubru and Mt Thangjing as protected sites under the provisions of the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976. All the while, an unseen hand was slowly taking over the reins and giving direction to the ‘discontent’ which it managed to build up through the months and years.
The real reason for the anger against the present government was its war on drugs campaign which is again connected with forest space and a yearning for authority and control over land to carry on the poppy business it started. The coming together of COCOMI and Naga CSOs on the anti-migrants issue became a thorn in the flesh for the Kuki-Chin groups.
The continuous influx of migrants in the state from neighbouring countries, particularly from Myanmar and other states of India had become a matter and concern as it was creating a demographic imbalance in the state and a threat to indigenous population.
The Meitei-Naga bond grew stronger, the Kuki power-brokers particularly the drug bosses became restive. And then suddenly, the ST demand received a boost in the arm through the HC judgement and it provided a perfect opportunity for re-kindling tribal solidarity and so began a process of territorial assertion in Kuki-Chin areas while igniting passions through a virulent campaign of hatred for the valley population. That is why, after forcibly evicting the Meitei population from Churachandpur and Moreh they raised the demand for a separate administration by incorporating a few disgruntled Kuki-Chin MLAs into the bargain and gathering the others.
Meanwhile, it is but natural for disgruntled elements to flock together and some of the disgruntled Meitei MLAs were roped in. It was indeed well played. So, one must not forget the political underpinnings and dissent underneath while working on a formula for return to peace. Pull the political plug and everything may fall into place towards peace and normalcy.