There was a joke doing the rounds before that, law enforcement personnel engaged with destroying poppy fields have a habit of waiting for the pods to ripen and harvesting. Then, photos and videos of personnel actually destroying and whittling away the ripe pods with bamboo strips accompanied by group photos and detailed press-notes of the exercise began to be pasted all over the social media and of course the regular media.
Well, Chief Minister N Biren Singh was serious in his “War on Drugs” campaign so much so that it drove the cartel bosses crazy who in turn managed to anger a whole community. Now, the question has again come up as to when will the destruction of poppy fields (of course, before it is harvested) begin again.
We all know that there has been a lull or break in the cycle of violence unleashed by the unrest. Kuki CSOs have opened the highway blockade again and accepted a proposal for receiving the bodies of individuals who died in the unrest, but without giving away anything about what had transpired between the CSOs and the Central government recently.
Maybe because, the highway blockade is eating into the expected revenue from the usual traffic of both loaded and empty lorries and tankers, or beating a retreat after the arrests by central agencies like NIA and CBI or simply waiting for an opportune time to harvest the ripe poppy fields.
Something is in the wind, of that every stakeholder is sure. The idea of destroying poppy fields before harvest is to cut the revenue stream of the cartel bosses and to discourage any future effort to resort to poppy plantation again in the hills of Manipur. If they manage to harvest the poppy fields it is victory for the bosses who will again ignite the unrest to extract a pound of flesh from both the Centre and the state government.
It is at such a juncture that the possibility of destroying the vast fields of poppy by bombardment involving the Indian Air Force planes and helicopters was mooted from certain circles. It made news in both the state and the national media. And the proposal was somehow attributed to Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
In mid-September, a delegation of the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an umbrella body of civil society organisations based in the Imphal valley, met Rajnath Singh at his official residence in New Delhi and briefed him about narco-terrorism. And Rajnath Singh reportedly assured the delegation that the central government would use IAF planes to destroy poppy fields in Manipur if the state government were to approach it for the same, according to the media briefing given by COCOMI.
A few days later, a few MLAs who were camping in New Delhi to seek an audience with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Defence Minister who denied saying anything about using IAF planes to destroy poppy fields and the matter was laid to rest although there was a flutter in the social media.
The matter was again brought out in the public domain by relentless campaigner of the Manipur unrest and national general secretary of Republican Party of India (Athawale) Maheshwar Thounaojam. According to him, he was assured by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh that the IAF had been directed to destroy the poppy fields of Manipur before the harvest season when he met him on October 3. He was supposed to have briefed the national media on this in New Delhi and it was carried out the next day. Nothing happened.
Then again on October 6, the Chief Minister N Biren Singh while speaking to the media on the sidelines of a function stated that destruction of poppy plantations using Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters would start after a survey of poppy plantation areas is completed. Nothing happened again and no one knows when the survey will be completed. Well, they seem to think the general public is foolish enough to believe this. The use of IAF planes or choppers is no mean task, the more difficult it becomes when it is to be used beyond the mandate. So, please stop teasing the public sentiment and conscience.