Bridging the trust deficit

Why the GoI took so long to initiate measures to bring back normalcy in Manipur needs an analysis as even though the conflict is between two communities, the impact is felt by all.

ByRK Nimai

Updated 29 May 2024, 9:36 am

(File Photo: IFP)
(File Photo: IFP)

The Union Home Minister had recently in an interview stated that the Centre will take up efforts to build up the trust between the two warring communities in Manipur after the election process is over. The question that propped up immediately is why it took so long for such an initiative and why not such endeavour be taken up in the early part of the crisis?

If one looks back, after the first round of violence starting from May 3, 2023 it tapered slowly after about a week till it again resurfaced after concerted attacks on many Meitei villages on May 28 in places like Sugnu, Serou, Tangjeng, Koutruk, Kadangband, Phayeng, etc on the day of the visit of the UHM which perforce him to stay for a longer period than planned. If such an initiative was taken before this date, the crisis may have petered slowly. But from this date, the trust deficit increased sharply as on the first round of violence, it was mostly emotional outburst but the second and subsequent rounds of violence are well planned and executed. With the increase in the loss of lives and displaced, bridging the trust deficit becomes all the more difficult. However, better late than never! 

Why the GoI took so long to initiate measures to bring back normalcy in the state needs an analysis as even though the conflict is between two communities, the impact is felt by all. Except for one group of the UNLF, all the other major VBIGs are not in peace talks with the GoI, unlike other communities, though many smaller groups had from time to time surrendered their cadres.

The general belief was that GoI, at least its security apparatus, think that pressure on the Meitei villages in the periphery will force the cadres from across the border to come to defend the villages and once they are in the state can be pressured to come to the negotiating table. This did not happen and most cadres continued to stay across the border, especially the senior cadres who called the shot. Some do cross over but they are not the only ones who defended the vulnerable villages though they do provide the leadership as many common youth volunteered to defend the vulnerable villages.

Besides, many former cadres come out to provide support in defending the vulnerable villages. This belief was strengthened by the large-scale deployment of the additional forces which arrived in the state in the border region. If the sole intent was to break the chain of violence, all should have been deployed by or near the vulnerable villages of both communities, which was not. If this belief was the policy of the GoI, then it is most unfortunate as it means that the GoI is not able to understand the ethos of the Meitei, like all along it had failed to understand the northeast. 


The recent war of words between the security agencies of India and the NSCN (IM) point to a sense of frustration within the former and are an attempt to put a wedge among the latter; between the Nagas of Nagaland and the Southern Nagas. The narrations emanating from both sides may not be true cent per cent but are a pointer of what is happening along and across the border. Even the KNA (B) had joined the issue though it should have been not a party but their clarification makes it clear that they are not involved in the affairs in Manipur; which need to be taken with a pinch of salt as there is hardly any difference between it and the KNA operating in Manipur.

There is no doubt that India has a big stake in Myanmar as the Kaladan Multimodal project and the Trilateral Highway passes through the Kuki-Chin dominated area. For the former both the Arakanese and the Kuki-Chin need to be kept in good humour while for the latter it is the Kuki-Chin and the Karen though in Kayin state one group sides with the junta while the other is in conflict. Unfortunately, the history of Myanmar is hardly taught in India and most just do not understand. It was during General Ne Win’s time that Tamu was transferred from Chin Hills to Sagaing Division and Paletwa from Arakan (now Rakhine) to Chin Hills as an apology which made everyone unhappy. This move has historical consequences.

The Chin are basically nomads and their efforts to migrate to Kabaw valley and parts of Shan states have led to misunderstanding between the original settlers and the new migrants and this has a bearing to the present conflict in Myanmar. It seems that Indian agencies have very short institutional memory and many in the present security set up are not fully aware of the happenings of the recent past like the June 18 incident, the Monorama incident, etc.

In fact the Centre for Myanmarese Studies of Manipur University should focus on the study of the history, laws, movements, society, etc of Myanmar so that the country is fully understood and advise the state on policy matters. India must realise that Myanmar had a serious trust deficit on India and this was experienced when this author was a member of a trade delegation to Yangon in the first NDA regime. This emanates from the appropriation of land by the Chettiar community (who were money lenders) during the Great Depression of the 1930s and led to the expulsion of a large number of Indian origin people during Ne Win’s regime.

Further after WWII, British Indian soldiers provided security to the colonial powers in South East Asia who had vacated that colony for almost two years and Indians are seen as mercenaries. While dealing with such countries, one should understand not only their strength and weaknesses but also our own strength and weaknesses and the historical hangover just cannot be wished away. 

Now coming back to building the trust between the two communities, the reaction from the two communities to the report on Pallel and the meeting organised by AMCO at Guwahati indicate the difficulties one will have to surmount as the deficit is too high. The construction of a bridge over Manipur River near Serou and its fall out indicate the severe trust deficit between the two communities. The question is what will be the strategy or whether the statement of the UHM was made offhand without much thought?


As mentioned, if such initiatives were taken up within the month of May last year, it could have yielded results in a short time but by now the position has hardened to such an extent that no one will be willing to represent the communities. In any conflict there are vested interest and like what President Eisenhower stated in his farewell address to the nation in 1961 about the industrial military complex during the Cold War which was broken recently by SpaceX whether one likes it or not, in the present conflict in Manipur there are new dimensions with traditional CSOs being marginalised and even the Meira Paibis have been vilified and marginalised and new ones are coming into existence.  Thus the role of the traditional CSOs has been squeezed in both the communities while newer more militant groups are now in the forefront with one-man-up-ship among them leading to misunderstanding. Thus even dialogue will not be an easy option.

Many are worried that the large-scale extortion will lead to a situation prevailing in Manipur during the late 1980s and 1990s literally killing all economic activity, entrepreneurship and innovation. The demand for financial support has increased drastically which is necessary to meet the challenges in the vulnerable villages but the groups seeking support are too many and too frequent. Manipur which came back strongly after the COVID-19 disaster with double digit growth has by now slid to such an extent that there is likely recession and by August 2023 it was the third poorest state in the country.  

One do hope that the statement of the UHM is followed by real work but after detailed analysis of the issues involved and not in favour of any section of the society but one non negotiable aspect is that Manipur which was a princely state with an area of 8620 sq miles (22326 sq km) as per the White paper on Indian States (July 1948, Pg 101) shall not be divided and its territorial boundary shall remain untouched and that the mode of administration shall continue as such with any changes accepted by all stakeholders and thus the meeting point will be difficult to arrive at. Any conflict in the modern time will ultimately have to be negotiated over the table and GoI is the right agency to initiate such a move. The only concern is will the June 04 result have a bearing on the polity of the country? 

(The views expressed are personal)



First published:


meiteiskukismanipur violencemanipur crisisamit shah on manipur

RK Nimai

RK Nimai

The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur


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