Anti-Meitei propaganda has been there for many years. Such communal propaganda says that the valley developed while hills remain neglected and deprived. It says that Meitei in valley prospered at the cost of tribals in hills. However, facts say otherwise.
For several centuries, Kangla at the heart of present day Imphal has been the nerve centre of governance, administration, commerce, politics, migration, etc.
During the British rule and after independence, Imphal continued to be the state’s capital. As a result, important government infrastructures and business commercial hubs, etc. grow faster in Imphal. Such propaganda can mislead innocent people but it doesn’t have rational grounds.
The growth of government infrastructures and commercial hubs in Imphal or valley are largely the economy’s tertiary sector.
There is a lack of investment in primary and secondary sectors to make the valley or Meitei’s economy self-reliant.
There is a lack of government’s investment to develop forces of production, technology, skill, production or value creation, and employment.
Whatever infrastructures, commercial hubs, and allied sectors that have developed in the valley have been questioned for lack of sensitivities to sustainable development and social equity.
Meitei’s traditional self-reliant valley economy has been completely destroyed as the capital city grow.
Many Meiteis are victims of land grabbing by government in the name of public interest.
Meanwhile, infrastructural growth either manifests or added burden of migration that causes pressure on land, congestion, pollution, crimes, etc.
The number of Meitei landless and poor has been steadily multiplying.
Meitei are numerically dominant in the valley. But they do not absolutely own it. Meitei are paying tax to the government for owning private plots.
The gazetted wetlands, rivers, roads, highways, hills, government infrastructures, government lands, lands occupied by security forces, etc. in the valley are not owned by Meitei.
The Manipur Land Revenue and Reforms Act, 1960 allows transfer of land from a Meitei to a non-Meitei.
The Land Acquisition Act 1894 empowers the government to evict a Meitei from his/her land for public interest.
Other communities such as Meitei Panggal, Naga, Kuki, Gurkha, Hmar, Paite, intermediary tribes and linguistic groups own land and live in the valley. They have all contributed to the growth of private infrastructures, including commercial hubs.
If the valley has to be blamed for depriving people in the hills, why blame only the Meitei?
To accumulate private wealth, they are responsible for systematic neglect, deprivation and marginalization of many across communities. But who are they? They could be amongst the legislatures, bureaucrats, communal elites, and agents from across communities who work in collusion to prosper at the cost of many.
Why cover up community composition of the collusions? Why not question the functioning of the system? Why not join hands to build a common democratic force to address grievances? Why always play with minority/ tribal victimhood card to target a particular community?
These are meant to mislead innocent tribal population to cover up the loot and exploitation by their respective communal elites.
Should not a territory or state or country maintain record of territorial demarcations, citizens, migrants, asylum seekers, etc.?
Shouldn’t the government conduct population survey for policy making and effective governance?
Shouldn’t a government enforce laws and mechanisms to regulate the entry and exit of migrants?
All these will remain valid as long as a “country” remains a legitimate unit in the comity of international relations.
Manipur is not an overnight post-independent mechanical territorial creation. It is the homeland of the people that had pre-existed the Republic of India.
After the takeover in 1949, the Government of India became fully responsible for protecting Manipur’s boundary, and the rights, security, and interest of Manipur’s indigenous people.
Unfortunately, the responsibility has not been fulfilled. Manipur’s boundary has been left open to unrestrained influx of migrants from other Indian states and infiltrators from Nepal, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
The migrants became a threat by outnumbering several small indigenous communities, disturbing ethno-demographic balance, occupying /owning land and immovable properties, competing job, supplying cheap labour, controlling trade, influencing administration and electoral politics, etc.
Refugees and infiltrators, through backdoor channels in collusion with host tribal elites have got permanent citizenship and causing threats of various kinds.
Threatened people, therefore, demand a population survey and updating National Registrar of Citizenship to identify citizens, foreigners, refugees and illegal infiltrators.
In response, the incumbent Government of Manipur attempted to conduct population survey. It opened designated shelters for Burmese refugees and arrested some Burmese infiltrators.
Kuki communal elites are not happy with it. But why? As claimed by many among themselves, they belong to Bnei Menash, that is, one of the 10 lost Jewish tribes whose original homeland is traced in Israel.
As such, many of them have migrated to the promise land, Israel.
Unrestrained Kuki infiltration in different phases have been continued after independence due to either political instability or economic compulsion in neighbouring Mizoram (till mid 1980s) and Burma in the late 1948s, 1960s, 1980s, and the last few years.
Foreign infiltrators, by hook or crook, became Indian citizens in Manipur, became Scheduled Tribes, took advantage of the Constitution’s Article 371(C) and Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act 1960, and entitled to all privileges enjoyed by indigenous tribes enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List of Manipur.
Since the mid-1970s, Meitei civil organisations, followed by valley-based insurgents have been fighting nasha or intoxication (alcoholism and drug addiction). Due to their pressure, the Manipur government in April 1991 adopted the Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991.
Although Manipur was officially a dry state, local and imported liquors continued to flourish in black market.
Meitei organisations continued the fight against alcohol. From the mid-2000s the fight expanded to include drugs (narcotic and psychotropic substances) to control widespread illicit business in and abuse of drugs.
Meitei’s fight drugs because it has been causing irreparable disastrous impacts on the society; death, health problem, medical expenses, drug-related social crimes, severe environmental destructions by opium plantation, etc.
The Manipur government joined the fight and in November 2018 declared “War on Drugs.”
In December 2020, it adopted the Manipur State Policy on Psychoactive Substances Policy 2019. This war focused extensively on supply control, that is, seizure of drugs, arrest of drug peddlers/ smugglers, and destruction of poppy farming.
Despite assurance by Kuki village authorities and civil organisations, poppy plantation in Kuki areas continued in wide scale.
The war on drugs caused severe blow to a vast chunk of the drug peddlers and poppy cultivators.
Kukis, instead of joining hands with Meitei, took a communal tone saying that war on drug was meant to communally project and target them.
Some of them openly protested against Meitei anti-drug activists who demanded conviction of a politically powerful Zomi leader who was allegedly caught red handed with huge drugs worth Rs 27 crore from his quarter in June 2018, got bailed, escaped, absconded, surrendered, and got acquitted in a controversial manner in December 2020. All these added to Meitei’s perception about Kuki’s communal agenda of narco-terrorism.
Suspicion grew stronger about powerful Kuki drug cartels operating in collusion with various cognate forces in the Indo-Myanmar borderland.
Allegations are widespread about Kuki drug lords funding Kuki militants or Kuki militants directly involving in drug business to raise fund for raising militia and purchasing arms and ammunitions.
Manipur is eulogised as an ecosystem founded on a well knitted natural configuration of hills/ mountains, valleys, rivers, wetlands marked by favourable climatic conditions and soils that enabled the flourishment for centuries of a rich biodiversity with many endemic flora and fauna.
However, unregulated anthropogenic actions in the last few decades have been causing a steady destruction of the ecosystem. Out of the identified 169 wetlands (2021 report), many are facing the danger of either gradual extinction or unfavourable to human beings.
Indications of destruction of eco-system are steady destructions of forests and frequent droughts or flash floods. Forests have been gradually destroyed to the extent of causing destruction to flora, fauna, water sources and those who are dependent on it for socio-economic livelihood.
Two main correlated causes of forest destruction are; (1) unregulated migration of people having corresponding impact on unnatural growth of villages in the hill districts, and (2) large scale illegal poppy plantation sponsored by narco-terrorists.
The trend of forest destruction is alarming. According to Indian Forest Survey Report (2019), forest over of Manipur decreased by 499.10 square km with respect to 2017 assessment. In 2021, it further decreased by 248.63 square km with respect to 2019 Assessment.
Many Kuki armed organisations emerged since the late 1980s. They have common objective to militarily expand territorial occupation to assert a homeland either within India or outside whichsoever might be possible.
The expansionist course led to violent ethnic clash with Naga (1992-1996 approx.), Paite (1997-98), etc. All these strengthened their militarisation zeal.
To fulfill the common objectives step by step, Kuki armed organisations came to terms to group under broader united fronts, such as the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF). These two broad fronts entered into Suspension of Operations (SoO) Agreements with the Indian Army on August 1, 2005.
While pursuing its agenda, both the KNO and the UPF reportedly broke the ground rules of SoO from time to time.
There are allegations Kuki militants under SoO were responsible for promoting and protecting illegal and expansion of settler colonialists for geo-strategic control, narco-terrorism (including poppy plantation) for revenue, electoral politics to capture power, and communal propaganda to create instability.
The Manipur government alleged that militants under SoO were responsible for instigating Kuki agitation against war on drugs, survey of forests and population, eviction of illegal structures in government land, etc.
Based on prima facie video clip of KNO leader’s public speech in support of Kuki’s violent protest on March 10, 2023 at Kangpokpi, the Manipur government recommended abrogation of SoO with the Kuki National Army (KNA) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA).
KNO and some mass organisations refuted the charges and protested the decision.
(The views expressed are personal | The writer can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org)