Home Minister’s remarks draw sharp reactions from Kuki groups in India, Myanmar

Shah had said that refugee influx from Myanmar is fuelling tension in Manipur

Updated - August 10, 2023 09:57 pm IST

Published - August 10, 2023 09:20 pm IST - New Delhi

 Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in Lok Sabha as Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks on during the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Thursday.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in Lok Sabha as Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks on during the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on Thursday. | Photo Credit: ANI

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s remarks in Parliament about Kuki immigrants from Myanmar contributing to tensions building in Manipur, drew sharp reactions from Kuki groups — both in India and in Myanmar — on Thursday. 

The Manipur Tribals’ Forum, Delhi (MTFD), called Mr. Shah’s remarks a “disheartening blow” and the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) called it “plain wrong” to blame “helpless and deprived” refugees. Further, the Kuki National Organisation (Burma) wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, clarifying that there was no Kuki outfit in the country called the Kuki Democratic Front, as claimed by Mr. Shah in his speech.  

The Kuki National Organisation (KNO), in its letter, noted that while they are “constantly under tremendous pressure to indulge in other distractions like the ethnic problem in Manipur”, it has its hands full fighting the junta in Myanmar and could not afford to “look for adventures in India”. The KNO said that its Kuki National Army (Burma) is the only Kuki outfit fighting the junta in Myanmar and it is grateful to India for providing “temporary shelter” to their fleeing people. Insisting that there was no movement of any of its units from Myanmar into Indian territory, the president of the KNO requested the Lok Sabha Speaker to clarify this to the Indian Parliament.

A day ago, when Mr. Shah intervened in Parliament on the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition, he said that after the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, an outfit called the Kuki Democratic Front had started putting up a fight against the junta. 

The Home Minister said that this conflict in the neighbouring “Brahmadesh” (Myanmar) had led to a lot of Kuki people crossing over to India in Manipur for their safety, as the international border in the State is under a Free Movement Regime. Kuki-Zo tribes and other tribes in north-eastern States share ethnic ties with several tribes in Myanmar.

This influx, he said, had contributed to insecurity among the majority population of Manipur — the Meiteis — about purported large-scale demographic changes. 

The Home Minister had gone on to say that these tensions rose when rumours had started about one of the refugee settlements in Manipur being declared a village, with the controversial High Court order on Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for Meiteis coming as the last nail in the coffin. 

Reacting to Mr. Shah’s speech, where he also showed support for the N. Biren Singh-led State government, the MTFD held a press conference at the Press Club of India on Thursday. Chinkhanlun Guite of the MTFD told The Hindu, “These remarks reinforce hateful claims of Meiteis against Kuki-Zo people in Manipur and will only spell danger for our people there.”

Mr. Guite said that Mr. Shah’s remarks on Kuki immigrants put together with his defence of N. Biren Singh was rhetoric that pointed to a “red herring”. Mr. Guite went on to question how immigrants fleeing from the junta in Myanmar could engineer such incidents when the government is already registering and tracking them. 

‘CM is feted instead of being sacked’

The ITLF, in a statement issued on Thursday, said it “felt let down” by the Home Minister’s remarks and was “aghast” at his support for Mr. Singh, who they referred to as the “chief architect of the violence”. Despite the months of violence, the ITLF said Mr. Singh was being “feted by the Central government instead of being sacked. We appeal to the Home Minister to rise above party politics in dealing with the crisis in Manipur”.

Hours before Mr. Shah’s speech, he had met with ITLF leaders in Delhi to address their demands. The ITLF said that despite the continuing violence, “the best explanation that the Home Minister can come up with is the entry of refugees from Myanmar”. It went on to say, “Accusing refugees, who are some of the most deprived and helpless sections in any community, of starting a conflict at this scale is just plain wrong,” while also arguing how Mizoram was not seeing violence despite letting in refugees from Myanmar. 

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