The Centre has “taken over” control of security in violence-hit Manipur on Friday by deploying 12 companies, comprising around 1,000 personnel, of the Border Security Force (BSF) and airlifting anti-riot vehicles to the northeastern State, even as stray incidents of violence and looting were reported from parts of the State.
Around 3,200 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, as well as Army and Indian Air Force (IAF) teams have been deployed since Thursday.
“Article 355 is there so that Centre takes more attention on the affairs of the State and that is why the adviser has been sent,” Manipur’s Director-General of Police P. Doungel told journalists in capital Imphal. Article 355 empowers the Centre to take all necessary steps to protect a State against internal disturbances and external aggression.
However, the Ministry of Home Affairs has denied promulgating Article 355.
Mr. Doungel was referring to former Central Reserve Police Force chief Kuldiep Singh, who has been appointed as the security advisor to the Manipur government. In another major development, the State government appointed Additional Director-General of Police (Intelligence), Ashutosh Sinha as the overall operational commander “to control and bring normalcy in the State”. He will report to Mr. Singh.
Officials said that Home Minister Amit Shah had cancelled his Karnataka election campaign events in order to closely monitor the situation in Manipur and seek regular updates from the State and its northeastern neighbours.
At least 10 people are believed to have been killed by mobs, while several villages and community-specific urban localities were destroyed when clashes broke out during the course of a tribal solidarity march on Wednesday and then escalated the following day. The march was taken out in all 10 hill districts of the State to oppose the long-standing demand for Scheduled Tribe status to the non-tribal Meiteis, Manipur’s largest community, after a High Court directive to the State government to submit its recommendation on the issue to the Centre. The clashes have largely been between people from the Kuki-Zomi tribal group and those from the Meitei community, though a section of Meiteis are not in favour of the ST tag.
According to a defence statement, the situation in Manipur has been brought under control as of Friday. However, there have been reports of stray incidents of violence and of miscreants looting items from vandalised or burnt houses and business establishments, including two shopping malls and places of worship, in Imphal and elsewhere.
Arms and ammunition were also looted from a police establishment on Thursday. “We have CCTV footage of the miscreants, whose identities will not be revealed if they return the arms,” Mr. Doungel said.
BJP legislator airlifted
Vungzagin Valte, a BJP legislator and former Minister who was grievously injured in a mob attack at his residence in Imphal on Thursday, was flown to New Delhi in an air ambulance early Friday morning. He belongs to the Kuki-Zomi group of tribes.
Houses of senior police officers belonging to this ethnic group were also not spared. Reports from Imphal said that the houses of a former MP and a former Congress MLA had also been damaged.
The extent of the unrest prompted the State government to authorise district magistrates and other officials to issue shoot-at-sight orders in “extreme cases”.
Curfew, imposed in eight affected districts on May 3, continued on Friday, while internet services remained suspended. Public transport also remained suspended as fuel prices were hiked by at least ₹25 per litre, while the Northeast Frontier Railway short-terminated two trains servicing Manipur.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been undertaking continuous sorties from two airfields in Assam to keep a watch over the trouble spots and move additional troops to Manipur.
A defence spokesperson said that the IAF undertook the sorties, employing C17 Globemaster and AN32 aircraft while the army and Assam Rifles personnel rescued about 13,000 people from the affected areas, and sheltered them in secure defence and government establishments. Some, mostly tribals, were escorted from Imphal to their own hometowns and villages in convoys of vehicles.
The ethnic violence in Manipur had repercussions, albeit on a lower scale, in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong on Thursday night, when two people were manhandled by a mob in a clash between communities which occurred near the Mizo Modern School. The police took 16 people into custody in connection with the incident.
The Conrad K. Sangma-led Meghalaya government also organised special flights and buses to evacuate at least 60 students from the State pursuing higher education in Manipur, as well as 25 members of Shillong’s Lajong Football Club. A three-member team headed by Health Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh is monitoring the exercise in Imphal.
The other northeastern States have also taken measures to evacuate their people stranded in Manipur.
The Mizoram government advised authorities in all districts to be on high alert and make appropriate arrangements to provide safety and security, including temporary shelter and other amenities for people seeking refuge in the State.
The Nagaland government has made a similar arrangement, apart from opening helplines. Apart from sharing borders with Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland provide highway access to Imphal.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that he has instructed his State’s Cachar district administration to take care of several affected families who sought refuge in Assam. “I am in constant touch with Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh,” he said, pledging support to the violence-hit State.