As many as 10 legislators from the hill districts of Manipur, which includes those from the ruling BJP have demanded a separate administration as the “State miserably failed to protect” them when the violence started on May 3.
In a press statement, the 10 MLAs said the Government of Manipur tacitly supported the “unabated violence” by the majority Meitei community against the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi hill tribals, which has already partitioned the State and effected a total separation from the State of Manipur.
Stating that to live among the majority Meitiei community was “as good as death for our people”, the MLAs said, “Our people can no longer exist under Manipur as the hatred against our tribal community reached such a height that MLAs, Ministers, pastors, police and civil officers, laymen, women and even children were not spared, not to mention the destruction of places of worship, homes and properties.”
“As the State of Manipur has miserably failed to protect us, we seek of the Union of India a separate administration under the Constitution of India and live peacefully as neighbours with the state of Manipur,” the statement said.
Dinganglung Gangmei, BJP MLA and Chairperson of the Hill Areas Committee, distanced himself and other Naga MLAs from this demand.
“This is a communal demand and no MLA came to the Hill Areas Committee with a proposal to discuss this. We were completely kept in the dark about this,” Mr. Gangmei said.
The HAC comprises of 20 MLAs of the hill areas in the State - all belonging to Scheduled Tribes. Half of these MLAs are from Kuki communities whereas the other half are from Naga communities.
Significantly, along with Kuki communities, Naga tribes have also been opposing the demand to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Meiteis and Mr. Gangmei has challenged the Manipur High Court order at the centre of this conflict in the Supreme Court as well.
The Congress meanwhile alleged that Arambai Tenggol, an outfit raised on the lines of Bajrang Dal in Manipur, is behind the arson of churches and looting of weapons from police camps.
According to State government officials, more than 1,000 weapons were looted from various police camps and battalion headquarters when the violence broke on May 3.
Congress party’a Manipur in-charge, Bhakta Charan Das, told The Hindu that outfits such as Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, which had the blessings of Chief Minister N. Biren Singh destroyed churches belonging to the Meiteis too.
“They roamed around the State wearing black clothes and brandishing weapons. As many as 200 churches were destroyed across the State, which includes 18 churches belonging to the Meitei community and two Naga churches. We hear many weapons have been surrendered but will the police register a case against them for looting the weapons in the first place?” Mr. Das who visited the State in the aftermath of the violence said.
Kuldiep Singh, Security Adviser, Manipur government, said that as of now 423 weapons have been recovered and no specific group could be blamed.
“Till now, we have not found any evidence that weapons were looted by a particular group. Many weapons were robbed as a large crowd had gheraoed the police camps,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu. He said curfew was relaxed from 6 a.m.- 12 noon in all the affected districts and the situation was being assessed. On Thursday (May 11), a Manipur police commando was killed in an exchange of fire with the Kuki militants in Bishnupur, he said. He said mobile Internet will remain suspended for the next two days and the decision will be reviewed after that.
Who are the Arambai Tenggol?
Arambai Tenggol, named after a weapon used by the Manipuri kings, and the Meitei Leepun have been around in the State for about two-three years but they gained popularity among the Meitei community in the past one year, according to multiple residents, who started noticing their presence on social media.
And while the Congress party accuses these outfits for the recent violence, members in the influential Meitei associations insist they can barely be called outfits.
One Meitei leader from Imphal said these are miniscule organisations that existed on Facebook and have no access to weaponry, nor do they have any extremist or violent streak.
“In the last few weeks, however, these organisations have become dear to the Meitei community. I can say that all Manipuri Meitei would be praying for them now,” the leader said, adding that members of these outfits played a “very important role in keeping Meitei people safe” during the recent violence”.
The leader, who is also a lawyer, added that members of Arambai Tenggol have been shaken since the violence started subsiding and police have started registering FIRs. “Many of these members have been booked under stringent laws like the UAPA now when all they were doing was helping Meitei people stuck in the conflict,” he said.
A member of the People’s Alliance for Peace and Progress, Manipur, a Meitei civil society organisation, said, “These are like-minded young bloods only looking to protect the old culture, rituals and traditions of Meitei.”
He added that during the violence, Arambai Tenggol was crucial in protecting Meiteis stuck in Churachandpur. “They are the principal reason Kuki people could not enter Imphal to wreak havoc,” he said, adding they saved a lot of “Manipuri lives”.
However, some residents have maintained that both Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun have publicly taken a position that Meitei people were facing threat of religious conversion to Christianity, as a result of which they claim to be working to restore the culture of Meiteis.
Significantly, public statements by both the outfits in the last two years have shown that they have regularly countered protests against the State government and also publicly supported CM Singh’s “war on drugs” - with the CM pledging to end illegal poppy cultivation at an event held by Meitei Leepun and other associations in 2021.