If the 1990s was about armed insurgency and extortion in Manipur, the large part of the first two decades was coercion through blockades.
It was in 2004 that the then Union Home Secretary Anil Baijal with Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani as his boss noticed the words “liberated areas” in Manipur in a correspondence of the North-East division of the Ministry.
Agitated by the words, he dashed off a letter to then Union Defence Secretary Ajay Prasad with a copy marked to then Army Chief Gen N C Vij seeking clarification on the description of Churachandpur and Chandel districts in the state as liberated zones.
When told that the words were used to describe areas from where there was no army and para-military forces presence in the past, Baijal threatened to take the matter to Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) if forces were not sent to these so-called liberated areas. Two army brigades were immediately moved to both Chandel and later Churachandpur to restore law and order in the strife torn state.
While answering to the no confidence motion moved by Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday rightly called the May 4 rape-murder incident reprehensible and promised strictest punishment to the accused, fact is that the state of Manipur was definitely below the radar and on low priority for past Union governments before 2014.
Even before he was sworn in as PM for the first time, Narendra Modi had decided to improve road-rail-power infrastructure in the dark North-East as the region was India’s link to south-east Asia and a sure way to add to India’s GDP. This is also the reason that India has continued to engage the military leadership of Myanmar despite the west declaring it a pariah state today sitting in the lap of China and Thailand.
Wracked by insurgency supported by communist guerillas across the border with Myanmar and in Yunan province of China, Manipur has deep tribal fault-lines across the state with Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis dividing the state. Kuki refugees from across the border exacerbate the situation in the state as well as neighbouring Mizoram .
Add to this potentially explosive situation is the lethal synthetic YABA tablet, heroin trade and arms trade from Myanmar, with whom India has had a free movement regime up to 16 kilometers on both sides since 1968. Fact is despite controlling Naypyidaw, the Myanmarese junta has a very weak control over Sagaing region neighboring Manipur and Nagaland as a result there is free for all as far as law and order is concerned.
The state has a history of tribal clashes since the Meitei-Pangal clash in May 1993 and the Kuki-Tamil clash in Moreh in 1995 that brought down the Tamil speaking population from 14000 to 3000. This was also the period when the State governor, a retired distinguished general, complained to the Union Government about the sitting Congress chief minister siding with the armed insurgents in an official letter.
The state was in a mess and state PSUs—sugar mills, bicycle factory and TV tube making factory– output was astoundingly dismal while the employees were paid full salaries, perks and paid leaves. Such was the state of affairs that hardly anyone with a designated Manipur-Tripura cadre wanted to be posted into the state. This resulted in the majority of MT cadre IAS officers preferring to serve at Centre and IPS officers joining intelligence organizations for permanent hardcore postings.
If the 1990s was about armed insurgencies and pathetic governance, the militant and tribal enforced blockades became the order of the day till 2013 with petrol selling at ₹240 a litre and LPG at ₹1900 a litre in black market.
It was the era of extortion and plunder by armed insurgents with Assam Rifles and security forces confined to their camps. Night movement was not possible in Manipur due to threat from improvised explosives devices and security trucks had armed escorts with a standard operating procedure.
Even though the current situation is precarious with 36,000 strong security forces separating the agitating Kukis and the vengeful Meiteis, the only way out is for Home Minister Amit Shah to continue engaging both sides and cool down tribal tempers. He has expert advisors with Tapan Deka, Director, Intelligence Bureau, a known North-East expert, and Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla from Assam cadre with knowledge of the seven sisters.
While the Opposition made Manipur situation as the principal reason for having no confidence in the Modi government, the Home Ministry cannot be held responsible for the recent tribal flare-up, which has roots in a controversial High Court judgment. Congress with its grim past in Manipur cannot show the mirror to PM Modi.