As it becomes increasingly clear that the government, both in Delhi and Imphal, is incapable of handling the crisis in Manipur effectively – and some would even add sincerely – civil society organisations are increasingly stepping into the picture. One such organisation is the Forum for Restoration of Peace.
Created as a direct response to the ethnic clashes in Manipur that started on May 3, the Forum’s convenor, Ashang Kasar, has said the two immediate necessary steps to restore peace and harmony are the replacement of Biren Singh as chief minister (but not necessarily President’s Rule) and an initiative directly by the prime minister to start a dialogue between the Kuki and Meitei communities. If these steps are not taken, Kasar said, the situation will markedly deteriorate and the responsibility and blame will then lie with the Union government and, specifically, the prime minister.
On July 14, the Forum wrote directly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to visit Manipur within 10 days, and take an initiative to bring the Kuki and Meitei together. Kasar said he’s had no response from the Prime Minister’s Office to his letter.
The Forum’s letter says: “In case Your Honour fails to come to Manipur and resolve the conflict within ten days, this Forum would be compelled to resort to any step in the interests of the people of Manipur.” Kasar explained that though this may sound like a threat, it’s intended as an expression of the Forum’s anguish and desperation.
Kasar said if the prime minister fails to come by the end of 10 days (which is July 24/25), the Forum will organise “a massive people’s movement” in Manipur. To quote from its press release of July 3 the Forum says: “The Forum for Restoration of Peace … will demonstrate a massive people’s movement in the state of Manipur as well as in the National Capital of India to show before the world that the Union Government of India is not interested to resolve the ethnic violence taking place in the state of Manipur.”
This initiative by the Forum comes at a time when the first killing of a Naga person has taken place in Imphal. Both the United Naga Council and the All Naga Students Association have issued strongly-worded press releases demanding a judicial inquiry and action against Meitei Meira Paibis women “who are complicit in this act of crime”.
The Nagas are 24% of the population of Manipur and so far they have not been involved in the Kuki-Meitei clashes. This is why the killing of a Naga woman on Saturday (July 15) is significant as is the allegation made by the Nagas that Meitei Meira Paibis women are involved. Many believe it could be an attempt to escalate the Manipur communal clash to involve the Naga community.
In an interview to The Wire, Kasar, who is also the president of the Indigenous People’s Forum of Manipur, criticised the strategy so far adopted by the central government to tackle the crisis in Manipur.
First, he spoke about the peace committee created by home minister Amit Shah. Kasar said he was the person who proposed the committee and whilst he is grateful that Shah accepted his proposal and acted on it, the committee that’s been created serves no purpose. There are three things wrong with it. First, it should have included all the 34 tribes of Manipur but involves barely two or three. Second, Biren Singh and other ministers of the government should not be involved because in Kuki eyes they are distrusted and disliked. Furthermore, many of these politicians failed to act at the peak of violence and, therefore, have no role in a peace committee. Third, the peace committee should not involve the Meiteis and Kukis at this stage because they are “warring communities”. With their involvement the committee cannot function.
Kasar was particularly critical of the Union government’s strategy for handling Manipur. He said: “Pumping in thousands and thousands of military personnel in the state of Manipur will not bring peace and normalcy.” He added: “The Prime Minister of India should have invited both the parties on his small table and resolve the issue amicably.” His conclusion is that a dialogue is needed. Sending in 60,000 soldiers is not the right response.
Finally, Kasar was sharply critical of the Manipur governor. He said she was not just new to the job but inexperienced and ill-advised. “The Governor of Manipur is only focusing attention towards the valley civil society organisations leaving behind … civil society organisations of all communities in the hills.” He added, “we appeal the Governor of Manipur to convene a meeting of all civil society organisations of Manipur of both the hills and the valley to discuss and seek more views and opinions on the prevailing situation in Manipur.”
In the interview, Kasar pointed out that the Forum for Restoration of Peace does not support the Kuki demand for separate statehood. He added it cannot be considered “at all”.
Similarly, Kasar said the Meitei demand for scheduled tribe status cannot be part of any negotiations that the Meiteis and Kukis have. He said it must be left to the courts to resolve.