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Manipur foretells life in New India

Updated on: 05 June,2023 08:14 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ajaz Ashraf |

The violence in the Northeastern state portends this country’s future under Hindutva, which is underpinned by anti-minorityism

Manipur foretells life in New India

Security forces personnel carry out ‘extensive area domination operations’ to bring peace and harmony in violence-hit areas of Manipur on June 3. Pic/PTI

Ajaz AshrafAn Indian who is now a French citizen and I were discussing, months ago, the ascendancy of far-Right leader Marine Le Pen in France. In this context, he wondered what religious minorities feared most regarding the Indian State abandoning secularism for Hindutva. Did he think the French police under Le Pen would allow white French mobs to attack migrants? Unthinkable as of now, he replied. Not so in India, I responded.

Manipur has confirmed that the minorities’ fear of a Hindutva State is not unfounded. Media reports say the demographically dominant Meiteis, who are mostly Hindu, killed Kukis and burnt their properties while Manipur police commandos blithely watched. Over 200 Kuki churches have been torched, underscoring the religious dimension of the ethnic conflict.

Kuki armed outfits, confined to camps under the 2008 Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement, did retaliate against the marauding Meiteis, and even, at times, fired first. This prompted Chief Minister Biren Singh, a Meitei, to claim that nearly half of the 80 killed till then were “terrorists,” implying that the Manipur police shot dead Kukis hell-bent on setting the state ablaze.

The falsity of Singh’s statement is palpable from a Telegraph report quoting a senior army officer on the similarities he saw between the tactics of Meitei militias—Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun—and a Hindutva outfit blamed for the violence, earlier this year, during the Ram Navami celebrations in the country. India Today’s Afrida Hussain went to Manipur at the outbreak of the ethnic conflict there, and returned later at the recurrence of the violence. She wrote about seeing “civilian youth, dressed in black and mostly wearing black masks…breaking into houses” as Manipur police commandos gazed impassively.

After Hussain filed her report, she began receiving threat calls. A gang of women burst into her hotel. Hussain was not there then, but thought it prudent to ask Assam Rifles IG for protection. Hussain noted, “No one questioned me when I went to Manipur on May 5 and covered Kuki militants. But one thing against the majority community got me into trouble.” The violence in Manipur is just a trailer of India’s future under a full-blown Hindutva State.

It is not that the Indian State has always been impartial. In October-November 1984, the police did not intervene to stop the large-scale killing of Sikhs in several cities, including Delhi, where Rajiv Gandhi had been sworn-in as the Prime Minister after his mother’s assassination. Two months later, his party went on to win 414 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. In 2002, Narendra Modi was pitchforked into the limelight as the Gujarat Police let Hindutva mobs go on a killing spree. Modi is now projected, ironically, as the country’s most decisive prime minister ever.

There are other instances of the State’s complicity in fanning fires of violence. In 1987, scores of  Muslims were arrested in Hashimpura, in Meerut district, and shot dead, one by one, and their bodies tossed into a Ganga canal. The Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry named 31 police officers who participated in the 1992-93 Mumbai communal riots. The number of such instances is too large for me to enumerate here. 

Yet there is a seminal difference between the conduct of the State under the Bharatiya Janata Party and that under other political parties. For one, Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologised in Parliament for the 1984 riots; for another, the party never adopted anti-minorityism as an ideological plank, and has now belatedly revived, with vigour, the idea of composite nationalism.

By contrast, the BJP has still to apologise for the Gujarat riots. Anti-minorityism defines the Sangh. Its leaders strive to outdo each other in spewing venomous rhetoric against Muslims and Christians. Its footsoldiers resort to vigilantism and have lynched citizens. Unabashedly promoting Hindutva is the most-favoured path to success for second-rung leaders in the Sangh— think Adityanath, Biren Singh, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Basavaraj Bommai and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who was earlier seen as a moderate. Officials have taken a cue from their political masters, and turn a blind eye to the Hindutva-driven violence to save or boost their careers.

This has made the State grossly partial, the inimical impact of which certain dominant castes, too, have now experienced. The wrestlers’ protest has gone unheeded because they are Jat, a community against whom the BJP seeks to turn other social groups, as has happened in Haryana. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has demonised Yadavs to rally others against them. 

The State is now the agent provocateur. Recall Home Minister Amit Shah’s explanation of the “chronology” of the exercise to update the National Register of Citizens. “First, we will pass the Citizenship Amendment bill and ensure that all the refugees from the neighbouring nations get Indian citizenship. After that NRC will be made…we will detect and deport every infiltrator from our motherland,” he said. 

Infiltrator is a euphemistic term for Muslims. They took to the streets, in panic, as soon as the bill became a law in 2019, and encountered State repression. Biren Singh has only emulated Shah. Let us admit: Manipur is a portent of the devastation awaiting the chimera called New India.

The writer is a senior journalist.
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