Manipur is burning, and the oil fuelling this hellfire is an enemy we know all too well. Over the past couple of years, the Meiteis in the plains have been demanding a Scheduled Tribe (ST) categorization in the state, much to the chagrin of the minority tribals, the Kuki community, who dwell largely in the hills of Manipur and have historically lived in the forests. The contention behind providing the ST categorization to the Meiteis comes from the fact that with them being classified as a tribal population by the Indian state, they will be able to buy forestland. Though tensions have been simmering for a while, it was the Manipur High Court order that tipped this cauldron over. The order directed the state government to recommend to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry by 29th May an ST tag for the Meitei community. In protest against the same order, the All Tribal Students’ Union organised a Tribal Solidarity March on 3rd May in 10 hill districts.
The situation saw a quick escalation with the Imphal Valley as the first site of repression, here the houses of Kukis were razed and their churches vandalised. In resistance to the same, the Kukis countered against the aggressors. The escalation of the subsequent clashes has seen the death of at least 54 people, the displacement of 23,000 people and the arbitrary imposition of Article 355, a constitutional provision providing the central Indian government to mete out its diktat with impunity.
With the imposition of the Indian government’s direct central assertion over the oppressed nationalities in Manipur and the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) tightening chokehold on the region, the state has found a reason to implement a “shoot at sight” order as the norm. The occupying Indian army has infested the land with the entry of 100 columns of army troops and the Assam Rifles unit in combination with the deployment of around 24 companies of paramilitary forces like RAF, CRPF and BSF. Further, new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) hover in the air and helicopters are redeployed in the Imphal Valley to “significantly enhance” aerial surveillance.
This surveillance and militarisation of the land is not restricted to the valley alone, but extends from the hinterlands to the Indo-Myanmar border. The people have been further restricted in both their thought and movement with the imposition of Indian Penal Code’s Section 144, a curfew in nine out of 16 districts and the curtailment of internet access, thereby restricting access of information to democratically minded citizens and journalists. What the brahmanical Hindutva fascist Indian state has asserted as measures for preventing an “ethnic conflict”, are part and parcel of India’s occupation over the nation of Manipur and the curtailment of the right to self-determination of the various developed and developing nationalities within the region.
Political Economic Situation
The piece of South Asia that was carved out as British Raj through British colonization and subsequently became the country known as India has never emerged out of a genuine anti-imperialist struggle. Instead, it was determined purely out of the whims of imperial interests. Meanwhile, various nationalities within India waged their own anti-imperialist struggle against British colonial forces and developed a national consciousness borne out of resistance to imperialism. Stalin clearly explained what features determine a nation, particularly, “a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”
Manipur is one such region which happened to find itself as the only independent state in its immediate vicinity where all its surrounding states subsequently fell to British colonialism. In the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891, Manipur too was transformed into a dependent state part of the British empire but not directly managed by the British forces ruling India. This historic situation contributed to the formation of nationalities within these regions. When the power was transferred to the Indian comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie from the British in 1947, these nationalities were forced to join the imperialist formation of India by the compradors.
In Manipur’s case, “[it] alone remained of her own as a sovereign State under a Democratic form of Government with its Monarch as the Head of the State from 18th of October 1948 but, most stunningly, the people’s government so formed rightfully exercising the de facto ‘self-determining and ruling birth rights’ was suddenly declared abolished from the 15th of October 1949 by an ‘imperious’ order issued by the interim government of the Dominion India saying Manipur has been ‘merged’ with them on the basis of signing in it by her king, Maharaja Bodhchandra Singh on 21 September 1949 at Shillong. The ‘merger agreement’ so forcibly signed by the Maharaja was outright rejected and not at all ‘ratified’ by the Manipur Legislative Assembly in its 4th sitting of the 3rd session held on 28 September 1949 at 2.30 p.m.” It should thus be clearly asserted that India is not a nation, nor a voluntary federation of nations, but a prison-house of nations that forcibly entraps various nationalities within it at the service of imperialism, Manipur being one of them.
Since then, Indian expansionism has forced Manipur into a situation of economic destitution as the Indian ruling class also created a Manipuri comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie that serves the objectives of imperialism and Indian expansionism of armed occupation and resource loot of the region. The economic conditions of Manipur have remained terrible under Indian expansionist rule, as scholar Malem Ningthouja elaborates. “As far as developmental and fiscal deficit are concerned, the share of the state in the All India Net Domestic Product remained stagnant at 0.2 per cent almost throughout the period 1991-92 to 2001-02.’ Till 1993 Manipur has deficit of 158 crore Rupees. As a result Manipur’s own resources in the tenth Five Years Plan had been Rs – (minus) 362.42 crore. As far as Per Capita Income of Manipur is concerned, in 1980-81 (at 1993-94 Prices) it had stood at Rs. 4901 against all India income of Rs. 5966; and correspondingly at Rs 5811 against Rs. 8759 in 1993-94; Rs. 8963 against Rs. 12496 in 2001-02 respectively. According to the 55th Round of the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) (July 1999 to June 2000), though the poverty ratio had declined, the number of poor had increased from 5.86 lakhs in 1973-1974 to 7.19 lakhs in 1999-2000. The NSSO 61st Round survey report has shown a drastic decline in the number of poverty to 3.95 lakhs in 2004-2005. The decline is based on a new methodology of poverty estimation and doesn’t calculate the actual number of poor persons whose access to basic requirements of subsistence has been fast declining.” On top of this, by 2022, one-third of the Manipuri peoples live below the poverty line.
As the masses are plunged into destitution, Manipur’s resources are subjected to consistent de-regulation by the Indian state which offers them up for private use to non-Manipuri companies, for the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) or these resources are taken under government-run agencies like the National Hydropower Corporation (NHPC). Non-Manipuri private entities have consistently received Indian state support in their land grabs. Dams are constructed for the generation of electricity which is transported to cities in India, not for the Manipuri population, with the likes of Loktak Hydro Electric Project being constructed to generate electricity for cities in other parts of India while Manipur purchases its electricity from hydel power plants in Assam.
Meanwhile forest land is either categorized as reserved forest allowing the state to displace many tribal communities from them. This has led to a situation of uprooted agriculture in the region, with less than 8% of Manipur being covered in agriculture by the peasantry. The Saikot MLA Paolienlal Haokip has even argued that the polarisation of the various communities has been triggered by the state administration, with the eviction notices of villages from reserved forest land in Churachandpur district, predominantly Kuki, being the flashpoint. Due to the tribal divisions, the various communities have developed some form of national consciousness, particularly the Kuki and Naga tribes of the hills and the Meiteis of the valleys.
In light of the political economic condition of Manipur, the recent ST controversy’s biggest bone of contention becomes the fact that the landlords, who come from Meitei community, would also be able to purchase lands from the Kuki and Naga peasantry in the hills and exacerbate the situation further against interests of the oppressed and exploited classes in the region. This internal contradiction is of course beneficial for the Indian expansionist forces who have been trying to combat Manipuri national liberation for more than 7 decades.
Manipur, Religion and Conflict: Flames of the Hindutva Project Burn Bright
There is also a religious dynamic which the Hindutva Indian state exploits in this conflict. The Meities are largely Hindu groups who occupy Manipur’s valleys. Meanwhile the Kukis are a tribal community of largely Christian converts who occupy the hills which they share with the Nagas. The religious targeting of churches in Manipur is further indicative of the designs of the “Hindu Rashtra” project as is undertaken by the state. In Manipur, a majority of the Kuki tribe are Hindu converts to Christianity, which the brahmanical Hindutva fascists cite as evidence of Manipur as part of their fictitious Hindu rashtra. This history is ignorant of the brahmanization of the Meiteis occurring only through the conversion of the Meitei king Charai Rongba in 1709 into the Vaishnavite trend of Hinduism. In the conflict which has centred around the conflict of land, the Christian aspect of Kukis has become a target in the attempted fascist Hindutva push in Manipur. Since violence has erupted in the region, Reverend Dr Peter Machado, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bengaluru, has said that “it is reported that around seventeen churches are either vandalised, desecrated, or defiled. Many are still burning”.
As an ideology, Brahmanism maintains the purity of caste. For the hounds of Hindutva, conversion is a slight to the caste system, an attack on their pride, their “dharm”. In this light, the persecution of Christian Kukis must be condemned- not only for religious subjugation, but also for the violence they are facing for trying to protect their land- for protesting against illegal eviction and encroachment on their rights. The fascist project has simultaneously utilized the Hindu Meiteis to create a base for themselves, which has seen the emergence of BJP electoral dominance in Manipur under Chief Minister Biren Singh. Fascism harnesses the anxieties of the bourgeois sections of the Meiteis regarding loss of land to “outsiders”, their shrinking economic prospects and their latching onto a need for preservation of culture, which fascism coalesces towards Hindutva.
Legal Militarization and Other Superstructural Forces
For the expansion of foreign finance capital, imperialism needs a unified market, large sections of cheap impoverished labour and direct access to natural resources. India serves as the perfect political entity that entraps more than a seventh of humanity under the aegis of its comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie, maintains this humongous section of persons in destitution and undertakes large-scale militarization for the sake of resource loot. Places like Manipur, with a heightened national consciousness offer the potential idea of national liberation for these oppressed nationalities to escape this imperialist project through an anti-imperialist nationality struggle. This tension between the Meities and Kukis has been cleverly used by the comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie to divide the resistance on identitarian trends and consolidate its fascist base. Therefore, it will be remiss to not say that Manipur is a question of land, a space for capital to valorise and for the curbing of resistance so that the imperial project can carry forth unencumbered. This manufactured chaos has allowed the government to make use of the tools of fascism- the draconian law. It should be clear that more than just the question of valorization of foreign finance capital, in a semi-colonial semi-feudal society with limited change occurring over large period of time for the masses, the superstructure may grow to affect the base too, in contrast to the general understanding that the economic base influences the superstructure. Religion and ethnicity form a part of the superstructure of this society and this conflict, heightened by the political interests of fascism, utilizes the superstructure to curb the national consciousness of the masses of Manipur and fans their reactionary trends for its own service, particularly the brahmanical Hinduization of India.
The insidious nature of the BJP ruled state is clear- with the declaration of a state of emergency under Article 355 of the Constitution, the powers of governance are shifted into the hands of the centre. Amid the chaos, where thousands of people have already been displaced, if Meities are granted ST status in the state then the comprador-bourgeoisie within the community will be able to grab land for the furtherance of the imperialist project. On top of ordering imposition of Section 144 of CRPC, a “shoot at sight” order has also been passed by Manipuri authorities. In ordering of its imposition, the order reads “it appears to the undersigned that there is a likelihood of causing a serious breach of peace, disturbances to public tranquillity, and grave danger to human lives and properties in the area which is described in the schedule given below on account of unlawful activities of some anti-social elements.” In this order, ‘anti-social’ elements have an interesting connotation since it desires the investigation of who ‘anti-social’ people consist of.
The fact of the matter is the law is merely part of the fascist assault on democratic rights, a part of the incessant barrage of attacks carried out across the country by the Brahmanical fascists. The targets of such attacks are dissenters and those who remain non-submissive. In the hands of the fascists, the law is not a means to justice but a tool of oppressive violence and subjugation. Consider Article 355 which allows for the Centre to take control of the state machinery in Manipur. In such an emergency, the central Indian forces can rapidly seize ground and directly attack all dissent with impunity in the name of maintaining peace. The Indian state’s peacekeeping then graduated with the vicious, draconian method of militarisation and AFSPA- as is seen in Manipur right now. AFSPA is the act which has been historically imposed in that state for a very long time. It had triggering Irom Sharmila’s one of a kind fast, leading to Manorama’s tragic death and the stirring protest of women who disrobed themselves against rape by security forces.
The conflict of Manipur has various socio-economic and political causes that have driven it, at the cost of lives. Yet, the state cannot be allowed to reduce the class-based issues in Manipur to mere ethnicity. At the present, Manipur itself comprises multiple developing and developed nationalities within it, from the Kangleipak struggle which aspires for the unity of all the oppressed and exploited sections of Manipur into a common national struggle as well as other nationalities like Kuki, Naga, Mizo etc. The Indian expansionist forces have fostered the cultural divisions in Manipur to the point that it is aspiring to utilize the superstructure to transform the base of society in a manner that further serves imperialist resource loot. If the masses of Manipur want an exit from the current situation, not just the violence fostered by fascism but also the economic destitution and militarization, they must form unity on the lines of class struggle. Imperialism’s dance of death hits its final note at the juncture of anti-imperialist national liberation led by the proletariat and peasantry.
by Val Varshri, student of law, Jindal Global Law School
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- Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty (5th May 2023) “Seven Reasons Why the Violence in Manipur Cannot Be Considered a Sudden Occurrence” The Wire https://thewire.in/politics/explainer-manipur-violence-biren-singh-meiteis-kuki-zo-nagas
- Express Web Desk, (9th May 2023) “Manipur News Highlights: No untoward incident reported in last two days, Centre, state govt tell SC” Indian Express https://indianexpress.com/agency/express-web-desk/
- Tora Aggarwal (9th May 2023) “The Biren Singh 2.0 factor in one of Manipur’s worst ethnic clashes” Indian Express https://indianexpress.com/article/political-pulse/biren-singh-factor-manipur-worst-ethnic-clashes-8598481/
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