The incident yesterday of Meitei villagers having to evacuate their homes in the Kangpokpi, Sapermeina and Motbung area on account of alleged threats by a Suspension of Operations, SoO, signatory militants highlights yet again the fragile communal harmony which can be so thoughtlessly jeopardised by unscrupulous armed men. According to reports, the villagers were being targeted not for anything they did, but to spite rival militant groups belonging to their community. This is a disgrace, and in the history of even the very bad ethnic relations in the state, face offs like this seldom happen. The only exception may be similar frictions at Moreh some years ago just as the SoO was coming into force. Even there, militants shot people they claimed were associated with their rivals and not indiscriminately target the public of other communities. Otherwise, militants have been generally known to fight rival militants, but seldom ever trained their guns indiscriminately at the public as in the present case. The incident is condemnable for another grave reason. Standing on a communal tinderbox as Manipur does today it had the potential to spark off a communal mayhem. Thankfully though better senses prevailed and there were no repercussions. This notwithstanding, it would have left a bad taste in every sane person’s mouth. We hope the situation returns to normal at the soonest and the government does all within its power to ensure that the matter is put rest conclusively. It goes without saying it must also reassess its SoO ground rules so that militants which have come under its umbrage to facilitate peace talks do not become public nuisances. Sadly, at this moment, the opposite is just the reality. Again, once the trouble has subsided, leaders of the different communities must come forward and do their bit to patch up and heal the wounds. The state has seen enough ethnic conflicts and communal bloodsheds. Surely no one wants to see a repeat of the carnages of the early 1990s.
But it is the government and the Army (including the Assam Rifles) which must be made to face the music. Insurgents at large committing crimes of extortion and intimidation is bad enough, but extremely dangerous intimidations by militant groups who are on truce with the government and are in government approved designated camps under government protection, which could have triggered a chain of murderous violence cannot be accepted under any circumstance. For this reason, it is not so much the militant group allegedly involved in the intimidation but more the government and the Army who must make a public clarification on how such an atrocious development was allowed to happen under their very noses. Once they have done this, they must also pledge as well as make it known what remedial measures have been taken so as to instil public confidence again, especially of those who have had to abandon their homes and flee.
Yesterday’s incident brings to fore the old cliché that peace is not just about an absence of violence. This is so because there is also something as latent violence and this does not show up in statistics. Unfortunately, the government’s popular indices of peace and violence do not ever attempt to understand this factor, much less make it a determinant in drawing up a picture of the law and order in the state. It is therefore a foregone conclusion that the government would at the end of the year be claiming that it has succeeded in controlling the law and order situation because it has signed truces with several militant groups, and that the number of cases of actual bloodshed and ambushes has gone down. On the face of it, this is true, but the fact is, as anybody in a conflict torn state like Manipur would vouch, it is only a half truth. There is another half which goes unreported in this approach. This unreported half which negates all claims of a control of the law and situation by the establishment is what is showing up in cases of intimidation such as seen yesterday. However, quite obviously again, when the police department draws up its progress report at the end of the year, incidents such as yesterday’s would not figure, on the plea that there was not a single bullet fired or anybody killed or injured. The only thing exposed under the circumstance would be the flawed assumptions of peace.