TAASAN NEWS: 8-2-2023, A 2-kilometer stretch of highway in the lush foothills of the Indian state of Manipur has become a symbol of sectarian conflict. A place where more than 180 people have been killed since May and the image of the powerful Prime Minister of this country, Narendra Modi, has been severely damaged.

The violent ethnic clashes in India's north-east come as Modi prepares to host the Group of Seven leaders in September as well as contest next year's general election.

Although the tensions in this region are not new and have existed for a long time between different ethnicities, the depth of violence intensified in May when the Kukis protested against the Mittis' demand to obtain legal status for their tribe. In fact, the Mithis claim that they do not have the same rights and privileges as other tribes.

But the problem is not only this, ethnic differences and conflicts are so high in this region that this issue acted like a spark for the explosion of a powder warehouse and made the situation so alarming that many are talking about the impending civil war in this state.

Tribal conflicts in the Manipur region of India from 2009 to 2018 caused the violent deaths of more than a thousand natives of this region.

Members of the Mitti tribe, who make up 53% of the state, claim that they do not have the same rights and privileges as other tribes, and for this reason, they demand equal rights with other Indian citizens.

There are reports of armed clashes in the area, with rival gunmen regularly firing at each other with assault weapons, sniper rifles, and pistols at bunkers and outposts along the highway and elsewhere in Manipur.

Following these conflicts, tens of thousands of people have left their homes due to the war. Villages have been set on fire, and many women have been sexually assaulted. While the army forces are ordered to maintain the peace, they do not have the right to disarm the fighters. All these conditions show that there is no clear prospect for improving the situation and establishing peace.

Historian and author Ramachandra Guha describes the situation as "a mixture of anarchy and civil war and a complete breakdown of state administration".

"This is a failure of the Prime Minister at a time of great national crisis," Guha said in a televised interview about the crisis in north-east India. "Narendra Modi lives in his own bubble; he doesn't like to be associated with bad news and hopes that these problems will resolve themselves."

Modi's office and local officials did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. The Kukis, who make up one-third of the Mittis population, bear a disproportionate burden of violence, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the victims, the news agency said. The members of this tribe generally fled to the hills and were forced to leave their homes and villages.

Security officials say most of the violence and killings took place in buffer zones near Manipur's foothills, where intense armed clashes are ongoing. The stretch of the National Highway where the Mithi-dominated Bishnupur district intersects with the Kuki-controlled Chorchandpur is one of the critical areas that has seen the worst clashes.

What does Modi say?

Modi's first comments on the violence in Manipur came last week, two months after the crisis began. He finally opened his mouth a day after the release of videos showing two women running naked and being attacked by the crowd.

Reacting to this video, which was widely circulated on the Internet and received international criticism, Mr. Prime Minister said: "The law will take its strongest steps to deal with this issue with all its might." What happened to the girls of Manipur can never be forgiven."

The Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also heads the state government in Manipur. In the federal parliament, due to the violence, Modi is facing the risk of a vote of no confidence for the second time in more than nine years of power, and a meeting for this purpose is scheduled to be held in the parliament. Although there is no threat to his cabinet due to having the majority, he should probably go into the details of this crisis more than before.

The opposition is likely to ask Modi why he insists on supporting Manipur Chief Minister Ann Biren Singh, who is a Mitthi. Singh has launched a controversial anti-drug campaign and says he plans to crack down on poppy cultivation. Singh claims that since 2017, he has managed to destroy more than 7,000 hectares of poppy fields, most of which are located in Kuki areas. Meanwhile, this poor province is facing a drug addiction crisis, and Manipur is the second-largest producer of opium in the world.

Singh's actions have caused some of the Kuki people to face economic problems. He also warned the Kukis that the villages where poppy is cultivated would be deprived of government welfare assistance.

Manipur borders Myanmar and is one of the smallest states in India, with a population of about 3.2 million people. While the Kukis constitute only 16% of the population of the state, the Metis make up about 53% of the people in this region.

According to unofficial statistics, the number of people killed in these clashes has been 181, of whom 113 were Koki and 62 were Mitti. Data showed that in the first week of violence in early May, 77 Kukis were killed compared to 10 Mittis, Reuters reported. However, there are no sources to confirm the accuracy of these statistics.

According to the government's estimates, more than 2,780 weapons were stolen from government arsenals during this period and are in the hands of the Mittis, but the Kukis have only 156 weapons.

Author: Hameedullah Ghafoori