Manipur – Result of Majoritarianism and Suppression of Democratic National Aspirations in CapitalismJune 12, 2023
The deadly fratricidal clashes that broke out in Manipur on May 3 and continuing for a month now have left over 80 dead till now, several hundred missing (according to the government they have fled out of fear into the jungles or into neighbouring Myanmar), several thousand houses have been burnt to ashes and over 50,000, having lost their homes and livelihoods, have been forced to become refugees. The immediate trigger for these clashes was the High Court direction to the state government to take a decision on the recommendation for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the majority Meitei community. In addition to getting the share in the job quota for the STs the Meiteis want the ST status as they will be able to buy land in the hill areas of the state reserved only for the members of the STs.
This direction of the HC was followed by a tribal solidarity march in protest on this as well as other long simmering issues. There was also counter mobilisation by majoritarian Hindu Meiteis who dominate the whole state machinery. Then the violence erupted in which state administration and police appear to have joined by omission and commission, based on ethnic affiliations. It has been reported that police armouries were opened and more than two thousand weapons from there were used in the violence along with the weapons already present in a state which has long seen armed insurgency. Even now, instead of seizing the arms, only an appeal to return the weapons has been issued after Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to state 4 weeks after the clashes broke out.
Though this was the immediate trigger for violence, but there are reports that it was not spontaneous. According to a report in The Telegraph rumours were spread that Hindu places of worship were being destroyed in Kuki areas. Security officials say that the violence had been perpetrated largely by two radicalised Meitei groups – Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun which have grown with the rise of Meitei nationalism after BJP came into power in the state in 2017.
According to The Telegraph (similar reports are there in other papers) a senior army officer with the Eastern Command said that he saw striking similarities between the militias’ tactics and a Hindutva outfit blamed for Ram Navami procession violence in several parts of the country. He added that the targeted attacks on the Kuki community, its properties and its churches resembled the violence seen against minorities elsewhere in India. “They not only vandalised Kuki churches, but they also attacked the churches of the small community if Christians among the Meiteis themselves.” A paramilitary commandant said. He also said that these Meitei outfits had government blessings and they were provided with the addresses of all Kuki owned homes which they had marked with red paint in advance. This was followed by retaliation in hill areas on Meiteis living there. The result is that all Meiteis have now been forced out of hill areas and all Zo (Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zomi-Hmer) tribals have been forced to flee their homes from Imphal valley.
It’s also clear that the BJP Chief Minister of Manipur N Biren Singh, instead of working to calm down the things and bringing situation in control, tried to further fuel the fire by announcing that Army had gunned down 40 Kuki terrorists in hill areas who were responsible for the violence. However, the Chief of Defence Staff Anil Jain denied this very next day in Pune and said no counter insurgency operations were being carried out in the state by army.
Coming back to the immediate issue, its highly ironic that sharing of reservation quotas for government jobs and college admissions was used as the trigger for inciting violence between ethnic communities. The deeply crisis ridden capitalist system, now in its rotting extremely regressive fascist avatar, has proved to be a total failure to provide even some breathing relief what to say of ‘development’ to most of the toiling, exploited, oppressed masses of the country. Unemployment is at its zenith. Recruitment for government jobs has almost ceased. Privatization of and retrenchment in all PSUs is in full swing. There is no employment security in the private sector. Most of the earlier regular jobs are being converted into casual or contract jobs. Even more acute is the exploitation in the gig economy jobs. The erstwhile hard won labor and democratic rights of the toiling oppressed masses are being curtailed one after the other. Reservation quotas for historically depressed sections in education and employment have already been rendered almost ineffective.
Moreover, owing to the inevitable uneven development in capitalism, whatever jobs are available in small numbers are to be found in the relatively better off developed areas. The situation is much worse in backward states and large number of people, especially the young are being compelled to migrate to other parts of the country in search for employment. They have not only to face exploitation as labor but also face oppression based on nationality, race, caste, language, religion, etc. There is a well-known long history of the racial and national oppression borne by the people of the North-East states in rest of India. Such is the lack of job opportunities that the current unemployment rate in Manipur is double the national rate of unemployment. According to the Indian Express (May 10), 65% of the men in rural areas are engaged in the so-called ‘self-employment’ which is but compulsion to do something to somehow remain alive. Most of the toiling people engaged in these ‘pakoda frying self-employment’ tom-tommed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi are part of the huge reserve army of unemployed forced to survive at a level even below India’s already low standard of living who help the Indian capitalist class in lowering the minimum wage rate by further bringing down the average standard of living. Much profitable indeed for the ruling capitalist class and its government.
It is at this very moment of severe crisis of unemployment in the country, that the ruling class, in the absence of a strong working-class revolutionary force, have been able to transform the very calamity into an opportunity for their heinous designs. They are using the deceptive allurement of increased percentage share in the nearly zero real numbers of available jobs under reservation quota, to entice people and create mutual disharmony and enmity among different ethnic communities and inciting them to indulge in such fratricidal bloodshed. A small affluent section of all ethnicities and castes having joined the ruling class now acting as agents and power brokers of the ruling class in the same communities and castes are engaged in executing this nefarious conspiracy. This is the much-rehearsed script which has been used earlier for this very purpose in the states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra, Telangana, etc. They entice those castes and ethnic communities outside reservation by offering to include them in the reservation quotas and those who are already included in OBC quota they lure them by offering to move them to the Scheduled Castes (SC) or Scheduled Tribes (ST) quotas. In Manipur, similar allurement of moving them to 30% ST quota was used to entice the Meitei community who are already included in the OBC/SC category. This was bound to create resentment in the tribes already included in the ST category as it would result the reduction of their share. It inflamed the already tense socio-political situation of Manipur. Only a small spark was needed to ignite a conflagration, the result being this gruesome fratricidal massacre.
However, behind this immediate trigger is a long history of prejudices, insecurity, discontent, tension, conflict. To get to the root of that we must understand the question of nationality. Modern nation states are the product of capitalist development. A stable community of people, speaking a common language, living in a contiguous geographical area, having a common economic life and culture developed a psychological mental makeup of belonging to a nation during the process of development of capitalism as a common domestic market emerged. The nation states were formed on this through a long historical process.
But the present state of India did not form through such a process. Here British colonial rule was established even before the emergence of the possibility of the rise of nation states in the process of capitalist development. The modern Indian state has been formed based on a common political struggle for freedom from colonial rule. Hence it consists of multiple ethnicities speaking different languages and having varying level of development of culture and economy living over a wide geographical area which lived under the British colonial rule. During its reign, the colonial powers drew arbitrary non-historical lines on maps for draw borders with China, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran. Moreover, political and administrative units were formed to fulfil colonial interests disregarding the people who lived there. Over and above this, the colonial India was further sub-divided into Burma (Myanmar), Pakistan (then Bangladesh) along similar arbitrary lines drawn on maps by colonial administrators with complete disregard to the wishes of the people.
This resulted in many ethnic communities and tribes speaking same language and having similar economic life and culture being arbitrarily divided by illogical boundary lines drawn forcibly, while many communities with completely different language, culture, unequal economic life and political history were being merged into the same political-administrative unit. This has sown many seeds of disharmony among the people – owing to historical narrow-mindedness, localist prejudices, and discontent arising out of distribution of resources. The results are visible from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu or from Gujarat-Rajasthan to Tripura. Further, the historically moribund and reactionary capitalist class that came to power in India in 1947 lacked the vitality to develop a modern and democratic India through thoroughgoing economic and cultural development. Hence, instead of resolving these narrow prejudices and discontents through comprehensive democratisation of all walks of life, it adopted a policy of festering these wounds by procrastination as well as by active instigation, promoting fratricidal disharmony and majoritarian oppression based on religion, caste, language as well as nationality.
Let us look at present Manipur. The majority (53% of population) Meitei community has had a long history of its own language, religion, and monarchic state in the settled agricultural region of plains of Imphal Valley. The various tribes living in the hills around Imphal Valley – Naga, Lushai, Chin, Cachar, Mizo, Zomi – were never a part of this state. Their language, culture, religion, economic life, political units were entirely separate. But the colonial rule drew arbitrary lines through the foot of these hills per their convenience. Some of them now live in Myanmar (erstwhile Burma), some in present-day Bangladesh, some in other states of present-day India and rest having been merged with the princely Meitei state now form a part of the present-day Manipur. The current situation is that 10% of the geographical area of Manipur state is inhabited by the Meitei community in settled agricultural region of Imphal Valley, while 90% of the hills and forests around it are inhabited by Kuki, Chin, Mizo, Zomi, Naga tribes forming the minorities.
Unable to ignore the complexity this created and envisaging future problems, the Constituent Assembly, provided for limited autonomy and self-government to the various tribes of the old undivided Assam through the 6th Schedule of the Constitution. This arrangement continued in the states formed in the Northeast by the partition of erstwhile Assam. But this arrangement was not made applicable to Manipur and Tripura which merged with India as separate princely states. In 1985, this arrangement was made applicable to the tribal areas of Tripura through a constitutional amendment. However, despite long standing demand, Manipur was left out. This has generated a long sense of insecurity and discontent among various tribes residing in the hills of Manipur against the majority Meitei dominance, and their underground armed factions have been waging a long struggle against it. Therefore, the apprehension of even the slightest change in the situation to the perceived detriment of the minority tribal communities is bound to create a turmoil in the state. In 2015, when the then Congress government tried to enact 3 new laws related to property in land, houses, shops, etc., 9 people were killed in protests and community clashes. Those laws could not be implemented and were allowed to lapse on procedural grounds.
Another critical aspect relates to the 19th century conversion of the Meitei dynasty to Vaishnavism and adoption of the Bangla script. This has created an internal rift within the Meitei community itself and in the last couple of decades a large section of them have been campaigning to go back to their old religion and script. But the situation has been further complicated by the coming to power, in the meantime, of the Hindutva ideology driven BJP at the Centre as well as in the State governments and their attempts at glorification of the Vaishnava Meitei kings to indulge in Hindutva-based majoritarianism. The BJP government in the state built a memorial to 19th-century Meitei king Chandrakirti Singh at Behiang in the Kuki-majority Churachandrapur district, although the area never formed a part of the historic Meitei kingdom. This has further fueled distrust.
This insecurity and discontent among the tribal communities has reached its peak due to many actions of BJP government which appeared to target mainly the Kukis, for example, declaring forests as reserves and campaign against unauthorized growth of villages in reserve forest, encroachment removal drives, demolition of churches termed illegal, proposal to give Meitei right to buy land in forest area, etc. When some Chin people (Kuki-Chin are from the same clan) came across the border due to the repression of the military rule in Myanmar, the Kukis gave them shelter as their brethren and relatives and were angered by the BJP government drive against them as foreign nationals. Meanwhile, BJP Chief Minister N Biren Singh also called off the ongoing Suspension of Operations and peaceful settlement negotiations with some Kuki insurgent groups.
This was the background in which the proposal for inclusion of Meitei in the ST reservation category led to anger and large-scale clashes, houses of both Meitei and tribal minorities living in areas dominated by other community were burnt, killings took place, and many had to take refuge to save their lives. Now 10 tribal legislators have issued a statement that it is no longer possible for the Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zomi tribes to live peacefully in Manipur and creation of a separate state is the only peaceful alternative. This has also found echo in the neighbouring state of Mizoram as the Mizos are kin to the Zo tribes of Manipur and many tribal refugees of the current violence have got shelter there. There is also a third side to the issue as the Naga population of Manipur have also been demanding Nagalim which finds support in another neighbouring state Nagaland. Add to it the fact of deadly clash of some months back between police forces of Assam and Meghalaya, and one can realise what a spectre of ethnic conflicts BJP majoritarian and divisive politics has ignited in the whole of Northeast.
Clearly this problem is due to unresolved historical prejudices, uneven development in capitalism, absence of democratization, inadequate protection of the rights of minorities combined with the acute misery in life of the common people because of the crisis of Indian capitalism. Instead of resolving the issues timely, the succeeding bourgeois governments of India allowed it to become a canker so that they could suppress the democratic rights by inciting mutual enmity among the people. The Hindutva fascist BJP has turned majoritarianism into an explosive situation by further promoting it. The result is the recent tragic events. Right from the beginning, there was very little democratic content in the bourgeois democracy of India. There were few opportunities for the expression, what to say of the fulfilment, of the just democratic aspirations of various people. Now, under the rule of the fascist party that came to power in the phase of decay of capitalism, even the façade of limited democracy is being torn down and just the expression of such democratic aspirations is being denounced as anti-national, treason and terrorism. The scope for the resolution of the issues of national oppression in bourgeois democracy by widening scope of democratic rights has now extremely narrowed. All such issues of national oppression and fulfilment of democratic aspirations of all nationalities can only be resolved in a socialist system under the leadership of the proletariat, on the strength of the unity of the working class and toiling masses of all nationalities, religion and castes. That is the call of the hour.