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regular-article-logo Monday, 20 May 2024

Sequence of events shows disconnect between Biren Singh government and forces

Mistrust between the BJP-run state government and the central forces has deepened

Umanand Jaiswal Guwahati Published 12.09.23, 05:59 AM
N Biren Singh.

N Biren Singh. File Photo

The following sequence of events offers an insight into the price that the Centre’s apparent softness towards the political leadership is exacting on Manipur: the mistrust between the BJP-run state government and the central forces has deepened.

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September 8: Alerted by word that Meitei intruders were locked in a firefight with security forces in a Kuki area, thousands of Metei supporters tried to march towards a Kuki village by gathering at Pallel in Tengnoupal district. Shot at from within the crowd, the security forces fired back. Three civilians were killed and several, including an army officer, were injured.

September 9: A Manipur government media statement said the N. Biren Singh-led Manipur cabinet had “condemned the unwanted actions of the central security forces” on civilians the previous day at Pallel. The cabinet also “resolved to apprise about the incident to the Centre”.

This was an uncommon response: a state government, unable to halt the conflict
that began on May 3, invites central forces to ensure peace but now condemns the same forces whose help the administration sought. Usually, Opposition-run governments — not those that are in power at both the state and the Centre — make such statements against the central forces.

September 11: The Manipur cabinet move to condemn the central security forces is being contested now. Two sources associated with security forces in Manipur spoke to The Telegraph but on condition of anonymity.

The sources, familiar with the situation in Manipur, where clashes between Meiteis and Kukis since May 3 have killed at least 182 people and displaced over 67,000, underlined that the cabinet’s stand ran counter to a media statement that the state police themselves had issued on September 8.

The police statement contained phrases like “joint operation”, “calibrated operation in self-defence” and “used minimum force”.

Yet, the Manipur government’s statement of condemnation mentioned only central security forces. The home portfolio in Manipur is held by chief minister Singh, calls for whose sacking have so far been ignored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The control room of Manipur police had in a media statement on September 8 night said: “Firefight erupted today morning at Molnoi village near Pallel in Tengnoupal district of Manipur between security forces and some armed miscreants who attempted to resort to arson and violence in the village.

“Following this incident, crowds of thousands of people attempted to move towards Pallel. However, security forces jointly attempted to stop the mob to ensure peace and stability in Pallel, where the situation has been tense for a few days.

“Being blocked by security forces, some armed miscreants from within the mob fired... resulting in gunshot injuries to an army officer who was evacuated by helicopter to the military hospital.”

In the media statement, the Manipur police control room had added: “Three other police personnel were also injured during the crowd dispersal. In a calibrated response in self-defence and to control the unruly mob, security forces used minimum force to disperse the mob that led to injuries to a few persons who were part of the mob out of which two reportedly died.”

The sources underscored that the police statement was evidence that the central forces and the police were working in close coordination.

“Central forces work according to orders given to them and they will continue doing their job in a non-partisan manner to maintain order,” one of the sources said.

One of them said that “it is time to look inward and find out why this is happening”, referring to the rise in the trend of mobs obstructing security forces while they attempted to discharge their duty.

The sources also emphasised that the central forces had been deployed on a “request” from the BJP-led Manipur government after the violence began on May 3, and asked why “peaceful areas” such as Pallel “were being targeted by miscreants”.

A police officer had told this newspaper on September 8 that armed intruders, suspected to be from the valley side, had tried to storm Molnoi, a Kuki village about 300 metres from Pallel, around 6am. The security forces, including the police, had intervened to thwart them.

Soon a mob of “around 9,000-10,000” from the valley gathered along the highway at several places, including Thoubal, Lamkha and Pallel, having heard about the ongoing firing between the intruders and the security forces.

The mob gathered at Pallel and tried to move towards Molnoi. There was firing at the security forces by some from among the crowd but they were driven away, the official said.

Sources said security personnel had resorted to firing after exhausting all options to break up the huge crowd, including requests to them to disperse followed by a baton-charge, tear gas shelling, the firing of rubber bullets, and then the firing of bullets “below the waist”.

“We tried to disperse the crowd for over two hours,” the official said.

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