Last week I spent 60 hours in Manipur. I went to ground zero to investigate the truth behind the conflict because, after decades, violence and brutality returned to a state known for its kind, warm and hospitable people.
Manipur has been plunged into abysmal insanity. It is at a tipping point of a civil war. There is no trust between the warring communities – Meitei and Kuki – and right now both claim to be saints caught in a war in which they have to defend their communities. The truth is that while the common people from both communities are mere pawns in this conflict and are made victims of the ensuing violence, some of the community leaders are responsible for the violence, whether by an act of offense or defense.
Manipur was set on fire. It was set on fire because some powerful influencers in the state and outside the state with a hold in the narcotics business, politics, and bureaucracy unleashed a systematic war to control the Rs 70000 crore narcotics trade in Manipur. Opioid drugs account for approximately 35 percent of the narcotics business out of Manipur. They wanted to work together but they could agree to a price in their narcotics business. So the power struggle and games kicked in.
Heroin one of the most popular opioid drugs continues to have a huge market in India. Manipur is close to the ‘Golden Triangle’ of drug production – Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar. Being near the 398-kilometer porous border with Myanmar – the world’s second-largest producer of opium – Manipur is not short on heroin. Interestingly, state data indicates that extent of land used to grow the poppy plant from which opium is derived has increased more than three times from 1,853 acres to 6,742.8 acres.
Synthetic drugs better known as chemical drugs account for almost 60 percent of the narcotics drug trade in Manipur. The synthetic drugs from Manipur are mostly smuggled out of India through Myanmar and Bangladesh and from there it goes to different countries around the world. The demand for synthetic drugs in today’s narcotics scene is high.
Cannabis too is grown in Manipur, 50 percent is sent to pharmaceutical companies and 50 percent is illegally sold in the Indian market.
Most of the poppy cultivation happens in the hills and most of the poppy cultivators are Kukis or Nagas. Most of the synthetic drug labs are in the valley in the Meitei-Pangal areas controlled by the Muslims in Manipur. The government data states that of 2,518 people arrested under Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act between 2017 and 2023, only 873 were from the Kuki-Chin community, while 1,083 were Muslims, 381 Meiteis, and 181 were from other communities. This is despite the fact that the Kuki-Chin community cultivated poppy in 13,121.8 acres of land and the Naga Community only 2,340 acres
In the narcotics business people with influence and people working in the narcotics business come from the three most influential communities in the state – Meitei, Kuki, and Naga. No one is a saint in the narcotics business in Manipur, everyone of political and bureaucratic influence has got a hand in the cookie jar. Militant groups from all communities were created to be the enforcers and protectors of the people and business interests of the communities in the narcotics trade.
Manipur was set on fire because the narcotics trade needed to be controlled and to control the narcotics trade, players of these vicious games wanted control over the land, especially land on the hills. Both communities Meitei and Kuki want to control the land on the hills.
Right now, Manipur is controlled not by the Manipur government but by the militant groups of both the Meitie and Kuki communities. Most militant groups in Manipur irrespective of their communities had their training roots in the camps of Myanmar. In fact, now, most have their training camps in Manipur. The money for training the militants, according to intelligence sources comes from China directly or indirectly. In fact, one of the reasons for the conflict and China’s influence over the Manipur conflict is the need to stump India’s infrastructure development plans in the North-East.
The hate between the Meitei and Kuki was brewing since late last year. However, it was the Manipur High Court’s directive to the Manipur government to submit recommendations to the Centre for the inclusion of Meitei in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list which was a long-standing demand by the Meitei people for a Scheduled Tribe status under the Constitution of India that set in motion a domino effect in Manipur.
Manipur was set on fire because of the planning and financing that happened on April 21st, a few days after the High Court directive. Five suitcases were reportedly delivered to the house of a Naga. This Naga is a powerful leader and has tremendous influence over the political circles in Manipur and at the Centre across party lines. This Naga also reportedly has good relations with Meiteis, Kukis, and Nagas. On April 21st, this Naga’s trusted people, packed money from the suitcases into small packets and these small packets were then sent to Imphal. It is not known whether the packets were given to the Meiteis or Kukis. This input was received by Intelligence agencies after the eruption of the violence on May 3rd, 2023. The Naga leader is also known to have a good hold over the narcotics trade.
Manipur was set on fire because most cases of violence especially rapes were instigated because of fake news. In fact, the mob in that horrific video that had gone viral on social media a couple of weeks in which two women of the Kuki-Zo tribe being paraded naked on a road by a group of Meitei men in Kangpokpi district in Manipur after the B Phainom village was burnt down was reportedly the result of social media news that a Meitei woman was raped and killed by Kukis. In Imphal West’s Iroisemba area, Meena Hangsing and her 7-year-old boy, Tonsing Hangsing, were rushing to a hospital, accompanied by a Meitei Christian neighbor, Lydia Lourembam, after he had been struck by a fragment from a stray bullet fired amid the ethnic conflict. The boy’s mother, a Meitei Christian married to a Kuki Christian, also suffered a hand wound from the gunfire. As their ambulance with a police escort made its way through Iroisemba, a mob of hundreds reportedly surrounded the vehicle. The mob reportedly claimed that the ambulance had previously been used to transport Kuki militants who had later attacked police. Though the mother and neighbor were Meitei, the mob, torched the ambulance and burned alive everyone inside, according to the local media reports.
The fake news on social media was being used to brainwash mobs to commit horrific acts of inhumanity. Manipur government stopped mobile internet when the violence erupted but it failed to stop broadband connections. Reportedly, people having broadband connectivity distributed their passwords to a large number of people for Rs 50 to Rs 100 per week. Imphal Valley itself has reportedly over 50000 connections while the rest of Manipur put together has less than 5000, according to informed sources. There was no check on WhatsApp, social media, or any other form of communications
Manipur was set on fire by the militants and in some cases militant groups had a tacit understanding with people from the other waring community. According to an informed source in the intelligence agency, in the Sugnu incident, Meitei and Kuki were staying together and they formed a peace committee and reached an agreement that Kuki and Meitei would not attack each other. The situation was under control for 25 days, then on May 28th, a few United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) cadres entered three Meitei villages and killed 8 people, and burnt more than 100 houses. In retaliation, Meiteis set fire to 40 Kuki villages and killed three people, the deaths were fewer because most Kukis already fled to the hills. UKLF is again important because, in the intelligence circles, it is known that UKLF was created after the Kuki-Naga crisis in Manipur in the 1990s and was trained by NSCN (IM). Even today their leaders are seen in the Hebron camp of NSCN (IM). NSCN (IM) backs UKLF to balance out the armed factions of the Kukis. Interestingly the Naga leader who was involved in the packing of money on April 21st, 2023 is known to share a good friendship with senior leaders in NSCN (IM).
Manipur was set on fire not by missionary leaders inside of Manipur but by Christian missionary leaders from outside of Manipur and outside of India. The narrative that Christians are in danger was amplified by Christian missionary leaders in the US, UK, and Germany. In fact, on April 29th, international media representatives were already in Churachandpur which was the epicenter of the violence between the Meiteis and Kukis. No Indian media was present in Churachandpur, except a news portal known for receiving funding from the US and for its Anti-Modi and Anti-BJP stories. The entire conflict was propagated as an attack on the Christians by the Hindus. It was not an attack on the Christians by the Hindus but by Meiteis and Kukis against each other. While Churches were burned down, temples too were destroyed, and most religious places belonged either to the Meiteis or Kukis but not to the Nagas. If it was an attack on the Christians by the Hindus at a time the political party in governance at the state and the centre is seen as a Hindu-majority government, then it makes no sense that churches belonging to the Naga communities were not attacked. In fact, religious leaders I met in Manipur from the Christian community categorically stated that they were not attacked because they were Christians but because they were Kukis.
Right now, Manipur is burning. PLA a proscribed terrorist group has also reared its ugly head. It is known to kidnap teenagers and turn them into terrorists. This group has got a direct connection with China. Sources in the know have informed us that members of the PLA and other such groups are regrouping in the borderlands of China’s Yunnan province. It has also been observed that Naga-proscribed terrorist groups and the ones from Manipur, take shelter and buy arms in China’s Kunming. When you see Arambai Tenggol groups of armed men roaming the Meitei streets with their vehicles bearing the Arambai Tenggol flag or the groups of Meiteis Leepun holding sophisticated weapons or for that matter Kuki groups such as KLF also holding sophisticated arms and patrolling the streets, you can see that if there is no disarmament, the violence will continue in Manipur.
Manipur was set on fire and it is important for the Indian government to neutralize the fire-starters because this fire will burn. Innocent people from both communities Meitei and Kuki are caught in the fire.