Manipur continues to live its nightmare. The savagely bitter ethnic conflict between its Kuki-Zo and Meteis communities which broke out on May 3 at Torbung village in the Churachandpur district rampages on. All this while, the State as an institution has been progressively withering away before everybody’s eyes, pathetically unable to end the carnage. Into the seventh month now, but the law is still not in the grip of the government, and remains in the hands of virtually anybody with some claims of menace potential.
If the State in the local context of Manipur has lost its plot and is clueless about the way forward, the Union government does not seem to treat the crisis as anything urgent. At last count, a total of about 60,000 Central forces personnel had been flown into the state, and these together with those already stationed here, as well as the state’s own constabularies, would easily bring up the total to a lakh pair of boots on the ground. Yet, things are still allowed to drift. The pattern has been, every time some semblance of peace returned, sporadic violence by miscreants at one or other pocket would cause dangerous flare ups, taking the situation back to square one.
Many individuals in the Central forces posted at what are termed as buffer zones along the foothills have confided to visiting friends that given the order, they can end these faceoffs at different places in just two days or so. Why then has such instructions not been given yet? Is it deemed enough just to keep the two warring communities apart and not think of resolving the issue in the way that a State is mandated to?
Again, why has the idea of the State as the holder of monopoly over “legitimate violence” that Max Weber characterised it as, not been asserted yet? This is especially pertinent. There are today over 4000 lethal arms that mobs looted from various police stations and gun shops which are still in the hands of the public even after some seizures and voluntary surrenders. From pictures surfacing on social media, there are also many sophisticated arms other than those looted flowing into the state from across the border. Is it then still not time for the State to use its coercive power to recover these arms?
For the State’s monopoly over violence potential to gain legitimacy, it has of course to win the faith of its people first that the coercive means in its hands are for the security of the State and its people. Quite obviously, among many other failures, what the Manipur crisis has demonstrated is a complete disappearance of this public faith, leading even ordinary people to come to the conclusion that it is only they and not the State who can guarantee themselves protection.
Though it is incumbent upon the State to always ensure the understanding that only its security organs can possess lethal weapons reaches all, the best time for it to have asserted this tough message was in the first few days of the outbreak of the crisis. If it had clamped down with an iron fist at the time, using the State’s “legitimate violence”, probably the fire would have been doused before it spread. Emergency means such as President’s Rule under Article 356 too would have been welcome then.
The situation however has been allowed to slip too far. The resultant polarisation between the warring parties is acute and bitter, and the longer this conflict remains this bitterness too is predicted to grow. Today, any action of the government, central or state, is prone to be seen as partisan by one side or the other. Even suggestions of imposing President’s Rule or not doing so, just as the idea of replacing the chief minister N. Biren Singh or allowing him to remain in office, have come to be interpreted as victory or defeat of one or the other party and no longer as means to usher back normalcy.
This conflict binary must however not be allowed to paralyse policy measures. It is late but never too late to take tough decisions to bring back the law where it belongs – into the State’s grip.
This article was first published in The Telegraph. The original can be read HERE
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author