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New Delhi advocates unity in violence-hit region

India’s home minister visited Manipur in the northeast of the country, where over 200 have died in ethnic clashes since last May

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has vowed to ensure unity in the violence-torn Manipur state ahead of the upcoming general elections. During a visit to the remote state in the northeast of the country, Shah said the central government’s priority was to establish peace despite claiming that attempts had been made to “break” it.

Manipur has been stricken by ethnic violence since May 2023. The dispute stems from animosity between the region’s Meitei majority, living in the state’s valley, and the Kuki tribes dwelling in the surrounding hills. More than 200 people have been killed in the hostilities, while tens of thousands more have been displaced.

Shah, who is seen as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-hand man, launched a scathing attack on the rival Congress party in a speech, suggesting it wants to “divide” Manipur. “This election is not between BJP and Congress,” Shah claimed. “It is an election between those who want to divide Manipur and those who want to keep Manipur united.”

The Kukis have long demanded a separate administration in tribal-dominated areas to resolve the conflict. The community has announced it would boycott the parliamentary elections held in India from April 19 to June 1.

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Shah has instead suggested peace through dialogue with both communities, saying this would be a priority for the Modi-led government. N Biren Singh, the chief minister of the BJP-ruled Manipur, asserted during a recent interview with NDTV that the party was committed to protecting the state’s “integrity.” 

Previously, Singh had blamed “illegal immigrants” from neighboring Myanmar for the violence in Manipur. Earlier this year, New Delhi ended India’s Free Movement Regime (FMR) with Myanmar, which had allowed cross-border movement up to 16km on both sides without a visa. Shah also announced in February that the central government would construct a fence along the entire 1,643km Indo-Myanmar border. 

Meanwhile, opposition parties have blamed the ruling BJP for the unrest in the state. “The prime minister has abandoned all responsibility for the BJP-manufactured crisis in Manipur,” Jairam Ramesh, a member of parliament for Congress, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) ahead of Shah’s visit. “However, his home minister has found the time to campaign in the state today.” 

Last year, while violence was raging in the state, the opposition questioned Modi’s “silence” and filed a no-confidence motion in parliament. This was eventually won by the prime minister, who promised to “establish peace” in the region.

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Since last August, the federal government and law enforcement agencies have been working along with state authorities to curtail the violence through curfews, internet suspensions, and the deployment of additional security personnel.

According to an RT source in Manipur, the situation in the state capital Imphal has improved over the past few months. However, reports of gunfights are still common and unrest remains in some of the peripheral areas.

Last week, Modi told regional newspaper, the Assam Tribune, that his government had dedicated “best resources and administrative machinery” to resolving the conflict, stressing the importance of “timely intervention.”

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April 16, 2024 at 08:51PM

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