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Meitei Leaders Drop out as Yatra Enter Kuki-Dominated Areas

Meitei Leaders Drop out as Yatra Enter Kuki-Dominated Areas


Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 16: Manipur Congress chief Keisham Meghachandra Singh and former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, both from the Meitei community, dropped out of the Rahul Gandhi-led “Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra” as the cavalcade entered the Kuki-dominated Kangpokpi areas in the trouble-torn north-eastern state of Manipur on the third day of the Yatra on Tuesday.

Enthusiastic crowds lined up the narrow roads as the Yatra moved from Imphal to the neighbouring Nagaland capital city of Kohima. Dropping out of the Yatra by such top leaders like Mr Keisham Singh and Mr Okram Singh give clear indication that the sense of normalcy visible at Imphal city gradually gives way to a sense of distrust and a deep divide between the two communities.

On Monday, January 15, 2024, second day of the 67-day-long Manipur-to-Mumbai Yatra, Mr Gandhi’s customised Volvo bus went past some of the areas that had become battlegrounds after ethnic violence erupted between the Meiteis and Kuki tribes on May 3 last year.

Deployment of security personnel outside some villages, a completely damaged house with a signboard that read “Meitei Go,” several signs boards that read “Welcome to Kuki land,” the signs of a deep social divide were very much visible. At Karong, a group of young boys with the Indian tricolour in their hands, alternated their slogans between “Rahul Gandhi zindabad” and “We want separate administration.”

“I understand that you have been through. You have lost family members, you have lost property. I want you to understand that we are fully with you and want to bring peace to Manipur,” Mr Gandhi said in one of his roadside public address. At different points, be it Keithelmanbi Military Colony or Kalapahar Bazar at Kangpokpi district, boards announced that outsiders were not allowed after 5 p.m.

“We know that the situation is still fragile but Rahul ji has come forward with his message of peace and harmony. People from both the communities, be they Meitei or Kuki, have come out to express their confidence in him,” Congress general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal claimed as the Yatra passed through Manipur.

“They see Rahul ji as a leader who can unify the communities,” Mr Venugopal said while senior leader Jairam Ramesh spoke about how several civil society organisations had met Mr Gandhi over the past two days.

“The civil society organisations told Rahul ji that in the Budget session of Parliament the Congress and he [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] should come to Manipur before the 2024 Lok Sabha election,” Mr Ramesh told reporters.

Mr Ramesh said during their earlier visits to the State, they would refer to these organisations as Manipuri organisations but now they are now being referred to community organisations. “That is the difference between. All of them want peace,” he added.

A day after two people were arrested in Manipur’s Moreh in connection with the killing of police officer Anand Kumar, curfew was imposed in the border town as tensions rose.

On Monday evening, Manipur Police arrested Philip Khaikholal Khongsai and Hemkholal Mate, stating that they were “among the main suspects” for the killing of the sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) in October last year.

On October 31, SDPO Chingtham Anand Kumar was shot dead in Moreh – a town on the border with Myanmar. Moreh has a mixed population, with the Kuki-Zomi community making up the majority. Kumar belonged to the Meitei community.

According to police, at around 4.30 pm on Monday, security personnel on patrol near Moreh College saw two people open fire on security vehicles and run into a cluster of houses. Security personnel fired in retaliation and cordoned off the houses in the area.

“During the operation, the two suspicious individuals were chased and overpowered using minimal force and were detained for verification,” police said in a statement. A pistol with two live rounds, a hand grenade, 10 live rounds of AK ammunition and 10 detonators were recovered from them, police said.

Following their arrest, a crowd reportedly gathered around the Moreh police station demanding their release. The crowd was later dispersed by security forces. Because of the renewed tension in the town, the Tengnoupal district administration has imposed total curfew in the entire district citing inputs of a “likelihood of breach of peace, disturbance of public tranquillity and grave danger to human lives and property”.

At the same time, people from the Meitei community who have been displaced from Moreh staged a protest at a relief camp in Imphal on Tuesday demanding that the arrested be handed over to the NIA. The 3,000-odd Meitei residents of the town have fled from it since the conflict in the state began.




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