May 27, 2024

Moon Desk: Amid the thunder and fury in India as the world’s most populous nation heads to a general election, the streets of Manipur, a tiny, violence-torn state in the country’s Far East, are largely quiet.

Although Manipur and some other regions will be the first to vote in the seven-phase election starting on Friday, campaign meetings are being held behind closed doors because of a fear of violence.

Many residents say there is widespread disappointment over the inability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to end what critics have called a mixture of anarchy and civil war.

“Is Manipur not a part of India?” asks Francis Keisham, who says he has been living in a refugee camp with his wife and two children after being displaced by the conflict in which at least 220 people have been killed since May. “Are we not Indian citizens? Why are they (the government) ignoring us?”

“I am a refugee in my own land,” said the 42-year-old, adding he had worked for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Manipur for the last eight years, but was now disillusioned with the government and the ruling party.

“If the government truly wanted to solve this, they could have. It would not take them much … the prime minister doesn’t care.”

The state of 3.6 million people has been ravaged by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people for about a year and continues to be divided into two enclaves: a valley controlled by the Meiteis and the Kuki-dominated hills, separated by a stretch of ‘no man’s land’ monitored by federal paramilitary forces.

Opinion polls predict an easy victory for Modi when the election results are announced on June 4, but Manipur, a state governed by his own BJP, represents a rare security failure for him, contrasting with his carefully cultivated strongman image.

Modi told a regional newspaper last week that there has been a marked improvement in Manipur’s situation because the government “dedicated our best resources and administrative machinery to resolving the conflict”.

But two Kuki men were killed on Friday in the latest fighting and there is no let-up in the fear pervading the state, residents said.

In its election manifesto, the opposition Congress party has promised to remove the BJP-led state government, “heal the wounds between the communities” and bring “a political and administrative settlement that will be satisfactory to all the people of the state”.

But with its two seats, both of which were won by BJP and its ally in 2019, Manipur has little impact on national politics and the 543-seat parliament. The BJP’s manifesto does not even mention the state.

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