Answering media queries following the explosion that killed nine Muslim construction labourers from neighbouring Assam and injured 12 others in capital Imphal on 13 September, Manipur’s Director General of Police (DGP) huffed and puffed. For Mrinal Kanti Das, finding himself under the media scanner barely 12 days after assuming charge, was never going to be easy. For the past few years, he was the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Home Guards and Prisons. On the morning of 31 August, he became eligible for the top job, after Y Joykumar, the DGP for past six years, failed to receive a much anticipated extension. Das himself will retire in three months.
The first twelve days were unusually hectic for DGP Das. A spate of explosions apart, media houses in the state capital have struggled to deliver printed copies of the newspapers to their readers, following a threat issued by a new outfit. While press releases by the prominent outfits regularly find their way into the newspapers as valid news items, the second hand treatment meted to the new outfit led to a threat against the hawkers and vendors. Days of state inaction forced the editors themselves to take to the streets to sell their copies. Such threats by militants, sometimes leading to attacks on media personnel and their killings, are not entirely unprecedented in Manipur. No one wants to take a chance and that’s what creates an ideal condition for the militants. With a 49.68 vacancy rate (you read it right!) the Manipur police has struggled to provide a semblance of security, even in the comparatively fortified capital city.
The police’s incapacity, thus, appears unsurprising. Only a drastic drop in the militancy related fatalities in the past years has made even this grossly inadequate force look somewhat tolerable. In the past years, some militant leaders have been arrested, in and outside Manipur. The most famous of them, R K Meghen alias Sanayaima, chairman of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), was picked up by Bangladeshi authorities and handed over to India in 2010. However, any attempt to build on police capacity even during a lean phase of violence is conspicuous by its persistent absence.
Thus, in Manipur, once dubbed as the worst militancy affected state in the country, surpassing even Jammu & Kashmir, keeping the police at a low level of efficiency appears only a deliberate project. Such chronic incapacities have often translated into desperate measures, resulting in some of the infamous cases of extra-judicial and on camera killings by this ‘local’ force. With 62 fake encounters, registered by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) between 2009 to February 2013, Manipur is the country’s second worst state in human rights abuses, behind Uttar Pradesh.
No militant outfit in the state, out of the 34 listed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), claimed responsibility for the Imphal blast on 13 September. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), however, did own up another explosion that killed a lone civilian in Khurai, not far from the state capital on the same day. In its press release the PLA “whole heartedly shared the pain and sorrow of the victim.” Womenfolk of the area staged a sit in protest condemning the incident and appealed to all concerned not to repeat such violence in residential areas in the future. No protests were held for the victims of the blast in Imphal. The ‘other’ is less celebrated in Manipur, both in life and in death. The Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam meekly appealed to the militants “not to repeat such mindless acts”.
Too many contradictions sum up the Manipur scene.