By Oyindrila Chattopadhyay*
On July 8, 2022, a non-local, identified as Shailendra Shah, was shot dead at Uchol Huikap under the Andro Police Station in Imphal East District.
On June 23, 2022, unidentified gunmen shot at and injured two non-locals – Madan Yadav and Bharat Yadav – at Kakching Wairi Leishangthem Pareng of Kakching District. Madan Yadav later succumbed to his injuries. The two men were construction workers who were staying with four others in a rented house. They belonged to Bihar.
On June 17, 2022, a non-local trader, Anand Gupta, was shot dead in Churachandpur District. He was from Bihar.
On May 30, 2022, a non-local construction worker, identified as Pankaj Mohato, was killed in a blast inside the Community Hall at Sapam Mayai Leikai of Khongjom in Thoubal District.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, at least four non-locals have been killed in terrorism-linked incidents in 2022 thus far (data till July 17).
This is the highest number of non-local fatalities recorded in a year in the state since 2014, when eight non-locals were killed. Between 2015 and 2021, four non-locals were killed: three in 2017 and one in 2021.
According to the SATP database, between March 6, 2000 and July 8, 2022, at least 109 non-locals have been killed in insurgency-linked incidents. The highest number, 32 non-locals killed, was in 2009.
The issue of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ (non-locals) has been a cause of major conflict in Manipur – and, indeed, across much of India’s Northeast – and has also created tensions between various ethnic communities, catalyzing the growing unity of militant formations in the State. Earlier, in March 2010, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), while describing all those who entered Manipur after 1949 (when the erstwhile princely State was ‘forcibly’ merged with the Indian Union) as “non-Manipuris,” had asked these ‘outsiders’ to leave the State.
Meanwhile, in another worrying development in the State of Manipur, there has been a significant surge in incidents of explosion in the current year. The SATP database has recorded 17 terrorism-linked explosions in 2022 (data till July 17), resulting in two fatalities (one civilian and one trooper). Some of the recent incidents included:
On July 4, 2022, suspected militants lobbed a hand grenade at the residential compound of Agriculture Director, Nongmaithem Gojendro, at Tera Sapam Leirak Nongmaithem Leikai under the Lamphel Police Station in Imphal West District. The grenade, however, did not explode. The Police, later, recovered the grenade. No militant outfit has claimed responsibility for the attack, (till the time of writing). This is the second attack targeting Gojendro’s house. Earlier, on June 24, 2022, suspected militants had lobbed a China-made hand grenade at the director’s houseOn June 26, 2022, an explosion occurred at the residence of the Director of Settlement and Land Records (Revenue), Pangeijam Gojendro, in Kontha Khabam Maning Leikai, Imphal East District. Though no casualty was reported, a number of household goods, appliances, a water tank and window pane were damaged. On June 18, 2022, an improvised explosive device (IED) blast took place at the residential gate of one resident, Hijam Ibungo of Thangmeiband Lourung Purel Leikai Road in Imphal, Imphal East District. Though, no casualty was reported, a portion of the building gate, window panes and a car were damaged due to the explosion.
During the corresponding period of the preceding year, Manipur had recorded three incidents of explosion, without any fatality. Through 2021, there were nine such incidents with no fatalities. In 2020, there were 12 incidents of explosion with three fatalities (all troopers).
Meanwhile, according to the SATP database, Manipur has, so far, recorded six fatalities (five civilians, one trooper and one militant) in the current year. There were five fatalities (all militants) during the corresponding period of 2021. Through 2021, the State recorded 27 fatalities (eight civilians, five troopers and 14 militants). Significantly, in 2020, the state had recorded its lowest overall fatalities, at seven (one civilian, three troopers and three militants), since 1992.
The overall security situation in the State in recent months has witnessed some deterioration.
Meanwhile, Security Forces have intensified their operations. While 89 insurgents were arrested in 2020, the number increased to 161 in 2021. In the current year, till July 17, at least 97 militants have already been arrested. The prominent arrestees included:
On July 5, 2022, the ‘defence secretary’ of the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF) was arrested from Imphal East District. On June 14, a ‘lieutenant’, identified as Naorem Ingoba Singh aka Ingo, of People’s Liberation Army/Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF/PLA) was arrested from Oinam Bazar in Bishnupur District.On April 19, the ‘chief’ of the United Tribal Revolutionary Army (UTRA) was arrested from Dampi village in Churachandpur District.
Though only one insurgent has been killed in 2022, thus far, 14 were killed in 2021, the highest in a year since 2017, when there were 22 fatalities in this category.
The State Government has also initiated different measures to bring the militants into the ‘mainstream.’ Around 17 militants of various outfits, including the United Tribal Liberation Army-James (UTLA-J), Revolutionary People’s Front/ People’s Liberation Army (RPF/PLA) and the Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-YA), surrendered in three separate incidents in 2022 (data till July 17). In one such incident, 14 militants of the United Tribal Liberation Army (James), including its ‘chairman’ Tonthang Singsit, surrendered along with arms and ammunition, before the Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren, on June 1. Encouraging the militants to surrender, Biren, asserted,
Union Home Minister Amit Shah had already announced that except those who were involved in heinous crime, everyone should be exempted from any kind of case or FIRs so that they can lead a normal life. It is time to come forward and negotiate with the government of India. Trust me, believe us, we’re not your enemies. You are all our people.
Manipur, divided into the Hill and Valley districts, and bounded by Nagaland in the north, Mizoram to the south, Myanmar to the east and the Cachar District of Assam to the west, is one of the insurgency-affected states in the Northeast region of India. Though, the security situation has improved over the years, insurgency-linked violence persists.
While long-drawn negotiations with Hill-based militant groups continue in good faith, Valley-based militant groups continue to create security threats. The proximity with Myanmar is a major problem for the security establishment, as the Valley-based militant formations operate out the territory of the neighbouring country. Though the State Government has taken initiatives to fence the border with Myanmar, fencing is yet to be completed. Manipur Chief Minister Biren, thus noted, on November 13, 2021,
We have a 390 kilometers border with Myanmar. Seeing that this is sensitive, the Union Home Ministry started construction of border fences. There is some dispute in some of the areas and construction was stopped in those areas. However, construction is going on in other areas. Construction of fencing is the priority of the Centre and State governments.
The recent spike in attacks on non-locals and the series of explosions reported from across the state highlights the prevailing insecurities in the State. Both the State and the Central Governments need to address these urgently, as the troubles in Manipur have persisted for far too long.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management