Dialogue April-June 2008 , Volume 9 No. 4
Manipur is Bleeding
Manipur has been at the very bottom as far as law and order and administration for many years now. I first saw Manipur in 1979, when the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and the Peoples Revolutionary party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) were operating vigorously, looting banks, attacking police stations and taking away arms. The Army had to be called in and after some fierce encounters the PLA was broken up. Gen. V.K.Nayyar was commanding the 8 Mountain Division. He had a clear principle that he applied in operations. He directed his units operating in the field to bring all young men arrested to Kangla Fort where the Tactical HQs of his brigade was located. When an arrested man was brought, his parents were called and he was presented before them. If he was not found involved he was handed over through the local police. If he was involved, his parents were given evidence of his involvement and he was handed over to the police in custody. There were no allegations of torture or custodial deaths. Gen. Nayyar was later a very popular Governor of Manipur. Sadly that was the last time that Manipur saw a clean counter insurgency operation by the Army.
In 1999, I was the Director General of the Border Security Force (BSF). By then the PLA and the PREPAK had regrouped. The PLA had been trained in Kachin and later procured arms from Bangladesh through the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. The United National Liberation Front (UNLF) had joined the fray. This group was as big as the PLA. They were purchasing Chinese arms that were being peddled by traders in Burma. Both the PLA and the UNLF had large base camps in the southern half of Chandel district which was thickly forested and had virtually no roads. They also had camps in the south and west of Churachandpur district. There was only one motorable road from Churachandpur town to Tipaimukh. This had been constructed by the Border Roads and handed over to the State PWD who abandoned it thereafter. The insurgent groups had occupied four sub divisional HQs-Henglep, Singhat, Parbung and Thanglong. The State administration had given up these areas and four years had gone by without the writ of the State running in these four subdivisions.
The BSF was asked to liberate these four subdivisions. We moved seven battalions to Manipur and sent in columns from different directions and cleared all four subdivisions. The insurgent groups offered little resistance, choosing to disperse into the countryside. This was good tactics as there were no roads into the interiors to the north and the south of the main Churachandpur Tipaimukh road. There was a link road from Churachandpur to Thanglong, looping south and touching Singhat called the Guite road. We could dominate these two main roads and the four sub divisional towns and some areas around these towns. Having cleared the four subdivisions, we asked the state administration to man the sub divisional offices, Police stations, Primary Health Centres and other offices. No one came. When we approached the Deputy Commissioner of Churachandpur to send civil supplies to these four subdivisions with BSF escorts he expressed his helplessness. I was amazed but soon found that our continual pressing on this subject was making the Deputy Commissioner nervous. I soon found out that the Chief Minister and his deputy were in league with the two militant groups and were not releasing civil supplies to the Churachandpur Deputy Commissioner. The situation remained like this in some kind of limbo till end 2000. I retired in November 2000. I learnt later that the BSF was withdrawn from three of the subdivisions and the militant groups returned to these areas. There was one more dastardly chapter in the misrule of the regional party that was in power in Manipur, which involved the collusion of the militants with the political leadership. The Chief Engineer of the Loktak Hydroelectric project was served a notice of extortion by the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), a group that was formed from dissidents in the UNLF and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP). The Chief Engineer refused to pay. When this happened, the Chief Minister is reported to have called the Director General of Police and asked him to withdraw the CRPF guard and replace it with a guard of the Manipur Police. This was carried out. As soon as the guard was replaced, cadres of the KYKL came to the Chief engineerís office and shot him dead! An Inquiry ordered by the Home Ministry could not come to a conclusion as the Director General of Police had retired and did not testify before the one man Commission of Inquiry. Very obviously there was collusion between the party in power and the KYKL.
The Regional party that was ruling Manipur lost its majority and Manipur went for a short spell of Presidents rule. I went as Advisor to the Governor to Manipur. The first thing I did was to try and get force to redeploy them in Henglep, Parbung and Thanglong. The Centre could not give us force and to our great shame the three subdivisions remained under the control of militant groups during Presidents rule. Meanwhile I could confirm the involvement of the Chief Minister and his deputy with the militant groups. While I was the Advisor to the Governor, the Minister of State in the Home Ministry had visited Imphal. I had prepared a detailed paper on the insurgencies in Manipur. The paper was titled Blueprint for Counterinsurgency in Manipur. Regrettably the Government took no action on the steps suggested. I improved on this paper and published it in the United Service Institution journal. The essence of this paper was that Manipurís hill districts-Ukhrul. Senapati, Tamenglong, Churachandpur and Chandel had been very badly neglected since 1947. The worst were the latter three districts. Development money granted to Manipur and other states of the Northeast was diverted as almost a ritual. An unholy band of contractors all hangers on of the political party in Delhi were the chief architects of this organized loot. Hundreds of kilometers of roads were built on paper and to add insult to injury were annually shown maintained! A new class of politicians and bureaucrats were created in the Northeast, beneficiaries of the contractors whom they connived with in looting the state. It was clear to any student of insurgency that unless this nexus was broken and all the interior areas developed, so that there was no hinterland left for the insurgent groups to take shelter, the problem of Manipur was not going to be solved.
I had then mentioned that after posting tested bureaucrats known for their integrity, forces should be deployed in sufficient strength to clear a specified area of a neglected hill district where insurgents had sought sanctuary taking advantage of the hinterland created because of the lack of roads. I noted that roads are the enemy of insurgents. So the first task after clearing an area was to construct a network of roads. The second step was to promote agriculture, horticulture and a dozen schemes to improve the productivity of the people living in the interiors. After a couple of years, the people would have become self sufficient. Once this stage was reached the causes for taking to arms would have died down. The whole of the remaining hill areas should be divided into manageable blocks and the same exercise carried out. Regrettably there were no takers for this advice in the government. A couple of years later I was in the National Security Council Advisory Board. Here again I had briefed the board on the same plan. Regrettably there was no one to listen in the government.
In 2006, the Army was deployed extensively in Churachandpur district and they finally cleared the three subdivisions. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no detailed plan to connect all the villages by roads to the nearest towns where the rural produce of the farmers could be taken for sale. I believe the main towns are garrisoned, but the interior villages have not been connected. Clearing an area dominated by militants is not enough. Since there are no roads, the first task of the government after such an area is cleared is to build roads so that there is connectivity between all villages and the towns. This will ensure the safe movement of security forces. The second step is to develop the areas block by block so that the villagers of each block become self sufficient in food and are able to sell the surplus in the towns and thereby improve their income levels. This would lead to more jobs in marketing the surplus agricultural and horticultural products. There would soon be no takers for any insurgent group and the insurgency would gradually wither away.
The scene now shifts to Chandel district. In 2007, the Army cleared the western and southern parts of Chandel district, long the home of the UNLF. There were two areas in south Chandel district that had for several years been dominated by the PLA and the UNLF. The first was the lower reaches of the Manipur River flowing through dense jungles. Here at Sajik Tampak was the HQs of the main insurgent group of Manipur. The BSF tried to dislodge them in 2002, but failed mainly because they did not have the strength for a sustained operation. The other area was New Samtal further to the west. Here the Army planned and executed an excellent operation pushing the UNLF into Burma. This operation had just been completed. Having cleared the area the Army should have called on the Chief Minister and insisted on a detailed development plan, concentrating on posting honest and efficient officers in the area. The first step would then be to construct roads from all the villages. Regrettably no such plans were made and soon the UNLF was back in the area. The areas to be covered in Churachandpur and Chandel districts were very large, but no serious attempt was made to at least start in some area and work outwards.
It was at this juncture that some militants in the area of Hairok shot three villagers probably because they did not pay some tax imposed by them. Outraged by this incident the people of Hairok came out in a procession and collected the injured persons and moved towards Imphal in a procession of vehicles. Hearing of this the Chief Minister was reported to have asked the police not to allow the main crowd that was bringing the injured civilians, The people pf Heirok managed to persuade the mob not to disturb the assembled people. They went to the main hospital and finding that the three civilians had died, collected the three dead bodies and began their move to Heirok. It was then that the Chief Minister is reported to have directed the police to deploy police commandos around the houses of the militants who had killed these three people so that the group from Heirok returning with the dead bodies could not attack them. I was told this by several persons from Imphal. The police naturally did not confirm this. But everybody in Imphal believes this. It is clear that the earlier accusation that the Chief Minister and some of his colleagues have links with the militants is true. Some weeks ago, the Manipur Police had arrested some militants along with their weapons from the government quarters of some Ministers in Babupara. In the background of this information, which was reported in all the national newspapers, it is not difficult to believe the information that the head of the government had directed the Police to deploy commandos before the houses of the suspected militants who had shot the three persons from Heirok.
It is after this that the Chief Minister has come out with the extraordinary idea that the civilians of Heirok should be armed. The scheme was approved and it is reported that the people of Heirok are to be issued 0.303 rifles trained in its use and they would then defend themselves when attacked by militants armed with automatic rifles! As Pradip Phanjoubam has written in the Statesman of 25 May, 2008, this is the theatre of the absurd. I do not think that the state of law and order in any state can get worse than this.
|Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)|