On Tuesday, protests against the N Biren Singh administration became louder in Manipur and New Delhi, with even politicians from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies expressing anger over the tense circumstances in the northeastern state, which has been wracked by ethnic unrest.
There are divisions among BJP lawmakers on Singh’s handling of the situation, and some of them want him to step down in order to secure a speedy settlement of the problem. Senior party leaders in the Capital, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed worries that the violence would undermine the BJP’s “double-engine government” platform and hurt the party’s chances of winning elections in the states that will vote this year, including Mizoram.
Since May 3, Manipur has been the scene of extensive interethnic fighting between the Kuki and Meitei communities, which predominate in the hill districts and the Imphal valley, respectively. At least 115 people have died as a result of the violence, over 300 have been hurt, and up to 40,000 members of both communities have been displaced.
Singh, who is a Meitei, has been blamed by Kuki groups for taking sides.
“Ten Kuki MLAs, including seven from the BJP, have gone public with their opposition to the chief minister. Though there’s no open and vocal opposition among other BJP MLAs, there are some of us who are unhappy with how he has handled the crisis in Manipur till date and want some changes so that there is an early resolution,” a BJP MLA from Manipur said on Tuesday, seeking anonymity.
In a memo to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in New Delhi on Monday, nine state legislators, including eight BJP members and an independent who supports the state government, said that law and order had completely broken down in the state.
“At present, there is no trust and confidence in the government and administration. Public have lost complete faith in the present state government,” the memorandum said. “Some special measures for proper administration and function of the government by following rule of law may kindly be resorted to so that the trust and confidence of the general public is restored.”
“The present crisis is going on for long and people are unhappy with the way it’s being handled. That’s why we want the Centre to intervene and find some solution to it. Hence, we went to the PMO and submitted the memorandum,” BJP MLA Yumnam Radheyshyam said on Tuesday.
Radheyshyam was one of the thirty or so MPs from the BJP and its allies in Manipur who met with Union defence minister Rajnath Singh on Monday. He was one of the nine MLAs who travelled to the PMO. Later, 23 of them met Nirmala Sitharaman, the finance minister. The legislators informed the two central ministries of the border state’s condition.
If the situation doesn’t change within the next few days, the National Peoples Party (NPP), the BJP’s ally and the second-largest party in the 60-member assembly with seven MLAs, has threatened to withdraw its support.
“Things have gone out of hand for more than a month now. It can’t remain the way it is, or else the people won’t forgive us,” Yumnam Joykumar, former deputy chief minister and national vice president of NPP, said on Tuesday. “We will watch the situation for the next three days. If it doesn’t improve, we will seriously reconsider our support to the state government.”
“If they (the central government) fail to address the situation, they should either impose President’s rule in Manipur or remove the head of government,”added Joykumar, who was police chief in Manipur before joining politics.
The Meitei community, which makes up 53% of the state’s population, and tribal populations, particularly the Kukis, who are mainly found in the hill districts, engaged in ethnic violence on May 3 in Manipur. After a “Tribal Solidarity March” was arranged in the hill areas on May 3 to denounce the Meitei community’s desire for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, violent fights broke out.
A senior party official claims that there is growing concern that if the violence continues, the BJP’s reputation as a “decisive, decision-making government” may suffer. “By forming governments in some of the North Eastern states, either on its own or with allies, the party risks losing the gains it won after 2014, according to the report. Party leaders locally are becoming increasingly concerned about this, according to the leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
State legislators urged the government to ensure the smooth delivery of relief supplies, the restoration of peace, and highlighted the political repercussions of the violence that the party may experience in Manipur and the North-east when they met with senior party figures on Tuesday, including the BJP national general secretary (organisation).
According to a second BJP functionary, “They [the legislators] have warned that the party’s allies in the state and in other states as well could be forced to keep a distance from the BJP if the situation is not controlled soon enough.”
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the party’s ideological pillar, also raised concerns about the potential effects that the protracted battle would have on the ties between the two communities.
In a statement released on Sunday, the RSS discussed the need to bridge the trust gap between the two communities, urged the government to act quickly to stop the violence, and urged civil society to do its part to promote peace. “The RSS has spent years fostering relationships with people in the North East, who have a variety of traditions, dialects, and eating habits and are susceptible to outside influences due to their proximity to borders. They want the government to respond quickly because they are alarmed by efforts to sow the seeds of distrust across groups, according to a top Sangh official.
However, state BJP leaders made an effort to downplay divisions inside the party and between allies.
Vice-president of the BJP’s Manipur branch Chidananda Singh stated, “There has been no formal confirmation of any BJP MLA having issues with CM Singh. There might be some disagreements, but that is nothing new. However, Manipur’s government is not in danger.