The opposition has demanded that the prime minister speak on the crisis in the remote state at the country’s ‘temple of democracy’.
Unabated violence in Manipur, the remote northeastern Indian state that borders the military junta-ruled Myanmar, has continued to overshadow the functioning of India’s Parliament. Opposition parties have demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak on the situation before the 245 nominated members of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house.
The ongoing monsoon parliamentary session has gotten off to a a stormy start, amid an uproar over a viral video of tribal women being molested and paraded naked in conflict-hit Manipur. Both houses were adjourned ahead of time for the third day running.
The opposition submitted notices seeking an urgent discussion on the violence in Manipur. They also demanded that Modi make a statement on the situation in the remote state. In the Rajya Sabha, Sanjay Singh, of the regional opposition Aam Aadmi Party, was suspended for the rest of the monsoon session, that ends on August 11, for “unruly behavior.”
Derek O’Brien, a member of the Trinamool Congress, a regional opposition party that rules West Bengal in eastern India, has hardened the stance of the opposition, which formed a 26-party alliance last week in the run-up to next year’s crucial parliamentary elections. In his column for The Print, he claimed that in 2021, the prime minister spent more time delivering speeches ahead of regional elections than in India’s ‘temple of democracy’. Later, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh conceded to the opposition’s demands and said the government is ready for a discussion in Parliament.
Protests also disrupted a session of the Lok Sabha, the 545-member lower house, even after the minister for home affairs, Amit Shah, who is in charge of internal security, including the troubled state of Manipur, delivered a brief statement requesting that members cooperate in a discussion on the issue.
Modi reacted to the Manipur video on July 20, speaking ahead of the beginning of Parliament’s monsoon session. He said the incident captured in the video shamed everyone in the nation and promised that “not even a single culprit will be spared.” He stopped short, however, of commenting on the violence that has been raging for over two months.
On Sunday, the US waded into the Manipur situation and said it was deeply concerned about reports of sexual violence in the region. A US State Department spokesperson called the incident “brutal” and “terrible.” US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti stated a few weeks ago that Washington is willing to “assist” India in dealing with the ethnic violence “if asked.”
His remarks provoked strong reactions from Indian officials, as did a European Parliament resolution adopted earlier this month, which the Indian Foreign Ministry called “interference in India’s internal affairs” that reflects “a colonial mindset.”
Meanwhile, the police in Manipur have detained over 13,000 people and destroyed nearly 290 bunkers built by rival communities in the past fortnight, to restore law and order in the troubled state. The police have also identified around a dozen people as alleged perpetrators in the viral video of the incident that took place in Kangpokpi district on May 4, but only surfaced last week. So far, the police have arrested six people in relation to the scandal, including a juvenile.
Violence in Manipur was first reported in Churachandpur, which is around 65km from the state capital, Imphal, on May 3. Deadly clashes between two ethnic groups, the Kukis and Meiteis have since left hundreds dead. One of the contributing factors is the demand of the majority Meitei community to be given ‘Scheduled Tribe’ status, which would allow them to enjoy the policy of reservations.
The minority Kuki tribal population, which already enjoys this status, feared deepening economic deprivation if the quota facility was extended. The violence has displaced more than 60,000 people – a majority of whom are Kukis, who have taken refuge in neighboring Mizoram.
Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh, 62, who belongs to the Modi-led ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and who is from the Meitei community, has refused to step down, despite persistent demands from the opposition and members of civil society.