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The Attack on Migrants in Manipur

T. Khurshchev Singh was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • April 29, 2008

    Normal life in Manipur was drastically affected between March 17 and 19, 2008 when 15 migrants were killed by unidentified armed militants. While there have been accusations that local militants might have been behind the killings, militant groups have categorically denied their involvement. There is likelihood that foreign terrorist groups were involved in the killings to create ethnic apprehension and conflict between migrants and natives. Moreover, one fallout of such violence could be the reimposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which had been revoked in parts of the state.

    Manipur’s Director General of Police (DGP), Joykumar, asserted on March 20, 2008 that the killings were the handiwork of Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), a Manipuri insurgent outfit. But KYKL stoutly refuted the DGP’s claim. In a strongly worded statement, KYKL Publicity and Research Deputy Secretary, Apapabi Mangang, denounced the DGP’s allegation and ruled out his outfit’s involvement in the killings. He further maintained that the DGP’s remarks were malafide. Thereafter, other active insurgent outfits, too, have denied their involvement in the killings.

    Even as the government and civil society groups denounced the killings in no uncertain terms, militant outfits such as the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) demanded a serious and impartial probe. The UNLF in a public statement declared that such mass killings were unpardonable. It further stated that such killings have been sporadic in the past, and that the latest incident was unprecedented. According to the PLA, its fight was against the government of India, not against Indian citizens, migrants or otherwise. According to some security analysts, the March 17-19 killings were exactly on the pattern of those unleashed by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) on Hindi-speaking people in Assam. These killings, analyst maintained, were meant to attract public attention to the insurgents’ demands.

    In fact, the denial by locally active insurgent outfits of a role in the killings points to the possibility of external hands. This suspicion gains credence especially because outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) have been found to have established links in Manipur. On December 19, 2006, Manipuri LeT activists, Salman Khurshid Kori (23), Abdul Rehman (24) and Mohammad Akbar Hussain (20), were arrested along with two kilograms of RDX, two detonators and one hand grenade by the Delhi police when they alighted from a Jammu-based bus in the Red Fort area. One of those held, Salman Kurshid Kohri, told his interrogators that he was an intermediary between the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) and a LeT module based in Bangladesh. He also disclosed the fact that he visited Bangladesh in May 2006 to firm up ties with the LeT.

    The reason why Manipur has become a base for the LeT is because of three factors: 1) there are some like minded people who share a common culture, identity and ideology with the group in the state; 2) the state has unemployed youths who can be indoctrinated easily by the outfit or induced by monetary benefits; 3) and most dangerously, the state shares a border with Myanmar, which opens up a readily-accessible training ground for the outfit. Myanmar’s involvement as a training base for LeT was first revealed by the arrest the trio mentioned earlier. Soon after their arrest, on December 21, 2006, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and his Myanmar Counterpart Major General Maung Oo discussed the issue and prospects for co-operation in curtailing such activities.

    In the context of external involvement, it might be useful to recollect that there was a bomb blast at the ISKCON temple in Imphal on August 16, 2006 which claimed four lives. No outfit claimed responsibility for the blast and in fact several indigenous outfits condemned such an attack on a holy place. Analysts suspect the involvement of the ULFA in this attack and wonder whether this was not a ploy to scare away migrant Bihari labourers to pave the way for Bangladeshi migrants to work in the state. It is also possible that under the influence of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) Bangladesh and/or the support provided by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), some LeT-connected Manipuri armed cadres carried out the attack, ignoring the fact that the migrant population has been an asset to the State. The suspicion on external elements grows because there is strong evidence to suggest that terror groups such as LeT have been expanding their base in Manipur.

    Here, one can also raise the issue whether the March 2008 killings were meant to create ethnic apprehensions and conflict between migrants (especially Biharis) and the locals. Sections of Manipuris, especially students (particularly those studying in Patna) and people working outside Manipur were panic stricken that the incident might result in clashes between Biharis and Manipuris elsewhere. In fact, external elements such as the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Jihadi (HuJI) have been trying to initiate identity clashes by attacking (bombing) holy places elsewhere in the country. Instances in this regard include the attacks on Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer in Rajasthan on October 11, 2007, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007, Nurani Masjid at Malegaon in Maharashtra on September 8, 2006, Jama Masjid in Delhi on April 14, 2006, and Sankat Mochan temple at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh on March 7, 2006.

    The fallout of killings of migrants in Manipur could well pave the way for the re-imposition of the AFSPA, which was revoked in some parts of Manipur following the custodial death of Manorama in 2004. Here, it is worthwhile to note that the state government has expressed its wish to retain AFSPA in Manipur. Chief Minister Ibobi has been reported to have stated that there has been a sharp increase in the activities of various insurgent outfits, particularly in the four valley districts, which would call for the re-imposition of AFSPA. Subsequently, he expressed strong opposition to insurgent activities in the state during a session of the Legislative Assembly, where PREPAK hurled a grenade at the Legislative Complex on March 8, 2008 in response to his speech.

    In the wake of various speculations floating around and several possibilities existing, it is imperative that the union government as well as the government of Manipur conduct a fair, impartial, and thorough probe into the killings of migrant labourers.