Reservation fire rages in northeast
To the Sangh Parivar, the current strife between the Hindu Meeteis and the mostly Christian Kukis and Nagas in that northeastern state must bring home the realisation of how quickly the poison of polarisation that it has injected into our country can transform a civic protest into ethnic strife
The ethnic violence raging in Manipur, which has claimed the lives of at least 54 people so far, holds out two important lessons, the first to the ruling BJP-led dispensation at the Centre, and the second to the opposition parties that are trying to come together on the issue of caste-based reservation in a move to outflank the BJP in next year’s Lok Sabha elections. To the Sangh Parivar, the current strife between the Hindu Meeteis and the mostly Christian Kukis and Nagas in that northeastern state must bring home the realisation of how quickly the poison of polarisation that it has injected into our country can transform a civic protest into ethnic strife. To the opposition parties, the violence between tribal and non-tribal people must underline the fact that reservations are a tinderbox best approached with caution.
Tensions between the Meeteis of Imphal Valley and the several Kuki and Naga tribes living in the hills are historic and tend to flare up into violence when supplied with a trigger. This time, the trigger was the move to give Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the majority Meeteis, which would make them eligible for reservation in jobs and education and the cultural and linguistic protections afforded to STs by the Constitution.
This, however, would increase the competition for opportunities within the Scheduled Tribes, and the Kukis and Nagas organised protests to oppose the move. It led to a confrontation, which soon acquired religious undertones. The targets of arsonists have included dozens of churches apart from individual and state properties. Thousands of people, tribal as well as non-tribal, have fled their homes as rampaging mobs had the run of the state for several days until the central government stepped in to invoke Article 355 and take law and order into its hands.
Union home minister Amit Shah’s statement that all stakeholders will be consulted before any further action on the status of Meeteis is welcome. But it is unfortunate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chosen not to respond to the crisis in Manipur. It does not help that he is himself deeply engaged in practising polarising politics in Karnataka. The free rein given to Hindu vigilantes in many states has created a culture of impunity for majoritarian groups in all corners of the country, and the flare-up in Manipur is partly, if not entirely a result of it. Cosmetic overtures that the PM recently made to the Christian community in Kerala and New Delhi cannot assuage the real damage done to inter-faith relations around the country.
As for the opposition parties, the Manipur violence must give them pause to realise that the issue of reservation is not simply one of giving quotas to this or that social group, but to balance all the relevant factors to achieve social parity. Unfortunately, political parties have in the past 30 years played to the gallery on reservations, which has led to the peculiar situation of dominant social groups in several states demanding and agitating to be considered backward. Yielding to such demands without a thorough consideration of true parameters of backwardness injures the interests of seriously dispossessed social groups and belies the very purpose of reservations.