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THREAT ASSESSMENT: VIOLENCE IN MANIPUR LEADS TO GROWING REFUGEE CRISIS AND UNREST IN NORTHEAST INDIA

Lydia Baccino, Pike Wipperfurth, Utsav Yadav, Historical Analysis Team

Evan Beachler, Senior Editor

June 19, 2023


Map of Manipur, India[1]


Summary

The conflict between the Meiteis and Kukis in the Indian state of Manipur will very likely continue to pose a dynamic and evolving security threat to India. Unequal distribution of wealth, quality of life, political autonomy, and representation, will very likely lead to more ethnic violence and confrontation between these two groups, almost certainly leading to more mass casualty events. The increase in violence follows a court ruling in April 2023 when the Manipur high court stated that the Meiteis should be granted “Scheduled Tribes” status, allowing them to enjoy a degree of affirmative action in education and government jobs.[2] On May 3, violence erupted during a peace rally between the Meiteis and the Kukis leaving an estimated 100 people dead, 300 injured, and more than a thousand homeless or displaced in neighboring states.[3] On June 14, according to the local police, at least nine people were killed in a fresh round of violence after Home Minister Amit Shah visited Manipur in late May.[4] On June 16, a mob vandalized and set Junior Foreign Minister R. K. Ranjan Singh’s house on fire. Singh is a member of the Meitei community.[5] The conflict has displaced more than 60,000 and will likely present resource and security concerns for neighboring states absorbing the displaced.[6] The Indian government has tried to stop the spread of violence by shutting down the internet, closing schools, and deploying soldiers to maintain law and order.[7]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) assesses with high confidence that if lingering socio-economic grievances between the Meiteis and Kukis are not met, Manipur will continue to experience a wave of violence between these and other ethnic communities. An unlikely alternative outcome would be for the Meiteis to gain the “Scheduled Tribes” label and then both parties agree to power-sharing negotiations and agreements.


Historical Overview:

The Meiteis, a predominantly Hindu community, are the largest ethnic group in Manipur. They live in the smaller, but more developed areas in the valley region. They historically ruled Manipur by holding significant positions of power, including the current Chief Minister who is an ethnic Meitei and a member of the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The mainly Christian Kuki community lives in the more fertile and mountainous part of the state and has historically faced barriers to accessing education, health, and government jobs.


Kukis are demanding a separate political autonomous zone to safeguard their interests arguing that they cannot live with the Meiteis.[8] The Kukis almost certainly see the Meiteis as a rival ethnic group competing for limited resources. Kukis very likely believe they face discrimination because the Meiteis have historically enjoyed being in a position of power to run the state of Manipur and have better access to education, healthcare, and jobs. The Kuki community almost certainly feels that Meitei politicians will not be able to address their socioeconomic grievances. Mobs have vented their frustration by targeting politicians’ homes and offices in Manipur. History proves it is very likely that more senior ministers and politicians at the state and federal levels will be victims of targeted attacks. The ongoing violence in Manipur will very likely spur the Indian government to create an autonomous zone for the Kuki tribes to safeguard their political, social, and economic interests. Ten state legislators from the Kuki tribes are requesting Chief Minister Singh to create a separate autonomous zone for their community.[9] More politicians including members from the opposition could very likely make the separation of an autonomous zone an electoral issue. This could potentially hurt the ruling government and damage their electoral prospects in the next election. There is a high probability that if violence continues unabated in Manipur, it could very likely become a full-blown insurgency. The Indian government almost certainly does not want another insurgency arising in an already conflict-active region that has a long history of violent uprisings and rebellions.[10]


Assessments

If the Indian government does not address the socio-economic grievance of both the Meiteis and Kukis, then violence will almost certainly spiral out of control, further leaving thousands of people displaced and increasing civilian casualties. There is a high probability that further unrest in Manipur could spill over into neighboring states. More refugees living in other states will almost certainly compete for limited resources including food, shelter, and water with local residents.[11]


The proposal to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Meiteis has very likely created a shift in political dynamics that will likely drive ethnic division and new waves of political and civilian attacks. The Kukis almost certainly oppose this ruling, believing that Meiteis earning this label would further marginalize them and increase their obstacles to accessing basic needs and self-determination. Kuki tribes will very likely demand segregation from the Meitei community, almost certainly lobbying the Indian government to establish either an autonomous region or a separate state that will protect their social, economic, and political interests.


The Indian Government’s attempts to stop the escalation of violence in Manipur will very likely involve the deployment of more security forces to cities, towns, and villages with mixed ethnic populations. Protests, rallies, and demonstrations will very likely be restricted or outlawed due to the threat of a potential attack against participating civilians. The state government will very likely continue to ban the internet and shut down schools till further notice. A curfew will very likely be extended in an attempt to quell the violence between both communities.


Future Implications:

Manipur’s economy is primarily based on agriculture, providing employment to approximately 52% of this population. The ethnic communities are separated into hill (Kuki) and valley (Meities) based divisions of land, supplementing each other with resources rich in their land.[12] The conflict between the two tribes almost certainly includes road blockades having the likely impact of rising prices and the prevention of resources, like medicine and fuel, from arriving. There is a shortage of medicine, no cash in banks and ATMs, and high inflation.[13] These factors will almost certainly contribute to an economic crisis that will last for years, setting Manipur back in terms of development.


The ruling (BJP) will very likely suffer electoral setbacks in next year’s national elections. Manipur has two federal seats in the Indian parliament. It is very likely that the BJP will lose its seat in next year’s federal election scheduled in May. The BJP is very likely looking to maximize its seats in the lower house of the parliament in next year’s election. If they lose, it is very likely that opposition parties will win those seats. Potentially in the long run, although Manipur sends two members to the lower house of the Parliament, BJP’s rival the Congress party will very likely gain the upper hand in winning the Manipur state election in the future. This could potentially lead to a domino effect where the Congress party starts winning state elections in other states neighboring Manipur. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP has in the past looked to make India free from the Congress party’s rule.[14]

 

[1] “Map of Manipur in India” by Utsav via Google Maps

[2] India: Manipur's tribal violence divides communities, DW, June 2023 https://www.dw.com/en/india-manipurs-tribal-violence-divides-communities/a-65861229 Ibid

[3] At least 9 killed in ethnic clashes in India’s northeast, where 100 have died in month of violence, AP, June 2023 https://apnews.com/article/india-ethnic-clashes-remote-northeast-5d57fc9fab1ddab127ff689d0ea733a1

[5] Indian minister's home set ablaze in violence-hit Manipur state, Reuters, June 2023 https://www.reuters.com/world/india/indian-ministers-home-set-ablaze-violence-hit-manipur-state-2023-06-16/

[6] Manipur: Fears grow over Indian state on brink of civil war, BBC News, June 2023 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-65679616

[7] Indian army steps in to quell violence in northeastern state of Manipur, Reuters, May 2023 https://www.reuters.com/world/india/indian-army-steps-quell-violence-northeastern-state-manipur-2023-05-04/

[8] India’s Manipur state riven by ethnic violence, Financial Times, June 2023 https://www.ft.com/content/63ca3e23-f0ea-413a-bd3d-55f5f160e7a0

[9] The Unfolding Kuki–Meitei Conflict in Manipur, IDSA, May 2023 https://www.idsa.in/issuebrief/The-Unfolding-Kuki-Meitei-Conflict-pdas-260523

[10] Insurgencies in India’s Northeast: Conflict, Co-option, & Change, East-West Center Washington, July 2007 https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/45471990-933f-4ea7-99fe-02c9e7e4b9ff/content

[11] 600 Manipur tribals flee to Mizoram seeking refuge, The Nagaland Post, May 2023 https://nagalandpost.com/index.php/600-manipur-tribals-flee-to-mizoram-seeking-refuge/

[12] Economic implications of intra-state conflict:Evidence from Manipur state of India, Munich Personal RePEc Archive, 2012, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/39276/1/MPRA_paper_39276.pdf

[13] Manipur crisis: Lack of medicines, cash; rice, vegetables prices shoot up, petrol at Rs 200, Business Today, June 2023 https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/economy/story/manipur-crisis-lack-of-medicines-cash-rice-vegetables-prices-shoot-up-petrol-at-rs-200-384154-2023-06-05

[14] Why a 'Congress-mukt Bharat' Would Be Bad for BJP, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2015 https://carnegieendowment.org/2015/04/07/why-congress-mukt-bharat-would-be-bad-for-bjp-pub-59672

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