Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh (Illustrations: Saurabh Singh)
The Centre’s decision to extend the ban on Meitei extremist groups like the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA-MP) and others for another five years as required under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, is a routine measure but carried added significance in the current unsettled situation in Manipur. Along with PLA, outfits like the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and Kangleipak Communist Party (both have armed wings called the Red Army), which, like many extremist groups in the Northeast, have ultra-Left leanings, continue to be banned. The decision to extend the ban at a time when Meiteis and tribal Kukis have been at each other’s throats is intended to signal that the state administration and the Centre will not play favourites and all groups wedded to violence will face the might of the state. BJP leader and Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh is a Meitei as are a majority of Manipuris and he has been advised by the Centre to remain strictly neutral in addressing the situation. The violence did begin with a Kuki protest march in Imphal that targeted Meitei houses but the retaliation was also savage. Complicating the situation are groups like Meira Paibis or the Manipur Mothers who have prevented the paramilitary and Army from acting against miscreants. Then Kuki groups have made inflammatory claims while the statements of some church authorities have not helped matters either. Just as Manipur begins to slip off the headlines, an incident occurs or a video surfaces that scrapes wounds afresh. The action against the Meitei groups reflects the pressure the Centre is building against extremists who have defied the law for decades. The South Asia Terrorism Portal lists more than 15 proscribed and active groups in Manipur itself. The challenge of dealing with some of these groups has become tougher with fresh violence in Myanmar that has resulted in more refugees entering India. Providing humanitarian assistance to the displaced persons while keeping a record of the entrants has engaged the Centre’s attention as the disturbances are an opportunity for mischief-makers. Some of those crossing the border are troublemakers and associated with the drug trade. Elections in Mizoram are a complicating factor as Chief Minister Zoramthanga has refused to implement the Centre’s direction to collect biometrics of Myanmarese entering India.
Congress Vs Congress
The ‘joke’ between Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh about who would be responsible for losing candidates in the Madhya Pradesh election exposes deeper faultlines. Congress leaders sought to dismiss the public exchange between the two at the party’s manifesto release event as light-hearted banter but the rift is evident every now and then. Recently, a journalist who was inducted into the party with Singh’s blessings was reported to be writing scathingly about a Congress candidate’s prospects. The candidate complained and the matter reached Nath who asked senior functionaries in Bhopal to take action. The journalist in question received a phone call and was warned that his activities have attracted the party’s attention. The media owner of a publication was also told he must accept responsibility for ‘negative’ reports as the buck stops with him. The state functionary made no bones that he had been authorised to take ‘unpleasant’ decisions if the reports targeting the candidate did not stop.
There is more than what meets the eye when it comes to the discussion on Delhi’s polluted air and the responsibility of state and Central agencies. While the pollution caused by the burning of farm residue is not the only reason for Delhi’s noxious air and is a winter occurrence, farm fires are indeed a major reason why air quality deteriorates. There are farm fires in Haryana and Punjab but the latter has been particularly negligent in dealing with the issue. This is because both the previous Congress government and the current AAP administration took the path of least resistance in dealing with the problem. In fact, farm unions—the very same that opposed the farm laws—have had a free hand in exhorting farmers to burn residue. The rare team of state officials that dares to inspect farms has often been held hostage and, in one instance, made to set fire to the stubble. There is no evidence to suggest the Punjab government carried out any advocacy in the last several months to try and convince farmers to consider alternatives to burning stubble. It is quite clear that AAP will continue to present the farm stubble-burning problem as a political tussle with BJP while some Delhi ministers come up with ideas like seeding clouds to cause rains which would control pollution.
Out But Not Down
Her outspoken ways have cost former British Home Secretary Suella Braverman her job. There is speculation whether there is some deliberation about the way she made public her disagreements on key law and order issues, such as her criticism of the way the British police responded to the pro-Palestine/Hamas demonstrations. She was previously in the news when her unfiltered comments on Indian immigrants created serious hurdles in the deliberations over an FTA, even as the pact seems to be all but lost in the domestic political distractions of the UK. Her posture was certainly seen as a challenge to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s authority and he seems strengthened by her departure. However, Braverman has indicated that she is likely to continue offering her views in a comment that amounts to “watch this space”. While Braverman appears to have proved her critics right that she is not a team player—certainly not at a time when the Tories are struggling to take on Labour—the MP has struck a chord with a large section of British voters shocked by the aggressive demonstrations and the calls for Sharia in the UK. The new ministers in the UK cabinet, meanwhile, may mean better news for India-UK relations. Former Prime Minister David Cameron as foreign secretary inspires confidence given his experience and the rapport he enjoyed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was in office.
Abe’s Vision Lives On
In an interesting development, Japan honoured former Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, in recognition of his role in promoting the Indian and Japanese shared goal of working for a free Indo-Pacific. Japan’s ambassador to India, Hiroshi Suzuki, recalled he had served the late Shinzo Abe for seven-and-a-half years as private secretary for diplomacy. Abe had a strong belief that India and Japan should take a leading role in preserving peace and freedom in the Indo-Pacific because the two nations share fundamental values, freedom, democracy, and rule of law. In 2016, he officially launched his vision of ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ in Nairobi. During his tenure as Navy chief, Admiral Singh’s commitment to India-Japan ties saw the interoperability between the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Indian Navy being dramatically enhanced. This greatly improved the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces. After Abe’s death, Singh has been a torchbearer for realising the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, said Suzuki.