In an interconnected world, a government that seeks greater economic integration and promotes itself as the representative of a nation committed to democratic, liberal and plural values and the rule of law, cannot dismiss scrutiny by like-minded nations with which beneficial ties are sought. India’s dismissal of the EU Parliament’s resolution on the violence in Manipur as reflecting a colonial mindset and tantamount to interference in internal affairs, was therefore predictably petulant and in line with similar reactions to scrutiny by lawmakers in the United States, for instance. Just as Indian politicians have the right to express their concerns with issues such as attacks on Hindu temples in Australia or racial prejudice in the U.S. or anti-immigrant violence and government response in Europe, their counterparts in the EU Parliament are well within the realms of propriety in questioning actions in Manipur. That the embers of the violence there that peaked in early May resulting in 142 deaths and thousands being displaced, have not been extinguished and distrust and hostility between the Meitei and the Kuki-Zo communities persist, have allowed for this international scrutiny.
Yet, the EU Parliament resolution and the legislators’ framing of the problem in Manipur include an erroneous understanding of the conflict having a religious basis and a pitting of Hindus versus Christians. Churches and temples having been vandalised in the conflagration between the Hindu-majority Meitei community and the Christian denominated Kuki-Zo community has given way to this understanding. But this ignores the fact that the spark for the spike in violence was an erroneous order — which was called out as being so by the Chief Justice of India — passed by a single judge Bench in the Manipur High Court to include Meiteis in the list of Scheduled Tribes in the State. The Naga community, also predominantly Christian by denomination, and its representatives were also aggrieved by the decision but the ethnic violence has been limited to actions by militants belonging to the Kuki-Zo and the Meitei communities and exacerbated by an ethnic polarisation that reconciliatory efforts by civil society have still to undo. Festering distrust due to socio-economic variances in the “hill” and “valley” areas, and the inability of the BJP government led by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh to be seen as being above the ethnic fray have been responsible for this crisis. The EU resolution misconstrues this situation as being driven by religious discord. Such a wrong diagnosis would lead to the creation of new fissures at a time when reconciliation and accountability are required to break the stasis that has persisted in the last two months.