Both the Opposition led by the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say they want a parliamentary debate on Manipur, but they are unable to agree on a mechanism to do it. The abhorrent violence, including repeated incidents of sexual violence against tribal women in the State, should have brought the government and the Opposition together; instead, they are unable to even debate the issue. The Opposition has insisted that any discussion must begin with a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who would not commit to that. Home Minister Amit Shah said the government was willing to discuss the issue and sought the cooperation of the Opposition, which saw the outreach as an attempt to shield Mr. Modi. The Opposition has now moved a no-confidence motion against the government as a way of forcing Mr. Modi to speak on the issue. Considering how he has responded until now, that might be a bit too optimistic. The discussion on the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha is likely to be a continuation of the obfuscation of the issue by the BJP and the persistent demand by the Opposition. Meanwhile, in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition continues to demand a discussion followed by a statement by the Prime Minister.
The demand for a comprehensive statement by the Prime Minister is legitimate, but the Opposition must understand that it serves no purpose if the outcome is no discussion. It must seize whatever opportunity it gets for a discussion in Parliament, and take the protest to public places outside. The BJP’s response to the horror in Manipur has been to equate it with crimes in Congress-ruled States, which is difficult to sustain. For moral and strategic reasons, the turmoil in Manipur is a threat to the country’s security, integrity, and social harmony; it is a threat that calls for national unity. It is a sad moment in Indian democracy that its politics remains partisan even in the face of such human suffering, ethnic violence and the breakdown of law and order in a sensitive border State. Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has written to Mr. Shah saying that the government cannot be seeking the Opposition’s cooperation while the Prime Minister is likening it to extremist outfits. Labelling critics as anti-national or unpatriotic may be politically convenient, but this predictable response in the BJP toolkit is turning out to be an impediment to national unity. It is time Mr. Modi called for healing in Manipur, reassured the scared victims of the State and set an example by holding the perpetrators accountable. And there is no better place than Parliament to make it all clear to the country and the world.