The Manipur Agitation

An IDC Analysis

New Delhi, 01 Sep 2004

Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai?

There was a backlash in Manipur when a woman terrorist was apprehended by the Army at night. The Army i.e. Assam Rifles tried but could not get a woman police person to escort her. The woman was to show them the places where her comrades were hiding. The facts are unclear but the Army claims that in the morning on the pretext of easing herself and asking for privacy she was running away and Thangajam Manorma was shot dead. The army says they can prove it from the wounds of the bullets. The counter claim is that they raped and killed her.

Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which is enacted in an area nominated disturbed, no action can be taken against the forces acting for the Government and all acts are beyond legal questioning. The country and media are divided on this. Manipuris are agitating for its removal from the statue. A commission of Inquiry has been ordered by the state and at first the Army refused to allow the jawans to testify, but relented later for them to be examined in camera.

In Manipur there appears to be collusion with China in this very serious case and it seems plausible as the following media clippings show.

There is no doubt but that the Army has to be made more accountable. 


The Chinese Hand

Newsinsight, August 28, 2004

At last we know who has road mapped the Manipur agitation.

The last piece in the Manipur puzzle has been found, the Chinese hand in the recent uprising in the state. While it was widely assumed that Thangjam Manorama’s rape and murder allegedly by Assam Rifles men set off the state wide agitation for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the provocation runs deeper, as separately discovered by the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Military Intelligence Directorate. Their individual reports have been sent to the prime minister’s office, and discussed by the cabinet committee on political affairs, and further details are awaited before the matter can be taken up by the cabinet committee on security.

From the first, the security and intelligence agencies were convinced there was more to the Manipur agitation than the tragic Manorama rape incident, which obviously lit the fire. The Chinese hand was suspected, but not explored, perhaps because since after P.V. Narasimha Rao visited China in September 1993, the Chinese backing to various North-Eastern insurgent groups, but especially the NSCN, ceased, which subsequently enabled the government to open a dialogue with the NSCN factions. Through the late Nineties and thereafter, China built one axis of opposing India, proliferating to Pakistan and selling missiles and technology via third parties like North Korea, while continuing with its encirclement policy on the other axis using countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh. Arming the insurgents was thought small beer, in comparison.

Even when China commenced pressuring Nepal to invite the PLA to stamp down Maoist insurgency, reported by this magazine in early July, preparing thereby to open a third axis against India, the agencies were not alerted to its possible subversive activities in the North East. It had somehow become an article of faith on the Indian side that China would stay away from sponsoring insurgency there, though what that touching faith was based on nobody knows. Subsequently, we reported that China was implementing a Communist-Party resolution in a swathe of North-East territories, with the aim to lay claim on them after 2010, and the first step in that direction was encouraging border trade with the North-Eastern states, followed by increasing Chinese tourism in these states, and simultaneously funding the Chinese Indian community to buy prime properties in the region (Commentary, “New game,” 16 August 2004)

In a bigger picture of Chinese subversion in the North East, all this would fit, but the Manipur agitation still remained curiously unfitted, and therefore unexplained. When the agitation grew uncontrollable was when perhaps the agencies decided to investigate the deeper causes, and came upon the first of the evidence linking China to it. Raids on Manipur university professors and at least seven students unearthed details of telephone calls made to Hong Kong and visits to meet Chinese MID or military-intelligence department agents.

During questioning, one of the professors broke down and confessed to visiting Hong Kong nine times in the past six months. A proposal was recovered in the raid for Chinese mediation of the Manipur issue. A further trail led to five Manipuri insurgent leaders who had regular meetings with MID agents based in Myanmar, who were presumably road mapping the agitation. Separately, RAW, the IB, and military intelligence came to common conclusions about the Chinese hand in the Manipur agitation, but not to compromise operations, officials are not disclosing names or details.

Reports of the Chinese hand have been available with government for at least ten days, and possibly two weeks, but it has been stymied for a response. While the issue has been discussed in the CCPA, the government is chary of taking it up to the CCS, a more select body than the CCPA, with an unwritten mandate to act on issues brought before it, and not just deliberate and forget. Officials say the government has sought more details, and the agencies are complying, but there is also a feeling that the government is unwilling to face the truth.

Every government has its particular level of security consciousness, but this government’s low level has left agencies dissatisfied, disoriented, and cold. “Prime minister Manmohan Singh,” said a top intelligence official, “does not regularly interact with the agencies, and there is little to suggest that he acts on our findings or recommendations. Unfortunately, we cannot varnish the truth to someone’s liking. This is not about politics or oneupmanship. We state things as they are, and the risk is yours if you don’t act.”

In fairness to the UPA, it is only a hundred days old, put against the risk of questioning the basis of our hard-got friendship with China. China is not a pipsqueak but the most proactive big power after the United States, leagues ahead of united Europe or Russia, and an emerging power like India has to proceed with abundant action against it, if such be policy. But the agencies complain that there is no policy on China, not outside the agenda of resolving the border issue, and while we play ball, they move the goalposts to their advantage.

On the causes of the recent threatened flooding of Himachal Pradesh, for example, the government has a good idea, that indiscriminate rock blasting for railways and roads in the ecologically fragile Tibetan plateau produced landslides and the dangerous artificial Pareechu lake on the Sutlej. With the flood threat receded, it is extremely unlikely that India will interrogate the Chinese on the causes, even though there may a design in it to flood northern India in future and paralyse the political economy. Long-term Chinese plans for largescale Chinese settlements in the North East, preparatory to some sort of secession, have not received due attention or caused particular concern, although the agencies have dutifully monitored the Chinese Indian community since especially the 1962 war.

In this sorry background, the agencies expect little or no action on their current intelligence about the Chinese hand in Manipur. While it is legitimate for the government to seek more evidence of this, the past tells the agencies to keep expectations low. In the midst of A.B.Vajpayee’s much-published trip to China last June, the PLA grabbed two IB officers on a routine inspection tour of Arunachal Pradesh alongwith support staff of SSB jawans. Until this magazine and the newspapers exposed it, the government hoped to get the intelligence officers off quietly, and paper over the incident. “One reason to leak the Chinese hand in Manipur is so the government cannot cover up,” confessed an agency official frankly. “The various threats from China make a picture, and it is downright irresponsible to go about as though the picture does not exist.”

The reaction to the Chinese subversion in Manipur cannot be knee jerk, and at least this expose should put the Chinese on the defensive. The Indian response has to be calculated and calibrated, and there must be some show of public concern to the evidence of the foreign hand in Manipur. Not showing even the most minimal concern now, not acting at all, would encourage China to worser subversion and maximum damage. The Chinese hand in the Manipur agitation is of a different order of its previous support to the Nagas, because the first involves some intellectual conversion to China’s present ideology of socialism with Chinese characteristics. As agency officials say, the arrested Manipur professors and their other intellectual sympathisers were impressed by the Chinese model of development. This should cause pain to a political-economist like Manmohan Singh about the North East and particularly Manipur’s neglect.

Too much has gone wrong in the North East for any inimical foreign power not to take advantage, but simultaneously, we have to dramatically reassess our relations with China. In the centre of our relationship build-up or build-down with China cannot be the border issue, because it horribly limits our responses, and intimates our weakness, but our vision of our own future, because that will give reality and muscularity to our responses. Threatened by India’s future rivalry, China threatens us now, and we should respond in kind.