Manipur clashes: Why Naga churches and Mizo political parties are backing the Kukis

Manipur clashes: Why Naga churches and Mizo political parties are backing the Kukis

Voices of support for the Kuki people from Manipur’s neighbourhood are being closely watched in a state that has been bitterly divided by ethnic clashes.

On May 13, days after ethnic clashes between Meiteis and Kukis left several dead in Manipur, the Council of Nagalim Churches issued a sharply worded statement. It described the violence as a “premeditated operation committed by an insane mob in collusion with people in power”.

The council is backed by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah), the leading Naga insurgent group.

The council was especially critical of the Manipur state government and its alleged partisan attitude to the violence, saying that if Indian paramilitary forces had not intervened, “not a single soul who hails from the hills and lives in the [Imphal] valley would have survived”.

The violence between the majority Meitei community, who live in the valley, and the Kuki tribals who reside in the hill areas of Manipur, has left at least 74 dead, over 200 injured and thousands displaced since May 3.

The church council’s statement was unexpected, given the history of violence between Nagas and Kukis – the two prominent tribal groups in Manipur – and the NSCN(IM)’s alleged role in the conflict that broke out in the 1990s.

But this is not the only voice of support and solidarity to have emerged for Kukis in Manipur’s fraught neighbourhood.

The first to speak out were leaders from neighbouring Mizoram, where thousands of Kukis displaced by the recent violence in Manipur have taken shelter.

The Kukis share close ethnic ties with Mizos – bonds which transcend state boundaries and even international borders – and consider themselves part of a “greater Zo family”.

On May 11, for example, Rajya Sabha MP from Mizoram Vanlalvena had tweeted: “Different tribes of Mizo ethnic community in Manipur may think that they don’t have any Member of Parliament of their own. I want to let them know that I am their MP.”

Both Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga and Vanlalvena spoke out against the violence and urged the state government to protect the tribal minorities.

What is the significance of the call for a larger tribal solidarity in the aftermath of the violence in Manipur? How will it be viewed in a state that has been left bitterly divided after the ethnic clashes?

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