The rise of BJP in Manipur has been seen by many as the expansion of Hindutva ideology in an unfavorable terrain. BJP’s coming to power in Manipur in 2017 is seen as the rise of Hindutva forces in the state. This article gives a closer look at this general claim. This account attempts to show that BJP’s coming to power in the state does not necessarily entail a dramatic rise of Hindutva ideology. However, it does not mean that RSS is not trying. In this article, Konthoujam Iboton attempts to approach the matter by analyzing the relation between BJP, Hindutva ideology and the Meitei community.
GroundXero: The reason behind focusing on this particular community is because the majority of the Meitei community got converted into Gauriya Vaishnava religion in the eighteenth century. Manipur is just over 22 thousand square kilometers. Meiteis reside in the Imphal Valley which is ten percent of the total area of Manipur. Meiteis are around half the population of Manipur when the total population of Manipur is nearly 27 lakhs. Hence, it is quite natural for the proponents of Hindutva to look for its breeding grounds in the Meitei community. Furthermore, Manipur became a state in 1963 and 10 out of 12 Chief Ministers till now have been from the Imphal valley. The valley has 39 seats in the state assembly out of total 60 seats. It should be clear that the political power centers in the Imphal Valley. I argue that the proponents of the Hindutva ideology finds it difficult to even penetrate the Meitei community which commands considerable political power in Manipur. RSS has far less influence in the hills of Manipur. Therefore, the claim that Hindutva is on the rise in Manipur is shaky at best for now.
BJP’s Election Campaign in Imphal Valley
Ram Madhav, the General Secretary of BJP, in a social media volunteer meet in Imphal before the 2017 state assembly election, asked the volunteers whether they are bored with the then CM Okram Ibobi. The attack was strictly directed against Okram Ibobi. Madhav focuses on the failure of Okram Ibobi to improve the economic condition of Manipur. He dropped facts such as 25 percent of people in Manipur are unemployed. If BJP comes to power, he says that it will look into the fake encounters and scams perpetrated during the Congress rule. Fake encounters and scams marred Congress’s rule and mass movements for justice. These were add-ons. The Meiteis are interested in a state government which can make the Center intervene in moments of crisis such as economic blockades of national highways leading to Imphal Valley in Naga districts. These blockades can last for months. The valley gets economically hit badly and quite often. Furthermore, the state is enormously dependent economically to the Central government. Given these dependencies, it made sense for the Meiteis to vote for BJP because BJP is in power in the Center. Therefore, BJP Manipur was already in an advantageous position in the state assembly election. Also, BJP Manipur Pradesh can be held accountable in the Valley when mainland BJP does not listen to the Meiteis. Whereas, a party such as Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance, which is based in Manipur, can always say the BJP in the Center does not listen to it and escape responsibility. The Meiteis clearly understand that the controls are in Delhi.
BJP Manipur Pradesh and the Meitei Community
After the 2017 state assembly election, BJP comes to power. However, it comes not with a thumping majority. Out of 60 seats, it secured 21 seats. Congress won 28 seats. BJP secured 16 seats out of 39 seats in the Imphal valley and Congress secured 18 seats. BJP goes into the alliance with Trinamool Congress, Naga People’s Front (NPF) and National Peoples Party (NPP) to form the government. However, two alliances are important. BJP makes an alliance with NPP which secured four seats. NPP’s leader in Manipur is retired Director General of Police Yumnam Joykumar. This one serves to expose BJP’s seriousness in dealing with the fake encounters.
"I have told my people. These fellows must be eliminated. Nothing else can cure us of this disease".
Yumnam Joykumar has publicly defended the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. The Human Rights Watch, 2008 report quotes him saying “I have told my people. These fellows must be eliminated. Nothing else can cure us of this disease”. It named its report “These Fellows Must Be Eliminated”. His name also came up in the famous Khwairamban Keithel fake encounter case. Head constable Thounaojam Herojit who shot Chungkham Sanjit in the fake encounter confessed in front of the national media and submitted an affidavit stating the confession to a session court. He confesses that he committed the murder following the order of Superintendent of Police Akoijam Jhalajit. He named DGP Joykumar saying the DGP was in the know of the order that his superior gave to him on that day. The fake encounter also took the life of a 23-year-old pregnant Thokchom Rabina. Herojit submitted another affidavit to the Supreme Court stating he is aware of many other fake encounters. BJP’s alliance with NPP makes it lose moral grounds immediately.
However, it hardly matters. BJP Manipur has bigger opportunists in it. Nongthombam Biren started his political career in Democratic People’s Party. He won the first state assembly election in 2002. He suddenly jumped to Congress which came to power after the presidential rule in 2001. Nogthombam Biren’s son, Nongthombam Ajay shot an eighteen-year old Irom Roger dead in broad daylight in 2011. A mass movement erupted calling for justice. Nongthombam Biren had too much heat on him. Biren left Congress to ride the remaining Modi wave in July 2016. The BJP Manipur Pradesh, if we look closely, mainly consists of Congress defectors. The masters in Delhi must not trust these people. BJP Manipur Pradesh is the broad front with too many unreliable and opportunist forces.
BJP allies with Naga People’s Front (NPF) to form the government in Manipur. For the Meiteis, the alliance is as an unholy one. For BJP, it must seem a masterstroke. BJP secures the alliance in Manipur giving confidence to the Naga bodies through the announcement of the framework agreement between the Naga bodies and the Government of India. Modi, while announcing the agreement, calls it a landmark achievement in Indo-Naga peace talks. It will mark the resolution of armed Naga movement. Meiteis see this agreement as a threat to Manipur’s territorial integrity. The threat of disintegration of Manipur is one aspect of the Nagalim movement. The fears of the Meiteis do not subside with the framework agreement. It only aggravates in the question, what next. BJP leaders, both in Manipur and Delhi, have clarified multiple times that the agreement which is coming up does not compromise the territorial integrity of Manipur. Meiteis are wary about the framework agreement even if the agreement does not directly mention the territorial disintegration of Manipur. Hence, Meiteis are unhappy with this alliance. Also, the Center has not revealed to the Meiteis the content of the agreement. BJP Manipur Pradesh fails to find out what the agreement entails for the future of the Meitei. It has become the cause of embarrassment for BJP Manipur. It has now become hard for the Meitei to trust BJP Manipur. Furthermore, BJP promised the people in the Valley that it will deal with the economic blockades in the national highways leading to Imphal inflicted by Naga bodies, if it comes to power. Meiteis now see BPJ Manipur making alliances with Nagas, giving them more power to bargain. NPF has already threatened to withdraw their support to BJP if it toes the line of the Meitei community. These calculations do not make BJP very useful for the Meiteis politically right now. It is clear that the BJP outmaneuvered Congress and formed the Government but at what price. For the people of Manipur, more communal drama impends. The Meitei community finds itself in problems with BJP at both levels – the state, and the center.
Hindutva and the Meitei Community
RSS has been working in Manipur since 1952. It has 115 local units in Manipur presently. These units include Sakhas, Milans, and Mondolis. It is also running schools in five districts of Manipur. It uses the fear of Bangladeshi immigration to beef up its support base among the Meiteis. MM Asokan who is Prant Pracharak of RSS says that its objective is to promote Hindu tradition and national integration in Manipur. Though it has some organizations working in the hills, it does not have much influence. RSS themselves play down their role in BJP Manipur, even in the Imphal Valley. RSS seems to understand that they need to exercise political patience while dealing with the Meiteis. RSS even attributes BJP’s victory in Manipur to anti-incumbency factor. It distances itself from BJP Manipur. BJP’s politics should not come into the organizational activities of RSS, especially when it contradicts Meitei interest at multiple levels. Furthermore, it seems to understand that their narrative of Akhand Bharat does not go down well with the Meiteis.
In 2016, an organization called the Meitei Nationalist Party was formed under the leadership of Brahmacharimayum Angousana Sharma. Bamon Angousana Sharma, an ex-Indian Army man, is the founding president of the party. Manipur’s titular King Leisemba Sanajaoba was present at the foundation ceremony. It’s declared ideology is right-wing politics for the Meiteis and India. It is nothing but a Hindutva right-wing front. It launched its student wing Meitei Nationalist Students Union of India which started operating in Delhi. MNP, in a statement preaching national integration, argued that Manipuris have been defending Bharatvarsa for centuries. These attempts exacted serious reactions from the Coordination Committee (CorCom) of insurgent groups operating in Manipur. CorCom declares Angausana Sharma an enemy of Manipur in their statement issued in February 2016. After that, we do not see much of MNP. The second attempt to paint Manipur as a part of Akhand Bharat happened recently in Porbandar, Gujarat. CM Nongthombam Biren stated that through the marriage of Krishna with Rukmani, the northeast of India came close with India. His comments did not go down well with the Meitei community. BJP Manipur was again left red-faced.
The narrative of Meiteis being part of the larger Hindu fold might have an audience in the community but it also has to overcome another narrative which is its immediate contradiction. The Hindutva ideology requires to explore and strengthen the linkage of Manipur with the mainland through Gauriya Vaishnavite religion of the Meitei community and through so-called evidence in Mahabharata. The immediate contradiction is present in Meitei Vaishnavites themselves. The opposing narrative, which every Meitei knows whether Vaishnavite or not, is about the conversions of Meiteis into Gauriya Vaishnava and destruction of Meitei identity. Shanti Das Gosai, a Bengali Bamon from Sylhet in modern-day Bangladesh, converted the Meitei King Pamheiba in the eighteenth century. The majority of the Meitei population adopted Gauriya Vaishnava religion during the reign of King Pamheiba. Many Bamons from Bengal flooded Manipur to convert the Meiteis during this period. After that, the practice of amang-aseng (pollution-purity) in the Meitei households started. This is the opposing narrative. Indrani Chatterjee sums it up. She writes:
“The imported Vaishnava Brahmans, it is said, burnt the traditional texts (puyas), changed its mythology/history, made Manipur part of an anecdote in the Mahabharat… A parallel historiography of Manipur (currently India) for the same period establishes that these ‘Brahmans’ constituted a particular ordination lineage of Vaishnava Goswamis drawn from Benares (Kashi) and Nadia (Bengal) in India”.
The narrative blames the Bamons for introducing amang-aseng practice. It also traces the root of the bad relationship between the Meitei and the people in the hills as the practice of pollution-purity in the Meitei community. Furthermore, it attacks the Bamons for destroying the Meitei identity by burning its texts and accuses them of directing the course of the Meitei past towards an alien narrative. This opposing narrative plays out in the everyday lives of the Meiteis very strongly. Most Meitei Vaishnavite households have both Hindu and Meitei gods such Sanamahi and Leimarel. The community ritual Lai Harouba which is pre-Vaishnavite is still practiced in Meitei communities. The opposing narrative challenges the Hindutva project of integration of the Meitei community in the Brahmanical cultural entity Akhand Bharat. It will take time for RSS to cover the distance.
BJP’s contradictions with the Meiteis at the state and the Center because of the electoral alliances damage it. RSS also has not still overcome the contradiction it faces in the Meitei community. So it is farfetched to say that Hindutva ideology has painted Manipur saffron. The contradictions BJP faces with the Meities and RSS’s own problems in organizing in the Meitei community hinder the rise of Hindutva if we take RSS and BJP as vehicles of Hindutva ideology.