Fabricated attempts to malign Assam Rifles, says Indian Army, as Manipur Police files FIR

The Indian Army admitted to tactical and operational differences on the ground, but suggested inimical elements were calling the security forces' integrity into question

Indian Army officials patrol in the violence-hit area in India's north-eastern state of Manipur on 16 June 2023 (photo: Getty Images)
Indian Army officials patrol in the violence-hit area in India's north-eastern state of Manipur on 16 June 2023 (photo: Getty Images)

NH Political Bureau

Despite the Indian Army’s late evening statement on Tuesday, August 9, assuring citizens that all was well and that there attempts to malign the Assam Rifles (particularly the personnel in Manipur) were fabricated, there appears to be a definite tussle over authority on the ground.

A flashpoint was reached on August 5, when a sub-inspector of the Manipur Police, N. Devdas Singh, in charge of a police station in Bishnupur district, lodged an FIR against personnel of the 9th Battalion of the Assam Rifles, which is deployed on the Myanmar border and is under the operational control of the Indian Army.

The Assam Rifles were charged with obstructing public servants, criminal intimidation and the ‘arrogant act’ of allowing Kuki militants to escape and blocking the police commandos chasing them.

Earlier, on July 10, the Assam Rifles had registered a case of sedition and defamation against the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an influential civil society group in Imphal, after the outfit called on people "not to surrender weapons".

Two days after the police FIR against the Assam Rifles, however, on 7 August, the Manipur unit of the BJP submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, drawing his attention to the FIR and claiming that the Assam Rifles were charged ‘by the public’ for their biased role, favouring one side. They demanded the permanent removal of the force from Manipur.

A day before that, the Manipur state government had ordered the replacement of a unit of the Army from one of the several checkposts on the Churachandpur–Bishnupur boundary.

In the statement issued on August 8, however, the Army spokesperson said, “It needs to be understood that due to the complex nature of the situation on the ground in Manipur, occasional differences at [a] tactical level do occur between various security forces. However, all such misunderstandings at the functional level are immediately addressed through the joint mechanism to synergise the efforts for restoration of peace and normalcy in Manipur.”

So what was behind the FIR?

Right from the beginning of the ethnic clashes in Manipur, Meiteis have been accusing the Army and the Assam Rifles of favouring the Kukis, while the tribal groups in turn have accused the Manipur Police of colluding with Meitei militants and leading them in attacks on the hills.

Could this have any relevance to the police FIR or the BJP's allegations? It seems impossible to untangle as clear and honest communication are clearly at a premium, and use of the internet for verification is restricted to a few.

The failure of the Union home minister to take Parliament (which is in session) into confidence over this astounding situation can only add to the public's doubts that all is not as well as it is being made out to be.

Whatever the truth behind the case, the stand-off between the police and the army, however, reflects poorly on governance by both the state government and the Union government. As analyst and commentator Sushant Singh pointed out, “There are two parts to the Manipur Police vs Assam Rifles saga. One is internal to Manipur, its imagined history, majoritarian politics and ethnic bias. The second is about protecting India's institutions—the army and its leadership, the union government and its leadership.”

Political commentator Suhas Palshikar sarcastically tweeted, “Since Article 355 is in force in Manipur, it means [the] union govt has allowed a police complaint against an army unit deployed in Manipur by the union govt itself. Besides the snub to the armed forces, this is an excellent example of governance.”

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