The worst is behind Manipur, and the ethnic-strife torn state is “headed towards better times”, Director General of Assam Rifles Lt Gen P C Nair said on Friday. He said though incidents of sporadic violence are still being reported from certain areas, the northeastern state is on the path to peace.
“If I have to sum up, the worst is behind us. Though sporadic incidents of shootings and killings are being reported, those will gradually subside and we are heading towards better times,” the DG said in an interview.
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Nair said the country’s oldest paramilitary force remains unbiased and has destroyed bunkers, seized weapons and rescued innocent people from both communities in Manipur over the last four months.
His remark comes in the wake of controversies alleging that the Assam Rifles is biased towards a particular community in Manipur.
“We are not (biased) and I want to make that absolutely clear. We have destroyed equal number of bunkers of both the communities. The weapons we recovered from both the sides are also equal. The number of people that we have helped from being victims of violence is also equal.”
“Why should we be partial towards one community? We have soldiers from both the sides in our force and we have had no issue of any kind of rivalry among them. That truly speaks of the leadership that is there both in the Army and the Assam Rifles. “These officers are giving all that they can to ensure peace,” he said.
He said of the 212 places where violence was reported in the past 120 days, the force has managed to restore peace in most areas.
The Assam Rifles chief said the current unrest in the northeastern state is not even close to the violence that took place in the 90s during the peak of Naga militancy. He said the force is now encountering new challenges in operations where mobs are surrounding them and women blocking key roads.
“To be honest, this is completely new to us. As the head of the force, I can tell you that I have never faced a situation like this,” he said, adding that the AR is essentially tasked with three roles – border guarding, counter insurgency operations and conventional operations alongside the Indian Army.
He said the local populace needs to start talking to each other to bring back peace. Asked how long it will take for the situation to normalise, Lt Gen Nair said, “That is a question no one will be able to answer. It all depends on the locals (of Manipur).” “If I have to put it very frankly, it is not the security forces who can sort out the problem. We are here only to curtail the level of violence. We are here to stop the firings that take place,” he said.
Stating that a lot is happening backstage which is not in the news, Lt Gen Nair said, “We (Assam Rifles) and the Indian Army are playing a big role. We are talking to civil society organisations, youths and various stakeholders essentially to get them to the talks table and resolve the issue.” He also informed that sporadic violence was taking place in the fringe areas where the valley ends and the hills begin and where both the communities reside.
Highlighting on the activities of the security forces, Lt Gen Nair said over 100 relief camps have been set up and the men in uniform have assisted over 45,000 victims of violence and provided medical care and medicines worth over Rs 15 lakh to over 12,000 people.
The AR chief, who is briefing the Union home ministry daily on the developments in Manipur, said the security forces are working under extremely tiring conditions.
More than 160 people have been killed and several hundreds injured since ethnic violence broke out in Manipur on May 3, when a “Tribal Solidarity March” was organised in the hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status.