India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been on business as usual: red-carpet trips abroad, ribbon cuttings and political meetings at home.
But he has almost entirely avoided addressing the ethnic violence that has raged in the northeastern state of Manipur for months. More than 150 people have died and more than 60,000 have been displaced, while mobs from the majority Meitei ethnic community have burned down villages of the minority Kuki and other tribes, leaving a trail of death and destruction. Tens of thousands of national security forces have been battling to restore calm, with the territory effectively divided along ethnic lines in what residents describe as a civil war.
Although some senior figures in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have become more involved in the crisis, the prime minister has maintained a studied silence.
The trigger was a court ruling that threatened a delicate balance by essentially giving more government benefits to the Meiteis. Although they control the levers of state power, they have had a small share of state land. Tribal communities protested the verdict and were met with violence from Meitei mobs, which activists and human rights groups say has been facilitated by the state government. India’s Supreme Court has since declared the lower court’s decision “totally factually incorrect”, but it was too late to stop the violence.
To force Modi to answer questions about the case, India’s opposition parties resorted to something drastic last month: a no-confidence motion against his government in parliament. The move, the second vote of this type Modi has faced in his nearly decade in national power, is merely procedural; his government is not at risk of expulsion.
But it has highlighted how India’s most powerful leader has reshaped parliamentary democracy for decades. With an absolute majority in the legislature that allows him to derail the debate; a scared national media that covers up uncomfortable topics; and an overwhelmed judiciary, Modi wields power unfettered by the previous safeguards of India’s political system.
Gaurav Gogoi, an opposition leader who initiated the no-confidence vote, called it an attempt to “force” Modi, who rarely participates in debates, to talk about Manipur. Gogoi, deputy leader of the Indian National Congress party in the lower house of parliament, said the mobs had looted police arms stores, where about 5,000 weapons are missing in a region with a history of insurgency.
Modi’s silence, analysts said, reflects how crucial his brand is to the calculations of his ruling party, known as the BJP, ahead of next year’s general election. He is personally more popular with voters than the party he leads, which has allowed him to salvage state and local elections where the BJP struggled.
Party leaders want to avoid linking it with Manipur.
The spiral in Manipur “calls into question more than just India’s internal history,” said Avinash Paliwal, an academic at SOAS University of London and author of a forthcoming book on northeast India. “It opens old wounds.”
Por: MUJIB MASHAL and SUHASINI RAJ
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BBC-NEWS-SRC: http://www.nytsyn.com/subscribed/stories/6831435, IMPORTEDate: 2023-08-02 21:50:07