As Manipur has been reeling under ethnic clashes between two communities—Meitei and Kuki—which have already claimed more than 100 lives in the last one month, the BJP-led government in the state has often blamed Kuki insurgent groups, particularly those who have signed Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the Central and state government.
However, a 2019 letter by the leader of one of the Kuki outfits under SoO to Union Home Minister Amit Shah claims that two BJP leaders—Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma and Ram Madhav, who looked after the NE states then—had taken help of these Kuki organizations to win the 2017 assembly elections. The BJP came to power in the northeastern state for the first time in 2017 and formed a government under the leadership of Chief Minister N. Biren Singh.
The letter was one of the annexures attached along with an affidavit filed by SS Haokip, Chairman, United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF), one of the armed organizations under SoO, in an NIA court on June 8, 2023. Haokip is an accused in a case of illegal arms purchase from former Congress MLA Yamthong Haokip. The 10 pistols that SS Haokip bought had allegedly been stolen from state police armoury. Yamthong Haokip was arrested on August 24, 2018 on charges of distributing stolen arms to militant outfits.
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In the letter, the UKLF leader alleges that, in 2017, his organization and another Kuki outfit United People Front (UPF) got BJP candidates elected, as per an agreement with Ram Madhav and Himanta Biswa Sarma.
“I took a very important role in the formation of BJP-led government in the state. To be very frank had these been not supported by us it would have been almost impossible to install the BJP-led government in the state. In the recently concluded Parliamentary Election, BJP candidate secured almost 80-90 per cent votes within the area of our operation,” read the letter.
SS Haokip alleges that he has been falsely implicated in the arms purchase case even though he had returned the pistols he had illegally procured. In his appeal to the Union Home Minister seeking reprieve in the case, the Kuki rebel leader cited the favours he had done to the saffron party in the past.
His claims, however, have been denied by Ram Madhav. “During election campaigns, many people from different walks of life meet us. However, I don’t remember meeting this person or leaders of any militant outfit. So, there is no question of taking help from him. We win elections on the strength of our cadres and public support,” says Ram Madhav. Assam CM Sarma did not respond to the calls and text messages from India Today NE till the filing of this story.
There are 32 Kuki insurgent groups in Manipur, of which 25 are under a tripartite SoO agreement with the Union government and the state government. The outfits, which have signed the SoO, function under two umbrella groups—17 under Kuki National Organization (KNO), and eight under the UPF. The SoO pact was signed on August 22, 2008, to initiate talks with these groups.
As per the SoO agreement, both security forces and insurgent groups are not supposed to launch any armed operation against each other.
The SoO groups must abide by the Constitution of India, and the laws of the land and accept the territorial integrity of Manipur. The militant cadres are confined in designated camps and are given a monthly stipend of Rs 5,000. Financial assistance is also provided to maintain the designated camps.
The arms of these rebel groups are deposited in a safe room under a double-locking system. The groups are given arms only to guard their camps and protect their leaders. While the period of the SoO agreement is one year, it is extendable according to the progress of the talks. A Joint Monitoring Group, with representatives from all the signatories, oversees the effective implementation of the SoO agreement.
On March 10, the state government withdrew the SoO agreement with two groups—Kuki National Army (KNA) and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA)—alleging that they were influencing agitation among forest encroachers.
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