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Christian leaders insist on leadership change in India’s Manipur

They see no substance in RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for peace in the strife-torn northeastern state
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat (center) displays his inked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station on April 19.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat (center) displays his inked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station on April 19. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 11, 2024 12:09 PM GMT
Updated: June 11, 2024 12:24 PM GMT

Christian leaders have urged India’s newly sworn coalition government to change the leadership in strife-torn Manipur where ongoing sectarian violence since May 3 last year has claimed around 220 lives and displaced over 50,000, mostly tribal Christian people.

Their appeal came in reaction to the call by chief of the parent organization of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to find a solution to the escalating violence in the remote northeastern state.

A C Michael, a New Delhi-based Catholic leader, said Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or national volunteers' group), holds considerable influence over the ruling BJP.

Bhagwat addressed a gathering in Nagpur city, the RSS headquarters, on June 10 and said, "It is important to resolve the conflict as a priority."

Michael said, "Merely saying so is not enough." 

The Christian leader said Bhagwat should take steps to remove federal Home Minister Amit Shah and Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh from their offices.

“They [Shah and Singh] are responsible for the current plight of the people of Manipur. If they continue to be at the helm of affairs, no justice could be expected for the suffering people,” Michael added.

He demanded India's new ruling coalition led by the BJP listen to Bhagwat and change ministers in New Delhi and Manipur.

Tribal Christians and majority Meitei Hindus in Manipur have been fighting since May 3 last year over granting tribal status to the Meiteis to avail educational and job benefits under India's affirmative action program.

Violence has so far claimed 220 lives, most of them Christians. More than 50,000 indigenous people live in relief camps after their houses were set on fire and over 350 churches and other Christian institutions were damaged.

The hilly state, bordering civil war-hit Myanmar, has two parliament seats, which Modi’s BJP lost in the just-concluded general election.

The sectarian strife in the state, where tribal Christians make up more than 41 percent of the state’s 2.6 million, continues with sporadic incidents of violence.

On June 10, the advance security convoy of the chief minister was ambushed by suspected militants when it was en route to Jiribam district, where the beheaded body of a 59-year-old man was found on June 6.

"There is no law and order in Manipur. Nobody can predict what will happen next,” said a Church leader from Manipur who did not want to be named.

Bhagwat should take the initiative to talk to Modi to restore peace, demanded the Church leader.

Modi has not yet visited the state despite repeated demands.

Like Michael, the Church leader also stressed replacing Singh to restore peace.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum is also blaming the Manipur chief minister for the violence.

The forum, in a statement on June 10, said the violence in Jiribam was an attempt by Singh to divert the attention from the election defeat of his party in the state.

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