Ethnic smokescreens shroud Manipur’s covert drug war

The rolling hills and scenic valleys of Manipur, an Indian state bordering Myanmar, are lately more associated with violence and unrest than tranquillity. While the headlines scream of ethnic conflicts between the Meitei and Kuki communities, a deeper understanding reveals a more complex and nefarious undercurrent. The persistent turmoil is less an ethnic dispute and more a fallout of a fierce war on drugs and unchecked political greed.

Over 18,600 acres of poppy farms have been destroyed, since 2017, disrupting operations of criminal networks

Manipur’s strategic location, bordering Myanmar – the world’s second-largest poppy producer – coupled with a network of influential drug lords, has made it a hotspot in the global illicit drug trade. In recent years, the drug lords, seeing their monopoly threatened, have cleverly woven a narrative of ethnic conflict, serving as a distraction from their illicit undertakings.

The year 2017 marked a pivotal shift in this narrative when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power. The new government, under Chief Minister N Biren Singh, resolved to uproot the widespread poppy cultivation and stem the drug trade. Their aggressive campaign saw more than 18,600 acres of poppy farms destroyed, mostly in areas that had been under the firm grip of these drug lords. This significant crackdown marked a turning point in the state’s fight against drug trafficking, disrupting the operations of entrenched criminal networks.

However, the unrelenting pushback from these illicit networks quickly took a sinister turn. In a calculated move to camouflage their criminal activities, they fanned the flames of ethnic and religious discord. Their goal was to create a diversion, diverting attention away from their drug trade and onto the supposedly ethnic tensions.

This tactic has had significant ramifications. Relationships between the Meitei and Kuki communities, who had lived in harmony for generations, are now fraught with suspicion and fear. This shift has resulted in unprecedented violence and displacement, with the specter of ethnic strife overshadowing the true, underlying issues.

Yet, the underlying narrative of ethnic conflict is a carefully crafted illusion. The government, undeterred by the controversy and accusations of selective targeting, maintains that their anti-drug trafficking mandate is unbiased and not influenced by ethnic considerations. Their determination to end the illicit drug trade and the resulting violence continues unabated.

The current unrest in Manipur is a testament to a broader struggle against the entwined forces of the illicit drug trade, political corruption, and manipulation of ethnic identities. It’s a calculated diversionary tactic by the drug lords and their political patrons, keen on diverting attention away from their illicit operations.

To see Manipur’s unrest as purely an ethnic dispute is to buy into a manipulated narrative. The state’s unrest should be understood more accurately as a resolute government battling against the insidious influence of drug trafficking and corruption, despite the misleading ethnic smokescreen.

The reality remains that this fight isn’t a battle between Meiteis and Kukis. Instead, it’s a determined effort by a proactive government against the corrupt forces threatening to destabilize the region. The battleground is not merely in the hills and valleys of Manipur but within the complex network of drug trade and political corruption that has for far too long manipulated the narrative and people of Manipur for their gain