Imphal: If ‘bizarre’ is the appropriate word to describe why the 3 Corp of the Indian Army made a complaint of biased reporting of the local media based in Imphal valley of the ongoing Manipur violence to the Editors’ Guild of India (EGI), then it would seem justifiable when people across the state, especially Meira Paibis, accused the armed forces of being biased against the Meiteis in the current ethnic clashes between Meiteis and the Chin-Kukis.
Meira Paibis as well as CSOs spearheading the public movement in the valley alleged that there are multiple facts and evidence to show that central armed personnel, chiefly those of the Assam Rifles, have been working, associating closely with either Chin-Kuki militants or the so-called armed Chin-Kuki volunteers since violence broke out on May 3 at Churachandpur district.
Incidentally Assam Rifles, the paramilitary with the most CI operational experience in the northeast is given the brief to secure the so-called buffer zone in the peripheral foothill areas that separate the valleys from the hills in the troubled areas of Churachandpur, Tengoupal and Kangpokpi districts.
It is undeniable that the violence started in Churachandpur and then spread to Moreh and Kangpokpi. If those Army personnel or Assam Rifles wanted to contain the violence it could have done a long time back. But it didn’t. There are many instances when Kuki militants opened fire against the Meiteis while they were with the Assam Rifles.
While the reported ‘unethical and ex-parte’ accusation made against the valley-based vernacular dailies could be within its own rights but the way it approached a professional organisation like EGI as one of the important departments under the Ministry of Defence, was highly inappropriate and incomprehensible on several counts.
First of all, EGI is not the right forum as it’s neither a government-recognised institution nor a ‘watchdog’, like the Press Council of India (PCI). It’s just an ‘autonomous’ body, which doesn’t have any authority over any media organisation. The question is why would the Dimapur-based Headquarters 3 Corps (Army) invite an unrecognised media body to inquire about local media coverage of the violence that involved two parties, each giving out its narrative against the other.
As a special branch of the Defence Ministry, the best and right forum for the 3 Corps could have approached was either the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), which monitors the overall functioning of media organisations in the country or the PCI, the quasi-judicial body that is tasked to promote freedom of the Press and independence of newspapers, news agencies and journalists by raising the standard of journalism.
If the 3 Corps had a grievance against those vernacular dailies, it could also have placed a formal complaint to the Directorate of Information & Public Relations (DIPR), Manipur or even to the All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) or the Editors’ Guild of Manipur (EGM).
Ironically, it approached the EGI.
Incidentally, Assam Rifles is the paramilitary that came up with a unique instrument known as the ‘Suspension of Operation’ (SoO) with the different Chin-Kuki militant outfits. SoO was later adopted in 2008 under instances of Assam Rifles as a tripartite agreement between the central government, the state government and conglomerates of 25 Chin-Kuki militant outfits as signatories to bargain for peace. Paradoxically, the people in the valley are demanding the abrogation of the instrument of SoO signed with the 25 Chin-Kuki militant outfits alleging that it is one of potent factors of the sustained violence between the Meiteis and the Chin-Kukis.