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October 5, 2023: As the drug menace continues to grip the state of Manipur, a fresh approach has been initiated by the Union Defence Minister, Shri Rajnath Singh, who has directed the Indian Air Force (IAF) to obliterate poppy plantations in the region before the onset of the harvest season. The news disseminated by Indian Aerospace Defence News (IADN) via a tweet, has garnered unanimous support across various societal sects in Manipur, including both Meiteis and hill tribal communities.
The enduring issue of poppy cultivation and drug trafficking has plagued Manipur for years. The local communities have striven to curb its spread but have met with limited success. The core of the problem is believed to lie with influential figures allegedly tied to the state’s political leadership, who reportedly manage and promote the drug business, shielding the key players while only insignificant cultivators and minor traffickers face the law.
The drug cartels, perceived as the masterminds behind this thriving illegal ‘industry’, allegedly control the capital, establish manufacturing labs, and facilitate the export of drugs to various parts across South Asia, South-east Asia, and the Middle East. The cultivators, representing a fragment of the Zo, Naga, Pangal, Meitei, and other communities, are seen as mere pawns in this perilous game.
Amidst this crisis, a narrative attempting to vilify the Zo ethnic tribes as the principal poppy cultivators has been propagated by Meitei propagandists. Zo leaders and civil society bodies have vehemently refuted these allegations, underscoring their persistent efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation through awareness campaigns and stringent social sanctions against community members found involved in the illicit trade.
This narrative takes a darker tone as radical Meitei groups, notably the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), are accused of exploiting the drug dilemma to malign the Zo ethnic tribes in a purported ethnic cleansing agenda. This conspiracy allegedly aims to dispossess the Zo tribes of their ancestral lands and economic resources under the guise of combating the drug menace.
Amidst the accusations, a few brave voices like former Meitei police officer Thounaojam Brinda, have dared to challenge the status quo, implicating Chief Minister Biren Singh as a chief ‘patron’ of the drug business. Yet, such voices have been allegedly stifled by radical groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, further entangling the drug crisis with political and ethnic vendettas.
The involvement of the IAF in the anti-drug campaign symbolizes a significant step towards tackling the drug crisis in Manipur. However, for a holistic solution, advocates suggest a concerted effort is needed that encompasses Central investigative agencies, Central security forces, and state machinery to dismantle the deeply entrenched drug network in the state. The recent incident involving Manipur Police Commandos caught smuggling drugs further accentuates the necessity for an external intervention to break the chains of drug trade gripping the state.
As the IAF gears up to combat the poppy cultivation, the underlying socio-political tangle continues to challenge the path towards a drug-free Manipur. The narrative surrounding the drug problem in Manipur unveils a complex tapestry of political, ethnic, and social issues that demand a comprehensive, transparent, and unbiased approach to untangle the mess and pave the way for lasting peace and stability in the region.