Meitei-Kuki Conflict in Manipur: A Comprehensive Analysis of Socio-Political Roots and Pathways to Peace : Daily News Analysis

Date : 15/11/2023

Relevance: GS Paper 1 – Society

Keywords: Ethnic Tension, Union of India, Hill- Valley divide


The simmering ethnic tensions between the Meiteis and Kukis in Manipur have once again erupted into violence, bringing the decades-long conflict to the forefront. The genesis of the current episode is shrouded in ambiguity, with divergent narratives surrounding triggering incidents in both Kuki-majority Churachandpur and Meitei-dominated Imphal East District. As violence escalates, the socio-political intricacies of the conflict demand a comprehensive examination to understand the root causes and propose viable solutions.

Contestation over Ethnic Indigeneity:

After the conclusion of colonial rule, the former princely state of Manipur integrated into the Union of India in October 1949, subsequently transitioning into a Union Territory in 1956 and achieving full statehood in 1972. Within the state, three distinct ethnic groups coexist—the Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis. The Meiteis, constituting the majority, primarily reside in the Imphal valley and its environs, while the Scheduled Tribes, comprised of Nagas and Kukis, inhabit the hilly regions.

Since the 1960s, Manipur has witnessed the emergence of various militant groups purporting to champion the diverse demands and grievances of their respective ethnic communities. Notably, the Kukis and Nagas have been engaged in a struggle advocating for a separate homeland, a pursuit that directly clashes with the Meiteis' commitment to safeguarding the territorial integrity of the state. The extensive border shared with Myanmar, characterized by ungoverned territory, coupled with the interconnected relationships among militant groups spanning the border, heightens the security challenges faced by Manipur. In light of these circumstances, the subsequent paragraphs delineate the key issues that have given rise to and sustained ethnic conflicts in Manipur.

Territorial Integrity vs. Demands for a Separate Homeland:

Contestation Over Indigeneity and Territorial Integrity:

  • Decades-long clash between Meiteis and Kukis/Nagas over Manipur's territorial integrity.
  • NSCN-IM-led militancy advocates Nagalim-Greater Nagaland, causing clashes in 2001.
  • Bangkok Agreement (June 2001) for Naga-inhabited areas' ceasefire not accepted by Meitei groups.
  • Kukis' demand for Kukiland-Zale’n-gam raises concerns for Meiteis.

Meiteis as Custodians and Statehood Concerns:

  • Meiteis perceive themselves as custodians of Manipur.
  • G. K. Pillai argues against conferring statehood to Nagaland before Manipur.
  • Concerns about legitimizing Meitei militant groups in the name of protecting territorial integrity.

Divergent Kuki Demands:

  • Kuki organizations diverge on separate homeland versus administrative arrangements.
  • KIM and ITLF advocate for a separate state or Union Territory.
  • Zomi Council and SoO groups demand autonomy, showcasing varied perspectives.

Uneven Distribution of Resources:

Violent Clashes Triggered by High Court's Order:

  • May 3 clashes attributed to High Court's directive for Manipur to submit ST status recommendations for Meiteis.
  • Meiteis seek legal recognition for ownership of land, currently controlled by Nagas and Kukis.
  • Fear among Nagas and Kukis that granting ST status to Meiteis would lead to a land monopoly and reinforce political and economic dominance.

Demographic Disparities:

  • Meiteis, comprising over 50% of Manipur's population, categorized as unreserved or OBC.
  • Kukis and Nagas (mostly Christians) are STs, constituting around 40% of the population.
  • Meiteis occupy only 10% of Manipur's total land, while Nagas and Kukis reside in the remaining 90%, fostering narratives of marginalization.

Land Ownership Restrictions:

  • Legal restrictions prevent Meiteis from buying land in Kuki- and Naga-inhabited areas.
  • Grievances since Manipur's 1949 union with India focus on Meiteis' lack of rights to protect customs, land, beliefs, and livelihoods.

ST Status Demand by Meiteis:

  • STDCM, representing Meiteis, advocates for ST status since 2012.
  • Government of India requested Manipur's recommendation in May 2013; no response by the time of this brief.
  • Union government sought a recommendation again on May 31, 2022.

Legal Proceedings:

  • Mutum Churamani, a Meitei, petitions High Court for state government response.
  • High Court issues order on April 4, 2023, directing the state government to respond within four weeks.
  • Government response overshadowed by clashes following the order.

Hill-Valley Divide: Uneven Development and Asymmetric Political Representation:

Hill-Valley Divide and ST Status Demand:

  • Meiteis' demand for ST status intensifies Hill-Valley divide in Manipur.
  • Historical factors, including asymmetric development and political representation, contribute to the divide.
  • Economic and political focus on the valley leaves Kukis and Nagas without benefits.

Valley-Centric Development:

  • Infrastructure development in Manipur predominantly favors the Imphal valley.
  • Budget allocations highlight the stark imbalance: INR 21,481 crores for the valley, only INR 419 crores for the hills (2017-2020).

Political Underrepresentation of Hills:

  • Hill populations, including Nagas, Kukis, and other tribes (~40% of the population), have 19 seats in the legislative assembly.
  • Meiteis, constituting 50% of the population, hold 60 seats.
  • Disproportionate representation leaves Kukis and Nagas reliant on Meitei-controlled assembly, regardless of party affiliation.

Dependency and Meitei Assertion:

  • Kukis argue that laws and policies, instruments of Meitei assertion into tribal areas, hinder conflict resolution.
  • Ongoing conflict seen as unsolvable under the current arrangement due to Meitei dominance.

Scholarly Perspectives on Uneven Development:

  • Scholars note uneven development in Manipur linked to marginalization.
  • Marginalization not solely due to limited political representation but also tied to locality, ethnic status, and history, as reflected in Kuki literature.
  • Government response overshadowed by clashes following the order.

Governance Deficit and Demands for Autonomy:

Governance Deficit:las

  • Insurgency movements create parallel governance due to perceived deficiencies.
  • Faulty decentralization in Manipur hinders justice for hill districts.

Decentralization Challenges:

  • Hill Areas Committee (HAC) and Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) lack effective powers.
  • ADCs operate with limited authority, depending on the state government.

Conflicts within Tribal Groups:

  • Nagas oppose Sixth Schedule extension, viewing it as an obstacle to their homeland goal.

Legislation Issues:

  • Manipur's attempts for more autonomy face challenges, leading to discontent among Kukis.

Illegal Immigration, War on Drugs, and Anxiety over Citizenship:

External factors, such as the illegal migration of Chins from Myanmar and the rise of poppy cultivation, contribute to the conflict. The perceived impact on demographic balance and the 'war on drugs' further heightens tensions. Competing narratives on these issues fuel the ethnic conflict.

A Way Forward:

Addressing the Meitei-Kuki conflict requires urgent, meaningful dialogue and confidence-building measures. Disarming militant groups and civilians engaged in violence is crucial. The state government's political will is central to achieving these goals. Prioritizing dialogue over hostility is essential, with academics and neutral individuals playing a role.

Revisiting political representation and resource distribution can bridge ethnic disparities. Streamlining legislative assembly constituencies and focusing on decentralization and autonomy can address historical imbalances. Initiating discussions on land ownership and equitable development is vital for long-term stability.

Infusing a sense of fraternity among ethnic groups is crucial. Policymaking should transcend short-term electoral interests, focusing on the broader nation-building endeavor. Resolving conflicts through social platforms, rather than solely relying on political mechanisms, can yield more sustainable outcomes.


The Meitei-Kuki conflict in Manipur is a complex interplay of historical grievances, resource disputes, and identity politics. To forge a path toward peace, a multifaceted approach involving political will, inclusive dialogue, and equitable policies is essential. Manipur's diverse communities must collectively address the root causes, fostering a spirit of unity and cooperation for a harmonious future.

Probable Questions for UPSC mains Exam-

  1. Examine the socio-political roots of the Meitei-Kuki conflict in Manipur, highlighting the historical factors, territorial integrity concerns, and issues related to uneven development. Discuss the role of ethnic disparities, land ownership restrictions, and the Hill-Valley divide in perpetuating the conflict. Propose comprehensive measures for fostering peace and unity among diverse ethnic communities in the region.( 10 marks, 150 words)
  2. Evaluate the impact of governance deficits and demands for autonomy in exacerbating the Meitei-Kuki conflict in Manipur. Analyze the challenges associated with decentralization, ineffective Hill Areas Committee, and the role of autonomous district councils. Discuss the significance of revisiting political representation, resource distribution, and measures to address historical imbalances as potential solutions for long-term stability in the region.( 15 marks, 250 words)

Source- The Hindu