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7 Jul, 2023 13:34

US ​​envoy faces flak for offering ‘help’ to defuse Manipur violence

American ambassador’s remarks on India's internal affairs ignites strong reactions from opposition party
US ​​envoy faces flak for offering ‘help’ to defuse Manipur violence

US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti waded into controversy over his comments on unabated ethnic violence and killings in the remote north-eastern state of Manipur on Thursday. Garcetti, who took charge as the US envoy in New Delhi in May, addressed the issue at a press conference at the American Center in Kolkata and, citing a matter of “human concern,” volunteered Washington's willingness to help India tackle the crisis, “if asked.”  

However, he was quick to add that “we know it’s an Indian matter and we pray for that peace and that it may come quickly.” He then stated that “more collaboration, more projects, more investment” could be brought into the turbulent state “if that peace is in place.

Garcetti also hinted at a regression of democratic values in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. “Building a sense of belonging for everyone should be the guiding principle,” Garcetti said. His remarks come just weeks after Modi’s visit to the US, and marked by heated debates over India's human rights record.  

The US envoy’s comments failed to elicit any direct response from Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). While Bagchi sought to downplay the issue during the weekly routine media briefing on Thursday as he claimed he hadn't seen the exact comment by the envoy, he still noted “I am not sure foreign diplomats would usually comment on internal developments in India.” 

Congress, India’s principal opposition party, has reacted sharply to Garcetti’s remarks. Congress MP Manish Tewari took exception to US meddling in the country’s internal matters. “There is gun violence in the US and several people are killed. We never told the US to learn from us as to how to rein that in. The US faces riots over racism. We never told them that we would lecture them… Perhaps it is important for the new Ambassador to take cognisance of the history of India-US relations,” he told ANI news agency while promising that his party will raise this issue in the Parliament, when the monsoon session begins on July 20.  

Meanwhile, Manipur’s embattled Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh has announced that all bunkers built by the Meitei and minority tribal Kuki communities to defend their villages would be destroyed. However, security forces are skeptical about the feasibility of such a move. 

Modi is yet to visit the state, where violence has been raging since May 3, over demands for tribal rights status for the majority Meitei community. To date, the unrest has claimed over 120 lives, injured over 3000 and displaced more than 60,000 people. Around 40,000 central security personnel, in addition to the Manipur Police, have been deployed to control the violence and return normalcy to the state.