The police forces in Manipur are “vertically divided”, Union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kiren Rijiju said on Sunday, asking how will Chief Minister N Biren Singh function in an extraordinary situation like this.

At least 190 persons have been killed in ethnic violence that broke out in Manipur between the Kuki and Meitei communities on May 3. Nearly 60,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes since the violence broke out. The state has reported cases of rape and murder, and mobs have looted police armouries and set several homes on fire despite the heavy presence of central security forces.

Several media reports have pointed to divisions along ethnic lines within security forces and the bureaucracy.

During an interview with Times Now, Rijiju was asked whether the BJP-led Manipur government was in a position to handle the situation in the state, and who was to be held accountable.

To this, he said: “I also admit that the situation is an extraordinary one...the ranks of the police force are vertically divided. Even the people who are working in different offices are also vertically divided.”

The BJP leader said that the chief minister can function properly only when security forces work in unison. “The police are in a precarious situation as a particular section of the police force belonging to one community is moving in one direction,” he said, according to Times Now. “How will the chief minister function?”

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Rijiju said that such a situation is a “huge challenge” for anyone in the chief minister’s position. “That is why the [Union] home minister stayed in Manipur for three days and appealed for peace,” he said, according to Times Now.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited the state from the evening of May 29 to the morning of June 2. During his visit, he visited Meitei and Kuki relief camps, reviewed the security situation with senior officials and met Manipur Governor Anusuiya Uikey.

In his interview, Rijiju said that civil society representatives must appeal to people to abjure violence and negotiate with each other. “Unless community representatives participate, it is difficult to say that the Central government must act in this or that manner.”

‘SC observations valid, but situation not normal’

The former Union Minister of Law said that concerns expressed by the Supreme Court about the “tardy pace of investigation” into incidents of violence in Manipur were valid, but that the situation on the ground was not normal.

The court had made the observation in an order on August 7 and directed former Maharashtra Director General of Police Dattatray Padsalgikar to monitor the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into the ethnic violence.

“The police are not functioning in normal circumstances,” Rijiju said, according to Times Now. “The situation on the ground is extremely challenging.”

The Union minister also claimed that the Manipur Police “acted swiftly” in the case of the sexual assault of three Kuki women in the Kangpokpi district on May 4. “They [accused persons] all have been caught, arrested and put into trial,” he said.

On July 19, a video showing two Kuki women being paraded naked by a mob in the Kangpokpi district was widely shared on social media.

Three women, including the two who were seen in the video, were sexually assaulted in B Phainom village of Kangpokpi on May 4, a day after clashes erupted in the state. One of the women was “brutally gang-raped”, according to a police complaint.

The first information report was registered on May 18. However, it was only after the video was shared on social media that the arrests were made. Seven people have been arrested in the case, including a minor.

On July 27, the Centre told the Supreme Court that it transferred the inquiry into the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.