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Monday, November 14, 2011

Economic blockade of National Highways – Manipur is suffering !

As you start trudging back home, after a day’s work  - the arterial road and other roads are choked with traffic.  You sulk and rue that the city is not good enough to take the exploding traffic !!  That is a small inconvenience – as one wonders, a much major one extending for more than 100 days is not viewed with as much concern ! – Sad that the Central Government and the Ministry of Home Affairs is not yet taking any action – still believing that something would happen on its own by mere issuance of statements !!

n      -  that is all happening in a State – a land  literally meaning ‘ a jeweled land’ – a place so exquisitely made by nature and abound with natural riches in hills.  It was a place where there were so many Vaishnavaites with rich culture.  

National Highway 39 (NH 39) starts from Numaligarh, Assam and ends at Indo-Myanmar Border. It covers a distance of 436 km (271 mi), of which 115 km (71 mi) is in Assam, 100 km (62 mi) is in Nagaland and 211 km (131 mi) is in Manipur.    Manipur is the State in Northeastern India with Imphal as its capital. It is bounded by Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam and also borders Burma to its east.  

By definition,  the  Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)discharges multifarious functions, important among them being the maintenance of Internal Security.  Article 355 of the Constitution enjoins the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Whatever it be, even after 100 days, there has been no clear direction from the state government or the Centre, the situation in Manipur  is only deteriorating  from bad to worse.   An important lifeline is getting strangled as some elements have resorted to a blockade and the State does not have the strong will to end it….. how bad !

First it was the Special Area Demarcated Autonomous Region (SADAR) Hills District Demand Committee launched the economic blockade on Imphal-Dimapur-Numaligarh (Assam) National Highway 39 and the Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar (Assam) NH 53 – the two life lines of the state -- since July 31 demanding conversion of the Kuki tribe-majority SADAR hills area in Naga-majority Senapati district into a full-fledged district.  On the other hand, United Naga Committee, which is opposing the Kukis' demand for district status to SADAR Hills, launched a counter-economic blockade on the same two national highways on August 21.  Sadly,  trucks burnt by the protesters are a common sight on the  National Highway No 2 in Manipur's Senapati district. This highway connects state capital Imphal to Assam, and is the lifeline for getting supplies into the state.  The turf war between the Nagas and the Kukis has pushed the majority of Manipur's 2.7 million people into an unprecedented crisis with the landlocked state depending on supplies from outside the region. Trucks from the rest of India carrying essentials pass through the tribal inhabited areas.  Reportedly, United Naga Council [UNC] spearheading the blockade on the two National Highways since Aug 21 to counter the economic blockade launched by the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) on Aug 1 demanding conversion of the Kuki tribal majority Sadar Hills area into a full-fledged district.

The indefinite economic blockade in Manipur crossed  its 100th day  with no signs that the government was making an effort to break the deadlock and an equally insensitive leadership enforcing the strike and holding the common people to ransom.  The UNC claims that they are not to blamed and that they want people of Manipur to come out and question the government about the issue.   The SHDDC lifted the blockade last week after the state government agreed to their demand of creating a district, a move opposed by the Nagas.  The battle between the two warring tribal groups has led to the people of Manipur suffering for more than 100 days -  a state literally on the throes of a complete breakdown.  Such has been the impact that hospitals were Tuesday running out of oxygen cylinders and life saving drugs, while stocks of all essentials, baby food and petroleum products, were almost drying up.

During the blockade - which some say is the longest in Indian history - four people have been killed, 10 government buildings burnt and residents have faced extensive shortages of fuel, food and medicine. It's near anarchy, with people forced to buy a litre of petrol for Rs.200, while a cooking gas cylinder was being sold at Rs.2,000 and a kilogram of potato at Rs.40.

There was a ray of hope when the SHDDC announced lifting of the blockade following a written assurance from the state government agreeing to concede to their demand of creating a new hill district. But the Naga groups led by the UNC were adamant on their stand and continued with their agitation.  All other commoners are getting affected badly.   This is not the first time and Manipur has a long history of economic blockades - mostly between the Nagas and the Kukis and the Nagas and the majority Meiteis. Over the years, blocking highways has become the focal point of protests in Manipur. For the people of the state, it's almost like an annual feature of sorts now. The reason for blocking highways changes every year. What is constant is how these blockades have become a reflection of troubled times in this north-eastern state.   Given the deep tribal, geographical and historical divisions in Manipur, however, few expect it to end there.  The increasingly worrying gulf between the Nagas and the Kukis is unlikely to end.  But mere recording of such things is leading nowhere, what is the elected Government and the one at the Centre doing to stop the mess and rein in controls ??

Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram made a two-day visit to Manipur  - but his mission failed with his assurance failing to cut much ice among the Naga groups.  The  Congress-led coalition government in Manipur headed by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is groping for an effective way to make agitators withdraw the blockade. Though the government has arranged security for vehicles carrying food items, medicines and fuel along the NH 53 once a week, it has not been sufficient.

Way back in Sept 2009   Home Minister P Chidambaram  singled out Manipur as the biggest problem in the Northeast even as he expressed satisfaction at the significant improvement in militant activity in some of the other states of the region.  After his recent visit the same Minister appealed to people to settle all issues through dialogue.  Given the enormity of the situation, the response by Govt and the Minister are certainly not adequate.  

Various groups holding the State to ransom does not augur well for the State and Nation – but is the Government really serious about it ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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