Sinlung /
08 November 2011

Manipur Shutdown: Whose Responsibility is The Northeast?

Akshaya Mishra

Up against blockade

New Delhi, Nov 8 : Is the North-East anybody’s responsibility? While the rest of the country remains obsessed with Team Anna and its unending antics, beyond the glare of the TV cameras and public attention, Manipur suffers. Intense ethnic politics has debilitated life in the state. Neither the Central government nor the state government seems too keen on breaking the cycle of economic blockades and counter-blockades which has been depriving the state of essential supplies.

As the blockade of the two national highways – NH 39, connecting Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati, and NH 53, connecting Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar, reached its 100th day today, people in Manipur kept struggling for the bare essentials. Prices have skyrocketed across the board, hospitals are running short of medicine, potato, onion and cereals are virtually out of the market and petrol, diesel and LPG availability is close to drying up. Food riots have not happened yet. But they might soon.

The highways are the lifeline for the state since these connect Manipur to other parts of India. The ethnic Kukis had blocked these for 92 days demanding the conversion of the Sadar Hills area near Imphal into a full-fledged revenue district. Soon after the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee, which was spear-heading the movement, signed a favourable deal with the state government, the Nagas jumped into action in protest. Now, they are doing their bit to deprive the Manipuris of essentials.

An economic blockade is primarily a war-time measure, aimed at cutting off supplies to the enemy population. That the ethnic groups in Manipur would resort to starving their own people is bizarre. Creating a humanitarian crisis for ethnic-political ends does not make sense. Moreover, it only serves to aggravate and intensify the animosity between the Kukis, Meiteis and Nagas.

The extreme action seems to be the only option left for ethnic groups pushed to the margins by the Meiteis, who are perceived to be controlling the polity of the state. The highway blockades undertaken by the Nagas and Kukis are meant to make the government and the Meiteis sit up and take notice. Whatever the reason, the developments have been disastrous for the state’s economy. Those at the receiving end belong to all ethnic groups.

The only people benefitting from the blockades are the traders and hoarders across all groups. This group—some analysts do not rule out the possibility of the direct or indirect involvement of this lot in the blockades—makes a killing when essential items disappear from the open market. Interestingly, almost everything is available in the state in the black market during the times of the blockade.

During all this, the state government and the Centre do not seem anywhere in the picture. The Centre, too far removed from the ground zero of the ethnic politics of the state, has been clueless about a proper response. The North-East, in any case, does not form the political centre of gravity for Delhi. It partly explains the lack of seriousness on its part on issues relating to Manipur and other states in the region. The efforts of the state government do not seem to be adequate either.

But to be fair to both, it’s not an easy situation in Manipur. The roots of exclusivist ethnic politics run deep in Manipur.

The creation of a separate Sadar Hills district for Kukis out of the current Senapati district, which otherwise be a matter of simple administrative decision, is not easy given the history of ethnic rivalries in the district. Senapati is home to different communities of the Kukis and the Nagas. The Sadar Hills region is dominated demographically by the Kukis. Nagas fear that a separate district of the Sadar Hills would come in the way of creation of greater Nagalim. Both the communities have been in conflict over many decades over the bifurcation of the district.

The solution lies in both sides climbing down from their position. But it does not look possible. “Don’t blame the Nagas now for this deadlock. We want the people of Manipur to come out and question the government about the issue,” said S Milan, leader of the United Naga Council, which is spearheading the blockade by the Nagas even as the state turned into a lawless territory.

Clearly, the state government is incapable of bridging the wedge between the two groups. The Centre must intervene. If it has to use force to remove the blockade, it should not matter. It has to ensure that the supply of essentials are not hindered and people are not made to suffer because of the frequent agitations and the political agendas of ethnic groups.

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