Under siege since November 1 following a clampdown by the United Naga Council over the creation of new districts, State suffers from an acute shortage of essential goods
Manipur, which has been struggling to cope with an indefinite ‘economic blockade’ since November 1, now faces a siege-like situation following a wildcat ‘total shutdown’ imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC) and other Naga organisations since November 25.
The latest shutdown follows the arrest of UNC president Gaidon Kamei and information secretary Stephen Lamkang, who have been remanded in custody till December 22.
Faced with demands for their release for a lifting of the blockade, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, however, told The Hindu , “The law will take its own course.”
The blockade has emptied the State’s markets of essential supplies. With nothing to buy, demonetisation has, ironically, left the people indifferent.
Since November 1, there has been no normal movement of trucks on National Highways 2 and 37 — lifelines that pass through Naga villages — or along the 100-km Imphal-Moreh Road on the Trans Asian Highway No 1.
New districts opposed
The UNC, which claims to represent Naga interests, is opposed to the creation of the Sadar Hills district out of the Senapati district, with a substantial Naga population.
At midnight on Thursday, the State Cabinet finalised the creation of seven new districts, with the nomenclature of Sadar Hills changed to Kangpokpi. Mr. Ibobi says this has been done for administrative convenience, and that to create a district is the prerogative of the government.
However, Naga organisations, who met to take stock of the development, have said, “It amounts to rubbing salt in the wounds.”
The creation of new districts has been a subject of ethnic strife in Manipur since 1971, when it was first proposed.
Successive governments have failed to resolve the festering identity-driven tensions sparked by the exercise. For instance, Naga and Kuki villages are located side by side in all four hill districts of Manipur.
Mr. Ibobi Singh, who has helmed Manipur’s successive Congress-led governments since March 2002, told The Hindu: “The UNC does not respond to our invitations to hold talks on the stand-off and other issues. So we requested Home Minister Rajnath Singh to resolve the crisis by convening a tripartite meeting.”
However, the State government at the last moment backed out of a meeting between the Government of India, the Manipur government and the UNC on November 15.
Home Ministry officials met representatives of the UNC as planned but failed to break the impasse.
Whereas amity is widely prevalent in people-to-people interactions, the ongoing stalemate between the State government and Naga hardliners has slowed normal life to a halt in Manipur. Essential commodities like potatoes, eggs, lentils, edible oil and salt have vanished from the markets; life-saving drugs are scarce, and fuel is being strictly rationed.
Ruling on a public interest litigation (PIL) petition, the High Court of Manipur on November 25 directed the State government to provide adequate security to vehicles plying along the two national highways. Two other directives call for the deployment of paramilitary forces to ensure the free movement of the trucks.
Cross-border trade with Myanmar at border towns of Moreh in Manipur and Namphalong in Myanmar, legalised since 1995, has also come to a standstill,hit by the double whammy of the blockade and demonetisation. Although the formal trade agreement identifies only some items, all manner of goods make their way to Manipur from here.
The blockade has driven down the rupee-kyat exchange rate at these markets from 1,900 kyat/Rs. 100 to 800 kyat/Rs.100. Transportation of goods from other States to Manipur has also been affected.
The All Naga Students’ Association Manipur told reporters that it had no objection to the creation of the new district, provided the Nagas were consulted on the process.