The blockade of the national highways leading to the Manipur valley, called by the United Naga Council (UNC), has been in place since November 1. This has severely affected life in the State, with shortages and escalating costs of essential supplies such as fuel and food, even as demonetisation has exacerbated problems. Blockades like this are not new to Manipur. In 2011, there was initially a hundred-day-plus blockade enforced by Kuki-led groups, and countered later by Naga groups, which together had a debilitating effect on life in Manipur. This time the blockade is in place to oppose the creation of new districts by the Okram Ibobi Singh government. On December 9 it issued a gazette notification for the creation of seven new districts by bifurcating seven (of a total of nine) districts. This decision had as much to do with long-pending demands — in particular, for a new Kuki-majority district to be carved out of the larger Senapati hill district — as with easing administrative access to far-flung areas from the district headquarters. With State Assembly elections around the corner, the decision by the Congress-led government was also a desperate measure to woo the hill residents. While residents and groups in the new districts have welcomed the decision, the UNC has protested, alleging that areas with a Naga population have been divided and that the lack of consultation is a violation of commitments made by both the Centre and the State in various memoranda of understanding.
Already, just as in 2011, counter-blockades have been called by other groups, this time in the Meitei-dominated valley, and there has been violence both in the hills and in the valley. The State government last month sought the Centre’s assistance to end the blockade, given that New Delhi has been in peace talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) group that supports the UNC. While the Centre has sent paramilitary forces to both Nagaland and Manipur, the inaction in clearing the blockade of the national highways is puzzling. Efforts to impose a political solution through blockades that cut arterial routes supplying essential goods to various areas of Manipur are a cynical ploy. Such action heightens ethnic polarisation and threatens, once again, the fragile peace in the State. Ideally there should be a dialogue that involves all major stakeholders — the State government, groups that support redistricting, the UNC and the Centre. But first, there should be zero tolerance towards all such blockades.