While we are busy judging Narendra Modi’s 50 days of demonetisation and the construction of a Shivaji statue on social media and tea stalls, Manipur keeps on staggering under chaotic circumstances. Life in Manipur had halted on November 1 when the United Naga Council (UNC) called for an economic blockade. They had blocked movement on highways. The UNC was asking for a rollback of the Ibobi government’s decision to make seven new districts in the state. The UNC said that it was an endeavour by the state to separate the Nagas into various districts.
It’s been almost seven decades since Manipur became a part of India. Yet, the state of advancement in Manipur is still pitiable. Their transportation lines, communication, and other facilities and services are way behind other Indian states. The current situation in Manipur exhibits how peace has lost its way in the entire state.
The United Naga Council (UNC) called an indefinite strike against the Manipur government’s decision to establish seven new districts and crippled the state’s most important trade routes. Namely, the National Highway 2 (Imphal-Dimapur) and National Highway 37 (Imphal-Jiribam) since November 1 and it is disturbing the supply of essential commodities to the state. Vehicles approaching Imphal are being checked by people who support the UNC to prevent the transportation of the most important items.
Manipur has a past filled with ethnic pressure between the Meitei people, residing in the valley and the Naga tribes, residing in the hills. Manipur has a population of a little more than 25 lakhs. It is separated into people living in the valley (Imphal) and the hills. The conflicts between these two groups induce protests and bandhs throughout the year. Meiteis predominantly reside in the Imphal valley, and the majority of the people living in the hills are Nagas and Kukis. The Manipur government’s decision to shape the seven new districts is being viewed as a danger to the Nagas.
The state government officially declared the creation of seven new districts on December 9, namely, Jiribam, Kangpokpi, Kakching, Tengnoupal, Kamjong, Pherzawl and Noney. A few groups respected the move, yet it resembled rubbing salt in the injuries for many Nagas. Not long after the inception of the districts, the violence in the valley increased as trucks were set ablaze by some Naga activists and three government workplaces were burned down. In response to the blockade by the UNC, the Meiteis imposed a blockade as a counter. It prevented the trading of essential goods to some districts where the Nagas live, from Imphal Valley.
The militant group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) had attacked 7 IRB posts and went away with four arms. That same day, some unknown hooligans vandalised Manipur Baptist Convention Center Church. Meitei protesters became more fierce on December 18 and attacked vehicles in which Nagas were travelling. They were on their way to their hometown to celebrate Christmas. Many innocent citizens were stranded after their vehicles were scorched, vandalised or pushed into the stream.
While Ibobi has said that the bifurcation was initiated for administrative purpose, but many feel that the choice to make new regions was passed by the CM as a final desperate attempt to hold control in the state. Manipur has its elections in 2017.
A tough competition was given by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Imphal civic polls a year ago where it managed to win 10 seats against the Congress’ 12. This has shaken the Ibobi government to some extent. The main challenge to Ibobi’s government came after BJP’s noteworthy win in Assam. Considering demographic similarities between Assam and Manipur, the state BJP section appeared to be very certain of its victory in Manipur. Apart from the assumption that Meitei Hindus will be providing solidarity to BJP in the upcoming elections, BJP is additionally ready to make inroads in the Christian dominated hills by helping the Naga People’s Front (NPF).
The strategy between the two parties is to make sure that NPF can seek votes from Nagas residing in the hills, and the BJP can expand on the Meitei votes in the valley. The NPF is already an ally of the BJP in the NDA government and has prominence in the Naga inhabited hills of Manipur. The Congress figured out how to construct an anti-BJP state of mind by blaming the Narendra Modi government for not doing what was needed in clearing the blockade. However, since BJP aspires to repeat Assam in Manipur, it was quick to respond with Rijiju declaring that law and order is a “state subject.“
The saffron brigade is emerging as a threat in both the valley and the hills. Ibobi’s move could end up being a masterstroke, gaining the trust of Meiteis and Kukis by making the seven districts that have been a long-standing call from the citizens from both hills and plains. In spite of the fact that Mr Ibobi figured out how to garner support from dominant Meiteis and minority Kukis, it came at a high political expense. According to the UNC, Sadar Hills is the “ancestral homeland” of the Nagas.
Meanwhile, the CPI is the only party to express concern over the sufferings of the people of Manipur. “If the ongoing economic blockade imposed by the United Naga council and also the counter blockades in the valley areas of Manipur are allowed to continue, then it will prove dangerous for the nation. Both Manipur and the Union government are responsible for the disastrous situation,” the party said. The CPI also condemned the decision of the Centre to lower the interest rate on the EPF accumulations. “The party feels the move to impose tax on EPF amounts to cheating.”
Crushed between an economic blockade, all day long protests, violence and a money crunch brought about by demonetisation, typical life is paralysed in Manipur as the state fights shortages and sky-high expenses of essential needs such as food and fuel. Following the blockade, the prices of daily needs are shooting sky high. For example, petrol was priced at ₹300 per litre in the second week of November. LPG was priced at ₹3000 per cylinder. Potatoes and onions were being sold at ₹40 and ₹60 per kg respectively.
The blockade has also resulted in the deprivation of education to children as they can’t go to schools because of unavailability of fuel. Most hospitals in Imphal are running short on life-saving medications. Moreover, the absence of oxygen tanks and other drugs are hurting the healthcare sector. A few medications of specific companies have as of now been depleted and specialists are recommending comparative combinations made by different companies. The whole scenario is also muddled by various overlapping components.
The economic blockade had effectively deadened a significant part of the state’s economy. Banking services have also been hit hard and it affected Christmas in the state. Adding to that, the way that even some churches have been vandalised by violent mobs, the whole scene could exacerbate and escalate out of control even more.
The Union government woke up to the hazardous situation in Manipur and sent 4000 paramilitary troops to control ethnic strain towards the end of December. This should have been done more than a month back when the violence started engulfing Manipur. While Manipur was set on fire around eight weeks back, even before the declaration of demonetisation. Yet, no prevailing press outlet (particularly electronic media) has taken the initiative to talk about the serious conditions in Manipur. This shameful negligence on the part of our media, our society and the national political parties, towards the voice of native groups of the north east, fuels rebellious attitude amongst the citizens and creates ruckus.
No doubt, media plays an important role in showing how Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan are celebrating their birthdays and showing the budget of Shivaji statue but it should also act as a voice of the oppressed section of the society and shouldn’t ignore them.