Manipur’s Interminable Economic Blockade
On 1st November, 2016, the United Naga Council (UNC) called for an economic blockade in Manipur. It is still in place and has now crossed more than 130 days. In Nagaland too we have witnessed bandhs, on and off, a period of uncertainty which prevailed in February, except with the privilege of buying our essential items in the evenings. Trains and trucks carrying essential goods to Dimapur remained unperturbed. This bandh, though comparatively mild when compared to those in Manipur, hampered day to day affairs. The discomfort it caused remains unparalleled in recent memory. Business establishments would have incurred losses amounting to crores. One can only imagine then how much havoc the bandhs called by the UNC must be causing to the people of Manipur. Though we are not the ones enforcing it (except for few days by NSF), we in Nagaland, seem to have either approved of it by our silence or is it that we are completely unconcerned by the happenings in Manipur. Except for Rev. L Suohie Mhasi, not even one organisation condemned this blockade.
Imagine a situation where Assam enforces an economic blockade on Nagaland, perhaps due to the border dispute, or by the Meitei groups in Assam who have a sizeable population. We all know how choking and life-crippling it would be. If some sand-traders' Union in Karbi Anglong impose a blockade on the export of sand, that itself causes so many hardships. A full-fledged economic blockade would be terrifying. If such a situation so arises, on what moral ground would we be condemning it? Moreover, if the ASEAN (Association of South-Eastern Asian Nations) highway which aims at bypassing Nagaland materialises, will we not be at the receiving end? The current route (Moreh–Imphal–Manipur) has been a great economic boon. The diversion is being aimed mainly due to the frequent bandhs in Manipur, much like the present one. Lok Sabha MP, Mr Neiphiu Rio, has recently requested the Indian government to stick to the old route instead of the newly proposed Tupul-Jiribam-Silchar-Guwahati route which would bypass Nagaland. Our silence and ignorance at this stage can, in the long run, harm our economy.
While the justification of the blockade might be debatable, we know it stemmed from the plan of the Manipur government to create new districts. The UNC felt this would infringe on the ‘Naga Land'. The Chief Minister of Manipur, O Ibobi Singh was supposed to inaugurate Sadar Hills as a district, however, due to opposition from his cabinet members, the plan had to be abandoned. However, Ibobi Singh, who had escaped an attack at the helipad in Ukhrul, announced the creation of seven new districts on 9th December 2016.
In Manipur, the Nagas, Kukis, and Meiteis form the three major communities, and each community is known for calling bandhs for extended periods of time. However, a bandh which is stretched like the present one makes the state machinery redundant. Additionally, it makes items of basic needs of the people scarce. How much petrol, LPG, and rice etc. can be airlifted for the population of an entire state for such monstrous duration? It ceases to be a practical and long lasting solution. Besides, the very Human Rights abuse that we keep harping about seems to be the same one we abuse when it comes at the expense of other communities. The people of Manipur are sufferers, and one can only admire their resilience and self-sufficiency that they are somehow still holding on even after 4 months of bandh! Had it been in Nagaland, we would have starved by now or perhaps would be back to the jungle hunting roots and wild leaves. Aren't there any other means of solving issues apart from these inhumane blockades? Ultimately, it is the common man who suffers, the same common man who has absolutely no say in matters of the state.
When it comes to the issue of land, Rev. Dr. Wati Aier (Principal of Oriental Theological Seminary, Dimapur) while speaking at a seminar in Tetso College said, “While we Nagas claim that our History and our land is Unique, we should also acknowledge and respect other people's rights to their land and uniqueness of their history." Perhaps the mentality of holding exclusive rights over lands in the Manipur Hills is something we have to ponder on.
The only way forward would be to find an honourable compromise. The Interlocutor of the Naga Peace process, R N Ravi expressed that the economic blockade might hamper the ongoing political talks. It’s high time that the people of Manipur find a way to live together in peace and harmony. A civil war like situation had recently emerged, with counter-blockades from the ‘Valley’ people. These conflicts would be catastrophic for the people. Whether it be Manipur or Nagaland, if we claim to live in a modern world and modern society, we should somehow learn to find a more peaceful and better way of settling disputes apart from blockades and arson.
There seems to be a great deficit of statesman in our societies today who can dissolve crisis and lead us in the right direction. As for Manipur, bifurcation of districts is a state affair, and the Centre can do little to interfere. Finally, "Do to others as you would like them to do to you", a celebrated statement of Jesus should be reflected upon, as we think and ponder over our actions and inactions which shape our future. We hold the key.