Manipur: complete breakdown in governance- – By Patricia Mukhim
What happened on Sunday November 18, in Manipur was waiting to erupt for a while now. The people living in the Imphal valley and its suburbs have been experiencing immense hardships due to the arbitrary and unilateral bandh imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC) which prevented goods carrying trucks and fuel tankers from entering Manipur beyond the Mao Gate at Senapati District and through Jiribam. Hundreds of good trucks are stranded on the Imphal-Dimapur, Asian Highway No 1 on account of indefinite economic blockades imposed by different organisations seeking redressal of their demands. While some groups have called the blockade to draw the attention of the Government to the abysmal condition of the highways, others have been simmering in discontent over the creation of seven new districts without consulting the civil society organisations representing the views of people living within those districts. The UNC sponsored economic blockade which started on November I has been used as a tool to punish the State Government at Imphal for every grievance of the hills districts. This time the UNC is agitating against the decision of the Government to create Sadar Hills and Jiribam into full fledged districts without consulting the stakeholders. The contention of the UNC is that the newly created districts cut across the ancestral lands of the Nagas in Manipur. The Naga claim for a homeland relies heavily on geographical boundaries that take into account the idea of an ethnic homeland.
While one can be sympathetic with the Naga demand for districts that include their ancestral habitats, the method adopted by the UNC, which is to starve the valley districts of essential commodities which in turn has led to skyrocketing of prices of fuel and by extension of all essential commodities, is unacceptable. The simmering anger in the valley was palpable for a while now. The state government appeared unable to resolve the issue as it is adamant about not changing the boundaries of the newly created districts. Social media is a good indicator of the anger of the ordinary citizen who feels cheated by the Government and its sheer inability to act and by the sense of utter helplessness at not being able to change the situation since the UNC was not going to budge from its stated position. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before that anger would erupt the way it did on the fateful Sunday when about 22 vehicles were torched and passenger buses stopped and their luggage offloaded. The bus and luggage later went up in flames.
The Manipur Government's attempts to escort the stranded goods vehicles to their respective destinations, was met by more violence from those who had called the bandh. Tit for tat reactions followed with the Students' Union of Mission Blind School announcing that it would impose an indefinite bandh along the Moreh-Imphal road from December 16 -21, to protest the Government's step-motherly treatment of the school. Such demands with radical stances are likely to gain ground before the state assembly elections scheduled for January 2017.
With militant outfits entering the fray, things have further deteriorated. Attacks by Naga militants on Manipur Police, leaving three policemen dead and fourteen injured has only aggravated the situation. It is sad that the Manipur Police further which comprises of people from different tribes of Manipur is wily-nily identified as the rulers' police and the ruler is further seen as being pro-Meitei. This sharp divide between the Nagas and Meiteis particularly after the demand for Nagalim – the Naga homeland – has turned so bitter that any rapprochement at this point seems impossible. Meanwhile the Baptist churches have appealed to the UNC to lift the economic blockade which is causing untold sufferings on ordinary citizens and is unlikely to hurt those in power.
At this very difficult juncture there is a need for peace building measures and to stop the blame game. The propensity of each ethnic group to read into this situation by using their own prisms; their inability to condemn what's wrong in the actions of their respective groups is only going to make matters worse. In this very complex situation the churches should have attempted to make peace between warring groups, since they claim to represent all groups.
However, there is no denying the fact that politics is the reason for so much bad blood in Manipur. The present Chief Minister is in the habit of playing to the gallery and project himself as the custodian of Meitei pride. This is a problematic scenario. He played a similar card in 2011. I recall the former Home Secretary, GK Pillai stating upfront that the Centre did its best to send in oil tankers and truckloads of food supplies through Jiribam but the Government of Manipur continued to play the victim. And despite Ibobi Singh's unabashed support for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the people of Manipur's antipathy or that Act, Ibobi was still elected to lead Manipur for five years. He hopes to repeat the 2011 cycle and might succeed because he capitalises on the schizophrenia which is afflicting Manipur at this moment.
There is need for some reason and logic to prevail but who will bell the cat? At the moment Manipur is a tinder box waiting to explode. There is no law or order to talk of. The sane thing to do would be to impose Presidents' Rule and ensure that those who hold the highways to ransom or take the law in their own hands are put behind bars. In a democracy no group can hold a Government and people to ransom for an indefinite period! Meanwhile the state government seems to have lost control over governance, particularly over law and order. In other times, PR would have been imposed without further ado. When it was imposed in Arunachal Pradesh did the state sink into such a morass? Surely PR cannot be used arbitrarily.
– The Writer, Patricia Mukhim is a Padmashree Awardee and the Editor of The Shillong Times