Thursday, June 13, 2024

Centre has to deal with agitation firmly


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Naga blockade hits Manipur economy

By Barun Das Gupta

The Nagas of Manipur are at it again. Following a clash of the Nagas with the Manipur police at a village in the Naga-dominated Ukhrul district, in which two Nagas were killed and several injured, the United Naga Council (UNC) an umbrella organization of different Naga bodies of Manipur, started an indefinite economic blockade from September 4.
The Centre lost no time in sending a high-level team of Home Ministry officials to assess the impact of the blockade and report back to Delhi. The team members were Prakash Mishra, Special Secretary (Internal Security), and Rajiv Gouba, Joint Secretary (North-East Affairs). They called on Governor V. K. Duggal and Chief Minister Ibobi Okhram Singh and took stock of the situation before returning to Delhi.
Manipur’s problem lies in the fact that it is connected to the mainland of India by two National Highways. NH 39 is the main arterial route starting from Guwahati, reaching Nagaland at Dimapur, then enters the hills, passes through Kohima and descends on the plains of the Imphal Valley, ending at Imphal. The other route, NH 53, connects Imphal with Silchar town in the Barak Valley of southern Assam. It so happens that both the highways pass through hill areas dominated by either Naga or Kuki tribes. Either of the two tribes can hold Manipur to ransom by blocking the two highways on any pretext at their sweet will.
Manipur has suffered economic blockade many times in the past. The longest was that enforced by the Kukis for 127 days, demanding that the Sadar Hills Subdivision of the Senapati district be made a separate district. During that period of torment and suffering, petrol was  sold at Rs. 140 a litre while cooking gas was sold at Rs. 2000 a cylinder. This was in September, 2010.
Earlier, in May the same year, the Nagas resorted to a 57-day blockade when the Manipur Government refused to allow Muivah, the secretary-general of the NSCN(I-M), to enter Manipur. Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from the Ukhrul district of Manipur. He wanted to visit his native village Somdal where he was born. The Centre gave him permission. But the Manipur Government refused to let him enter the State, fearing a law and order problem, and blocked his entry at Mao, the village on the Nagaland-Manipur border. Ultimately, Muivah was forced to return. In retaliation, the Nagas resorted to the blockade. The two consecutive blockades in one year completely disrupted the economy of a State which has to import every single commodity from outside.
So far as the Nagas are concerned, the root of the problem lies in their claim that all Naga-inhabited areas contiguous to Nagaland be ‘brought under one single administrative unit’. In simple language it means that they want a Greater Nagaland or ‘Nagalim’ as they call it. They claim four districts of Manipur, namely, Ukhrul, Senapapti, Tamenglong and Chandel. They also claim several districts in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The State Governments concerned are firm in their resolve not to part with a single square centimeter of their territory to the proposed Nagalim. (The Nagas also claim the Naga-dominated areas in the contiguous region of Myanmar but they know it fully well that they can’t get it. So their substantive claim is on contiguous Naga areas of other Indian States.)
The latest blockade has already forced the State Government to ration petrol. No car owner is allowed to buy fuel worth more than Rs. 500. All bus services to Imphal from other States have been suspended. Hundreds of trucks carrying goods are stranded on the highways. This has happened despite the Manipur Government’s earlier assurance that it would provide security to all vehicles coming to Manipur. Police escorts are conspicuous by their absence. The United Naga Council has threatened not to lift the blockade till the Centre agrees to talk to them.
Talks, however, will not lead to a breakthrough unless either the Nagas soften their stance and agree to accept the status quo, or the other States concerned soften their stance and agree to part with some chunks of their territory to the Nagas. Neither seems likely at the moment. Occasional eruptions of violence in one form or another, in one State or another, as was seen recently in the Naga attacks on a number of villages in the Golaghat district of Assam, are likely to continue.
As far as Manipur is concerned, there is the other angle of inter-tribal conflicts. The Meiteis live in the plains of Imphal Valley. But the hill region is inhabited by many tribes – big and small. The two major tribes are the Nagas and the Kukis. They have mutually hostile relations. The Kukis have already demanded a separate Kukiland to be carved out of Manipur. In this maze of inter-tribal rivalries and conflicting territorial demands, finding a solution acceptable to all will not be easy. (IPA Service)


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