Manipur blockade highlights India’s northeast dilemma
An entire state held to ransom for the past three months. And a central government that seems helpless to stop it.
Naga groups on Tuesday said they were extending for another 25 days their blockade of the two highways linking landlocked Manipur to the rest of the country.
This follows almost consecutive 20 days and 69 days of similar blockades, leaving the northeast state surviving on army-escorted supplies for the past three months.
Before a recent deployment of security forces for escorting food supplies, the state faced acute shortage of essential commodities like live-saving drugs. Petrol was priced at 200 rupees, LPG cylinders at 1,500 rupees and a kilogram of rice at 60-70 rupees.
The unrest started in April when Naga students protested amendments to a law governing the state’s autonomous district councils, which they say took away vital rights of the hill people, and intensified it when Naga separatist leader T Muivah was barred from visiting his birthplace in Manipur.
The United Naga Council, which is leading the agitation, says the blockade is being extended because the Centre has not fulfilled their demands, which include demilitarisation of all Naga-inhabited areas.
The Nagas, who are demanding a ‘Greater Nagaland’ state which include chunks from three neighbouring states, are also angry at the home minister’s statement in parliament ruling out division of Manipur.
And therein lies the catch-22 situation for the central government.
The Nagas, who say they have never accepted India’s constitution after independence from the British, claim the right to integrate all areas inhabited by the tribe.
But any sign the Centre is giving way on the issue of a state’s territorial integrity could evoke violent protests, something that has been seen in Kashmir and Telangana.
This represents the crux of the problems plaguing the northeast, home to more than 300 ethnic groups living side by side in eight states, each competing to carve out an identity.
The lack of development and the geographical and cultural isolation of the region from the rest of the country may also further stoke unrest.
Even the media and public from the rest of the country are sporadic in their interest in the region, which is rarely in the public imagination due to its relative political and economic insignificance.
The Centre, which doesn’t look like it has a clear policy for the region even after decades of armed insurgency, still lurches from one issue to the next without really achieving any closure (the 1986 peace treaty with Mizo militants being an exception).
Is there any solution to India’s northeast dilemma?