Manipur besieged

As should have been anticipated, the “temporary” withdrawal by the Naga Students Federation (NSF) of the horrendous 10-week blockade of Manipur has meant no relief to the long-suffering people of the state numbering more than two million. Of the two reasons for this, the foreseeable one is the refusal so far of Manipur’s own Nagas, organised under the banner of the All Naga Students Association Manipur (ANSAM), to accept the decision of the NSF that represents the people of Nagaland. Hopefully, the efforts to persuade ANSAM to see reason would succeed soon. But then a sudden new hurdle to the free flow of traffic along the beleaguered National Highway 39 has cropped up.
The truckers in the region have gone on strike because they want protection from “extortion” by multiple groups of “extremists”, to say nothing of bribes demanded by government officials. Because they have been subjected to this tyranny for decades, their demand cannot be called unreasonable. Yet, a quick solution to this problem, even an interim one, has to be found so that the people deprived of food, life-saving drugs, petrol, cooking gas and other essential supplies can revert to a semblance of normal life.
However, even if the truckers agree to resume work, the woes of Manipur would not end. For, the withdrawal of the agitation by two rival sets of students would be temporary in every sense of the word and subject to revocation at any moment. Moreover, and no less importantly, the underlying reasons for the bitter hostility and consequent conflict between Manipur and Nagaland, on the one hand, and between Manipur tribes, including Kukis and Nagas, living in state’s hill districts and the majority population of Meities residing in the Imphal Valley, on the other, are so bewilderingly complex that they are practically insoluble. These will be discussed to the extent possible presently. First, we must face squarely the paramount cause why not just Manipur but the entire Northeast has been reduced to such a perilous state.
It is the stark failure of the Indian state to do its elementary duty in the chronically troubled region — a failure that is chronic but has attracted attention only during the current crisis in Manipur. As the current rage and revelations about the Bhopal gas tragedy 25 years ago shows, nothing like good governance exists anywhere in this country, irrespective of which party is in power either at the Centre or in the states. At its best governance everywhere in India is perfunctory, even shoddy. Otherwise, no one in Bhopal would have allowed a highly congested cluster of housing to come up around the factory producing a highly dangerous and poisonous gas. Or callously ignored repeated warnings about the world’s worst industrial accident waiting to happen. The horror of horrors is that all governments, Central and state, have let the toxic waste lie around the disused Bhopal factory for more than a quarter of a century, without anyone being called to account.
However, the misfortune of the Northeast is that it is denied even the kind of bad and blundering governance that prevails in, say, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Baroda, Barabanki or Burdwan. Just look back at the enormity of what has gone on in relation to Manipur since April 11 and it becomes distressingly clear that the Indian state has virtually washed its hands off the area. The monstrosity of Manipur siege had gone on for full two months before the Union home ministry took the trouble to announce that it would send Central forces to clear the lifeline to Manipur. It did nothing of the sort, of course, because by that time leaders of the NSF had arrived in Delhi to meet the Prime Minister. They condescended to lift the blockade temporarily. They even delivered on their promise but to no avail because of the stand-off between the two Naga student outfits.
Of the various factors behind the abdication of all governmental responsibility in the seven sisters of Northeast India the most lamentable is New Delhi’s penchant to look upon the region as a “far-away land of which we know so little and care even less”. This approach is compounded by the vague notion that all north-eastern states are alike while the reality is that each state is different from the other six. Indeed, almost each of these states has a diversity of ethnicities within its borders. This should explain the ferocity of the disputes between Manipur and Nagaland because the latter’s demand for Greater Nagaland embracing the Kuki and Naga districts of Manipur. That, in turn, should explain why the Manipur government barred the Nagaland leader, T. Muivah (who is engaged in protracted negotiations with the Central government to “settle” the Naga issue) from visiting his ancestral village that lies in Manipur. This was the beginning of the Manipur blockade. But ANSAM has no sympathy for Muivah. It wants Manipur besieged because the Meiti-dominated state government has ordered elections in autonomous districts without any consensus on either the timing of the poll or the law under which it is to be held.
Secondly, the Indian state and society have conspired to establish the principle that whoever has a grievance, actual or imaginary, has a right to burn trains, uproot railway lines, torch buses and block thoroughfares with impunity. However, in the heartland this happens only for a few days at a time. It goes on in the periphery for months even though in this part of India, the few highways constitute the people’s lifeline.
Since nothing is more contagious than bad example, the unspeakable khap Jats of Haryana have threatened to besiege Delhi if the law on Hindu marriages is not changed in accordance with their wishes immediately. Would they be shown the same tolerance as that to the vandals blockading Manipur?
Finally, we have got used to listening to long lectures on human rights of even the murderers of innocent citizens. Do lakhs and lakhs of law-abiding citizens have no human or fundamental right to lead a normal and peaceful life, to be able to move around freely and to get their food and other necessaries at normal, not astronomical, prices?

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