UNC’s Indefinite Economic Blockade on National Highways in Manipur
By Dr Shristi Pukhrem
The United Naga Council (UNC) has imposed an indefinite economic blockade on the national highways in Manipur against the State Government’s move to create Sadar Hills and Jiribam districts. The Council is also banning implementation of national projects in the Naga territories in Manipur including Trans Asian Railways. The two month long economic blockade (as on 25-12-2016) has snapped the National Highway – 2 (Imphal – Dimapur stretch) and the National Highway-37 (Imphal – Jiribam stretch), thereby causing acute scarcity of essential commodities in the state. As the blockade supporters often attack the goods trucks, the All Manipur Petroleum Products Transporters’ Association resorted to cease work strike. Fuel stations run dry, and petroleum products are being sold in grey market at Rs. 150 a litre. Hospitals are in dire strait without having life saving drugs supplied. Even the national media has not been able to adequately report Manipur’s burning issues.
Amidst the economic blockade by the UNC, the Congress Government in Manipur hurriedly created and inaugurated 6 new districts. The UNC, while claiming that the creation of new districts would encroach upon and divide the areas traditionally owned by the Naga tribes, reacted violently by attacking and killing state security personnel. On the other hand, as the UNC has not listened to any peaceful appeal for lifting the blockade and both the State and the Centre have failed to act, several civil bodies, especially those from the valley districts, have been resorting to counter blockades and other forms of protests leading to chaos and loss of properties. The state government was constrained to indulge in fire fighting in order to minimise the ripple effect. Internet services have been suspended in Manipur so that rumour mongering can be checked. Curfew under Section 144 Cr P C 1973 has been imposed in Manipur. The Tangkhul Naga Long – a top civil body of the Tangkhul Nagas – has demanded President’s Rule in the State. In essence, Manipur is witnessing a worse case of failure of constitutional machinery. The Union Minister of State (Home Affairs), Kiren Rijiju, had to visit Imphal only to remind the Chief Minister of Manipur of the state government’s responsibility to maintain law and order and, at the same time, assure central assistance in breaking the economic blockade that has caused humanitarian crisis in Manipur.
The stalemate situation in Manipur reflects a societal space which is deeply fractured along ethnic lines. Influenced by a sense of ethnic and cultural insecurity, civil bodies often resort to bandhs and blockades to get their grievances redressed by the government which otherwise is generally perceived to be insensitive to public demands. The negative impact of economic blockades that often entail violence and hard hit the common people is indeed worrisome. Choking lifelines for two months is too long a period for the government to wait and watch the people suffering untold miseries. The government of the day has to demonstrate its political will and commitment to redress the grievances of the people. But the blame is on both the Government of Manipur and Union Government for their inaction either to break or end the blockade. The remedy can’t be far to seek. In a situation where the government of Manipur cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, e.g. inability to maintain law & order due to the economic blockade and its ripple effect, the Union is duty bound to intervene and protect the State from such internal disturbance. In case of failure of constitutional machinery in sates, the President can assume to himself the functions of the Government of the State.
The challenge is to address ‘trust deficit’ towards confidence and consensus building. Each stakeholder needs to go that extra mile required for sustaining fraternity, unity and peace. While the economy damaged by aberrations like bandhs and blockades can be rebuilt, the new culture of aggressive social action can cause long term loss of social capital – trust, harmony and unity. The government needs to be decisive in dealing with certain kinds of public protest which hold the people to ransom. Conversely, the UNC, NSCN for that matter, could have avoided indulging in anti-social actions and breaking ground rule in the thick of peace dialogue. The political leadership at the helm of state affairs are well advised to find ways and means to capitalise on the fact that the majority of the people are against bandhs and blockades. The media, civil society organisations, religious institutions and prominent personalities can play a proactive role in sustaining social harmony. It is important that all the stakeholders, the government in particular, become more flexible and imaginative in their approach to conflict transformation and consider non-territorial solutions. Above all, both the State and Union need to become more sensitive to the plight of the people.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at the India Foundation, New Delhi)