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Blockading Peace And Development In Manipur

The road blockade by various Naga organizations in the state of Manipur has crossed well above fifty days and counting. The blockade which started with the issue of holding autonomous council elections in the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur was further intensified when the Manipur government denied National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) chairman Thuingaleng Muivah access to visit his native village of Somdal in Manipur’s Ukhrul district. The blockade has disrupted the supply of goods through National Highway 39 and National Highway 53, and the government has been forced to airlift food materials, fuel, medicines and other essential commodities to Imphal. The blockade has held the Meitei dominated Imphal valley, virtually to ransom, and prices of commodities have sharply risen over the past two months. The tragedy is that this is not the first time that Manipur valley has been blockaded by Naga organizations, and minor ethnic trouble between Nagas and Meiteis have resulted in such blockades in the past.

The point however is that the central government and the Nagaland state government have been unable to reach a consensus with the agitating groups to end the blockade, in spite of several rounds of talks with them. The Union Home Ministry has sent its top officials to Kohima to reason with the NSCN leadership, but failed to ease the standoff. Some Meitei groups within Manipur started a counter-blockade on the Naga inhabited areas within Manipur, but that was soon called off, on request of the state government. Meitei student groups have recently started a blockade on the National Highway 39 and National Highway 36 on the Assam side on trucks carrying essential supplies to Nagaland as a counter-offensive. This vicious cycle of blockade politics has demonstrated the entrenched positions of the growing ethnic divide between Nagas and Meiteis, and the futility of the government in its attempts at restoring peace and order.

In the middle of the current blockade on Manipur, the Central Government has ‘˜successfully’ conducted another round of peace talks, the first time in Kohima, with the NSCN I-M as part of the larger Naga peace process. The peace talks between the central government and the NSCN I-M have not seen substantive progress in the past thirteen years, and the evident inability to make reason with the NSCN I-M leadership on ending the Manipur blockade demonstrates the futility of the central government’s position and leverage with the group. The central government has in fact strengthened the hands of the NSCN I-M by this gesture of peace talks in Kohima, in the middle of a situation where the same group is actively involved in blockading an entire state of Manipur. Is this the way the central government hopes to maintain peace in the ethnic strife prone region?

This is the same National Highway 39 which New Delhi has presented to the world as part of the Trans Asian Highway, as part of its much vaunted Look East Policy. The state of affairs in a critical part of the highway is that it can be blockaded for two months at a stretch and the Indian government does not even merit action on the ground to lift the blockade. This reflects the lack of effective governance in Nagaland. How can the Trans Asian Highway be a success if New Delhi is not able to bridge ethnic differences and does not have enough leverage to even have ideas for an honorable solution to a blockade? The development goals and prospects of the Look East Policy have not been attuned to existing realities of political and ethnic divide in the region. New Delhi needs to do more in terms of having a final political solution to the Naga issue and assuaging larger ethnic apprehensions obtaining from the Greater Nagalim demand of NSCN I-M.

Manipur has decided to import rice from adjoining Myanmar, given the blockade and consequent decline in food grain reserves in the state. Although the prospect of importing rice and other items from Myanmar has always been desirable in view of expanding the basket of goods to be traded between India and Myanmar through the land border, the fact that this decision comes in such a blockade situation makes for a sad commentary. New Delhi has to seriously introspect on its strategies and priorities in Northeast India in terms of bringing genuine peace and development for the region. It cannot any longer play one group against the other, and rely on ad-hoc policies and arrangements for ‘˜managing’ a tentative peace and development agenda for the region.

New Delhi has a whole range of complex issues at hand, relating to ethnic aspirations and political solutions to insurgencies in Northeast India; and then to create conditions for a genuine involvement of the ethnic communities in the connected vision of the Look East Policy, clearly demonstrating what peace and development holds for the people of the region. Any further delay by New Delhi in acting purposively in ending the blockade in Manipur could seriously jeopardize peace and development prospects for the entire Northeast India.

* The article is written by By Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman

* The writer is a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

* The article has been published with due permission from the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies (IPCS)

* You may visit IPCS’s website at http://www.ipcs.org for further readings.

* Picture Source: NDTV

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