The Sadar Hills District Demand Committee, SHDDC’s agitation for the creation of new district Sadar Hills, remains unrelenting and the blockade imposed by it is beginning to have a serious impact on life in the state. Essential commodities and other consumables imported from other parts of India are beginning to become scarce in the markets in Imphal, and consequently in the other towns and villages of the state as well. Very soon, if the inflow of petrol remains disrupted, the familiar and depressing sight of long queues outside petrol pumps would reappear. Public transport fares would soon begin climbing steeply and likewise cooking gas prices too would head for the ceiling. The question is, why has this become Manipur’s reality? How have many issues in the state become intractable and close ended, showing no promise for an amicable end?
The Sadar Hills issue is now more than 20 years old. Yet there is no indication that it will be resolved immediately. The inability of the government, not just the present one, but each one in power during the last two decades and more, to put the problem to rest is, to be fair, not solely the government’s alone. It is on the other hand a characteristic of most issues related to ethnic identity. Although there are not many acknowledging it, and instead plenty insisting on calling it essentially an issue of administrative lethargy, the fact is, the biggest stumbling block before the issue has been one posed by ethnic contestations over territory informed by archaic notions of ethnic homelands. The problem with these homelands is there are too many different notions of it depending on the vantage of different ethnic groups. The territories thought to be part of these homelands also invariably overlap. This precisely is the problem preventing any easy resolution to the Sadar Hills district issue. The proposed new district is to be created by severing this sub-division of the Senapati district from the Senapati district. Doing this is not an easy proposition for the area under the Sadar Hills, and largely Kuki dominated, is seen by the Nagas as part of their traditional homeland. Kukis and other communities in the area who are in physical occupation of it interpret this differently. As of now the SHDDC has taken the extreme step of blockading the National Highway-39, to press for their demands, but should their demands be granted, it can be certain the Nagas would resort to similar coercive measures on the stretch of the same highway they are in physical majority. Indications of intents of such recourses have already come from civil organisations amongst the Nagas in messages published in the local media.
So where do the state go from here? It is difficult to imagine this is a state which cannot even redraw its district boundaries without causing social unrests. This would have had some logic if the state’s two regions, the reserved hills and the non-reserved valley were to overlap after such demarcations. For in such circumstances, the new administration structure rather than becoming easier would become even more complicated. However, if the divisions were to be strictly within each of the two separate regions, there ought not to have been any problem. The valley was once upon a time just one district. It is now four. The hills could also have been similarly divided for administrative convenience, but homeland politics has other visions and insecurities, therefore nobody is willing to listen to this argument. Perhaps the government should factor these insecurities in its strategies and approach the problem from this standpoint. As for instance, it could experiment with things like naming the proposed Sadar Hills district as Senapati (South) and the old Senapati as Senapati (North). The point is to send out the message to those demanding as well as opposing the formation of this new district that the new district has no other intent than administrative convenience. This would be in the manner Imphal district was divided into Imphal East and West. Then there is the question of Jiribam. This small patch of plains inhabited predominantly by non Schedule Tribe population could have been merged with adjacent Tamenglong, but this, as pointed out earlier in this editorial, would create obvious problems as there would have to be substantial reworking of the administration mechanism in the district so as to accommodate general category population in a district reserved for schedule tribes. Not to be forgotten are the echoes of similar demands for new district status at Phungyar in Ukhrul district and Tengnoupal in Chandel district. While the voices of the latter two are still faint, as to whether they become threatening will depend on how the government handles the Sadar Hills district issue.