The atrocious blockade along Manipur’s national highways has entered 65 days. The affront, it seems has now crossed the threshold of indifference of even the numerous 24-hour national satellite television channels. For the past few days, many of these channels have begun to train their focus on the state of affairs in Manipur, and this cannot be by any means a good omen for the state government. The question increasingly asked is not just why the state government is doing nothing but equally why the Centre is turning a blind eye to the unfolding adverse humanitarian crisis arising out of the prolonged blockade in the state. The voices calling for Central intervention through a spell of President’s Rule are also growing, as indeed they should. Would the state government at least now be pulling up its socks and do something. There are two things that it can do. One, reach an agreement with those calling the blockade, and since this is unlikely as there are two directly opposite demands behind blockade, it must be prepared to crack the whip and break the blockade. Let the agitation carry on democratically and let an amicable settlement be reached too in the course of time, but it is time for the government to say in definitive terms that certain styles of public protest which indiscriminately hurt the people, men, women and children, cannot be allowed under any circumstance. A symbolic strike of the nature for a day or two is pardonable, but one that extends over two months is something which should not be allowed under any circumstance by any government with spine. This is regardless of which interest group is behind such a strike.
It is also noteworthy that even as the state is coming into the line of sight of the national media the focus is less and less on the SADAR Hills district creation issue but on the consequence of the blockade and the hardship this is causing to ordinary citizens. Many of the channels even did features yesterday on how even a national celebrity like 5-time world boxing champion, M.C. Mary Kom, has to cook with firewood because cooking gas is either not available or else far too expensive. This shift in universal concern should also be a lesson for those agitating for or against SADAR hills district creation. They must realise there are certain sacrosanct norms which they cannot under no circumstance violate, no matter what the cause they are fighting for. Highway blockade is one of these, and we would even list this as a peremptory norm. Piracy, slavery, colonisation, genocide are some of the other peremptory norms internationally accepted as too important and vitally linked to human dignity to be compromised under whatever the circumstance or cause. But above all else, the fact that the blockade has been allowed to carry on for such a long time speaks very poorly for the government.
While the immediate situation arising out of the blockade must be tackled appropriately, what the government should now think of seriously is creating viable alternative routes in the event of future blockades. It is not difficult for anybody to predict there would be more too, for the belief that this is a method of protest guaranteed to be heard, and more than that, which do not attract penalty, has been allowed to be reinforced too strongly by a government which has made it an art to make itself absent during such times. The government must now go about creating more land routes out of the state. National Highway 53 and the New Cachar Road that runs parallel to it are some of these alternatives. It should also be thinking of developing another road that runs parallel to the Jiri-Tupul rail line for much of the necessary jungle clearance and ground levelling would be done as it is in laying the rail tracks. But these things have been said so many times before after every one of these periodic blockades Manipur witnesses, but all to no avail. Public memory is generally known to be short but cannot be as short as that of the Manipur public, and the government is always let off the hook after a few months of normalcy. A few months from now, the Assembly elections is due, and on this most important arena on which the people’s democratic will is exercised periodically, none of the burning issues which are driving the people to a heady mix of misery and rage will figure, much less have an impact. It is late, but let the government must act now and salvage the situation. Let it either resolve the SADAR Hills issue or, come what may, have the blockade lifted. Or else, it must ensure enough supplies come into the state so that the sting is removed from the blockade. However, even after the blockade is broken, ensure that the SADAR Hills issue is dealt in a manner just to all.