Manipur Under Siege, People Restive

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    By Iboyaima Laithangbam
    Manipur, which has been floundering under a crippling blockade since July 31 midnight, remains under siege with the people who are denied all consumer items becoming restive. What should be a signal of a storm is that even ranking politicians and members of parliaments have started attacking the Congress-led coalition government for resorting to political chicanery over the demand for the formation of Sadar Hills district.

    In a stinging statement, Thangsho Baite, Congress MP from Manipur, said on Monday that the government was stalling for time by setting up a committee to look into the boundaries of the districts ahead of the formation of Sadar Hills district. Since the Chief Minister and others have been saying that the demand is reasonable, it is incomprehensible as to why it is not created. He said that formation of the new district was the only solution to the present impasse.

    On the other hand, the Nagas have been saying that they will protect the “lands of the Nagas”. Saying that no Naga area can be included in the proposed new district, the United Naga Council (UNC) had imposed a counter-blockade against Manipur from August 21. Waxing enthusiasm over the effective counter-blockade, the UNC has now renewed its demand for “alternative arrangements” for the Nagas within 20 days, failing which, intensified agitations will be launched. Translated into plain English, the demand is for a separate state for the Nagas to be carved out of Manipur. At a public meeting, the Nagas had severed all ties with the Manipur Government.

    Though enough fuel and consumer items are brought to Imphal under armed escorts, there is an artificial scarcity since the hoarders and dishonest traders are given the carte blanche by the government. In the most ridiculous way, the government had fixed the prices of the consumer items in consultation with the traders. In some instances, the prices fixed by the government were found to be higher than the market prices. Despite “checkings” by N Biren, the Food and Consumer Affairs Minister, petrol and diesel are rationed for a few hours only in a day. But the roadside vendors are selling petrol at Rs 130 a litre round the clock, and there has been no instance of arresting any of them. One kg of fish is sold at Rs 180, an egg costs Rs 8, potato at Rs 20 a kg and onion Rs 45 a kg. Though the prices of these items are much higher than the ones fixed by the government, there is no system to monitor the market price and pull up the shop keepers.

    Both the Kuki and the Nagas have made it clear that they will not back out. The government has been a mute spectator, and the Centre has not come to the rescue of the people. The State and the paramilitary forces could not do much when armed tribals torched trucks bringing life-saving drugs and other consumer items. The valley dwellers are not happy that the police and paramilitary forces are not making their presence felt, but are giving a kid-glove treatment to the people who are taking the people to ransom.

    The Sadar Hills Disrict Demand Committee is saying that the proposed district has an area of 1696 sq km and a population of 188,529 (2001 census). But the Nagas say many of these areas belong to them. Besides this, hillocks in the valley districts had also been included in Senapati district under which Sadar Hills is there. Jiribam, which is a subdivision of Imphal East district, has been witnessing general strikes at varying doses in furtherance of the demand for upgrading it to a full-fledged district. It has an area of 232 sq km with a population of 37,826. Considering the fact that the whole of Manipur is much smaller than any district of Assam, the demand does not enjoy support from some circles. Manipur already has nine districts.

    But as the State goes to polls in February next year, many circles feel that the coalition partners, the CPI and the Congress, will have to pay a heavy price. Intelligence circles also do not rule out a communal carnage since the angry people have started blocking vehicles transporting consumer items from Imphal to the tribal areas. While Chief Minister Okram Ibobi is maintaining silence, some young ministers have made some “irresponsible” statements adding fuel to the fire.

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