End the blockade

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The highway blockade must end, or else must be lifted whatever it takes, be it negotiations or legitimate use of state’s power to open up the highways. Since we are talking about national highways, the Union government must shoulder this responsibility too. We say this not so much in view of ameliorating the hardship of those at the receiving ends of these blockaded highways, but to ensure things do not descend into chaos and violence. Already the state is a dry tinder box and even a small spark can cause raging infernos. The state has seen very bad days in the not so distant past, and surely nobody is keen to see things come to such a pass again. There are already counter blockades sprouting up in pockets in the valley areas stopping a reverse traffic on these and other highways, and though these knee-jerk responses have no certain public commitment yet, as things get worse, their intensities can be expected to grow. Who knows, if nothing is done to douse the fire while still controllable, dangerous clashes may break out between those on the different ends of this blockade politics, and even may spread to take a communal hue.

The most visible and immediately felt effect of such blockades is petrol pumps running dry and cooking gas stock running low. As of today, many schools have shut because students transport services have ground to a halt because of fuel non availability. Petrol in the black market is already skyrocketing, and has touched Rs. 250 a litre. Cooking gas too in the black market is being sold as high as Rs. 2200 a cylinder. Prices of other essential commodities too are shooting up, causing immense inconveniences for everybody, but especially for the poorer sections of the society. If things do not improve soon, it is predictable public anger will begin to rise. This is particularly because for a majority of the state’s population, the issue over which this blockade is being imposed is a pretty neutral and normal official matter, and therefore feel it grossly unfair for them to be subjected to all the hardships and provocations. Many of them do not even understand what there is to be objected to in the government’s move.

It may be recalled, the current blockade called by the United Naga Council, UNC, is to protest the Manipur government’s plan to create two new revenue districts. Sadar Hills is to be upgraded to a full-fledged district from its present status as a sub-division of the Senapati district, and Jiribam would be also upgraded to a district from its status of as a sub-division of Imphal East district. Jiribam probably will have fewer issues to resolve, as it is only a small enclave in the Assam border. Jiribam is however clubbed with Imphal East because a majority of its population belongs to the non-reserved general category and would end up disenfranchised, besides complicating administration, if placed in the adjacent Tamenglong district which is a reserved district for scheduled tribes. The more problematic of the two is Sadar Hills. This is a large and important sub-division because it touches practically every other districts of the state both in the hills as well as the valley. It is so awkwardly large that some of its octopus-like arms are so distant from each other, and from the district headquarter at Senapati town and sub-division headquarter at Kangpokpi, that it is much easier for domiciles to access the district headquarters of other adjacent districts to get their official matters settled. The logic for upgrading this sub-division to a district is to address some of these administrative problems. The problem arises because these administrative divisions are interpreted not just as revenue districts for administrative convenience but in terms of homelands by the interested parties. Indeed, it is Manipur’s vexed identity politics at play again.

Something must be done to defuse and delink the matter from this brand of identity and homeland politics. Ideally these archaic politics should remain at one plane and the government’s administration at another, without each encroaching into the other’s sphere. Perhaps the government should facilitate the proponents of Sadar Hills upgradation to sit down and thrash out the issue with the UNC which is opposing the demand, and once they come to an agreement, the government can go ahead or stall the creation of the new district. Remember Sadar Hills proponents can also do what the UNC is doing, and have indeed done so in the past. Other than either of them, there are others in other districts, who though neutral to the issue, can also become angry and go out of control. In the meantime, the government must not allow the impression that the state administration has totally withered away. It must use its influence to end this entangle immediately.

Source: Imphal Free Press

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