Another Republic Day has come and gone. Yet another day of deserted streets with people preferring to stay inside the safe confines of their homes instead of taking the risk of stepping out. The same old story and there is no indication that things will see a change in the near future. Those who grew up in the 70s and early 80s will remember the Republic Day march past back then with the young boys and girls of different schools smartly marching to the beat of the drums. It was a delight to see the young boys of Sainik School and young girls of Little Flower School smartly marching to the beat of the drums through the roads of Imphal. In those days the march past passed through through Kangla Pat road, turned towards Gandhi Avenue, passed through Paona Keithel and Thangal Keithel with the salute given just in front of GM Hall. Young boys and girls in their woollens would line up by the roadside to watch the contingents pass by and it was a delight to watch the energetic Punjabi group which enthralled the crowd with their feet stomping movements and dance. Other than the march past, it was also a day of a sort for family outing with the young boys and girls, usually followed by a movie at one of the cinema halls in Imphal. However things started changing from the mid 80s when underground outfits started discouraging schools and colleges from participating in the march past parade. Soon Republic Day became a day of boycott with many armed groups announcing total shut down of the State.
Obviously there is no magic mantra to deal with the armed movement, but one has to ask what steps have been taken up by the Government to bring the different armed groups to the negotiating table. Military strength is obviously not the solution. Everyone knows this but despite this standing fact, it has not stopped the Government of India from enforcing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the State and the North East region. The peace pact between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) was signed two decades back, but yet the military Act continues to be in force in Nagaland. With election to the State Assembly just round the corner, the question why Manipur continues to see deserted streets every year on Republic Day will obviously not be given any importance by all the political parties. It is not only the upcoming election but it is more than evident that this question has never seriously featured on the agenda of any political party. The situation will continue like this for years to come, unless and until the Centre wakes up to the reality and explore all measures to see how the different armed groups may be politically engaged. Time for the Centre to not only keep the door open but also to extend that hand outside the door to lead the armed groups to the negotiating table.