There’s no business like blockade business in Manipur, especially during an election.
Periodic economic blockades bring misery to many in the frontier state. But whenever the state’s lifelines – NH 2 and NH37 – are choked, the underground economy is thrown a lifeline.
The visible faces of this economy are women in traditional attire, spaced out in twos or threes along the roads, selling two shades of golden yellow petrol in one-litre plastic bottles.
The lighter shade is smuggled in from Myanmar to the east and the deeper shade from Mizoram in the south. Some trickles down from the north. Everybody knows how the ‘black’ fuel from dealers gets to the street to be sold at double the price. But, conveniently, nobody knows.
Everyone, though, agrees that the blockade during election time provides an issue that relegates everything else to the background. It is an issue that has seemingly driven the wedge deeper into the hills-plains divide.
Almost 65% of Manipur’s population lives in Imphal Valley dominated by the non-tribal Meiteis. Two tribal groups – Naga and Kuki-Zomi, in roughly equal proportion – account for the remaining 35% of the population scattered across Manipur’s hills that make up 90% of the state’s geographical area.
The plains have 40 of the 60 seats in the state assembly. The tribes, specifically the Nagas, feel the numerical edge gives the non-tribals the political edge.
Much of Manipur is convinced that the Isak-Muivah faction of the extremist National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) makes blockades happen.
“The people know who is behind the blockade. The BJP at the centre is an ally of the Naga People’s Front (ruling party of Nagaland), which is close to the NSCN-IM that fuels the United Naga Council (UNC) that enforced the blockade. They are one and same,” Manipur CM Okram Ibobi Singh told HT.
This ‘unholy alliance’, Congress leaders feel, will see Singh in power for the fourth term.
“The Congress and the CM use NSCN-IM to enforce bands and scare the non-Nagas, an electoral majority, into voting for the Congress. Whenever there is an election, the CM strikes a deal with the NSCN-IM but his game is up,” Th Biswajit, the lone BJP MLA, said.