P Brajakumar had to postpone his weekly health check-up by more than 21 days on Thursday.
The 62-year-old farmer can’t pay for the bus journey from his village near Thoubal to Manipur capital Imphal. The buses that are plying are charging too much – Rs 40 one way, more than double the normal fare for the 22-km distance.
In village Keibi, 19 km north of Imphal, N. Sanajaoba has been forced to pay Rs 700 for hiring a tractor to plough his paddy field. “The rate is Rs 300 per quarter of a hectare (about 27,000 square feet), but these are hard times, and the sowing season will be over if I wait for prices to come down,” he says. “I have seven mouths to feed, after all.”
The prices have dipped a bit 50 days after the All-Naga Students Association, Manipur (ANSAM), imposed an economic blockade on National Highways 39 and 53 on April 11. Petrol and diesel are selling at Rs 120 and Rs 100 a litre, down from Rs 180 and Rs 150 a week ago.
Rice too is “cheap” at Rs 22 a kg, but that is no respite for people such as housemaid Borni Devi, who returned empty-handed on Thursday from a ration outlet.
The ‘respite’ for Manipur follows the resumption of truck service on NH 53 – it connects Imphal with Badarpur in south Assam’s Barak Valley, albeit once a week, and under police escort.
Despite such hardship, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), are refusing to back down on their stubborn positions. While Singh is adamant about not letting Muivah come to Manipur, .the latter is exploring all opportunities.
Muivah was trying to exploit the dislocation caused by ANSAM’s economic blockade to visit his ancestral village in Manipur. Within hours of the Manipur government’s decision to prohibit Muivah from entering the state, the NSCN-IM joined the blockade.
The standoff culminated in the death of two Naga protestors at Mao, the border between Manipur and Nagaland, on May 6.
“The Centre cannot ask Muivah to restrict his movements in India. Any attempt to put curbs on him could probably result in a unilateral withdrawal by the Nagas from the peace talks. Ibobi has added fire to the issue by allowing his police to kill Naga protesters at Mao. This is a situation difficult to get out of,” said Manipur-based Human Rights Alert.
The plight of Manipur’s ordinary people is the ultimate depiction of the failure of the Centre and the state governments in Manipur and Nagaland to tackle insurgency and address its socio-political impact.
But there is no easy solution either. Appeasing the Nagas means angering the Meiteis, the dominant community of Manipur.
With inputs from Sobhapati Samom in Imphal