In any other part of India, a 92-day economic blockade would have created a firestorm big enough to singe the central government, leave alone the state government in question. But Manipur is an exception because it has long ceased to be a 'normal' state. Its resilient people have weathered many ethnic clashes, demands made by underground groups and crippling economic blockades. The latest economic blockade, which was called off partially on Tuesday, lasted for three months and two days. This time, the issue was the demand of the Kuki tribes, who dominate the Sadar Hills, for the bifurcation of the Naga tribes-dominated Senapati district. The Kuki groups have called off the strike after the state government's assurance to the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee that their demand will be met. But the Naga body - United Naga Council - which wants to be included in the talks is yet to make any announcement. So at best, the peace deal is a tenuous one. The demand for a separate Kuki district is not new - it's nearly 20 years old. So why didn't the state government anticipate this problem and try to avert it? Your guess is as good as ours. To press for their demands, the two groups closed down the Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati and Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar highways. With two lifelines blocked, prices of essential items skyrocketed. A sample: tomatoes were being sold at Rs 80 per kg while petrol was Rs 180-200 per litre and an LPG cylinder anywhere between Rs 1,500-2,000.
Such closures have been the usual modus operandi of different protesting groups for a while. The last major highway blockade was for 60 days from April 2010. The blockade was triggered by the opposition to the NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah's proposed visit to his ancestral village in Ukhrul district of Manipur. So why isn't the Indian Army deployed to keep the highways open so that trucks bearing goods can pass without fear? That is possibly because a non-performing government, like the one at present in Manipur, would not want such problems like these to end, lest the focus shift to its lack of governance. But politicians, unlike common people, usually see the glass half full. The Union home minister said that the government has ensured the safe passage of 1,100 supply trucks. He added that the "supplies are okay" but the problem is of "high prices". Could someone please tell the minister that prices remained high simply because there was a supply-demand mismatch.
Manipur has been oscillating between ethic issues and militancy for far too long. The Congress must ask the present chief minister Ibobi Singh, who has been in power since 2002, to answer for the serious lapses that happen so often. The Opposition has demanded President's Rule in the state. Though that should the last resort, the idea might gain a lot of support given the dire straits that Manipur is in.