The spear of economic blockade appears to have pierced the Manipur government’s defiance more than a week after it was withdrawn.
Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh on Saturday admitted his government needed to focus on the development in the state’s hill districts. Large swathes of these districts are domited by Naga tribes.
“Manipur cannot develop if the hill districts continue to remain backward and underdeveloped. And that was precisely why the government wanted to hold elections to the autonomous district councils (ADCs) in the hill districts despite a lot of problems and opposition by some quarters,” Singh said.
He was speaking at the swearing-in function of 144 members of six ADCs at the Khuman Lampak stadium complex here. The Congress party bagged 106 seats to sweep the polls in the ADCs spanning five districts – Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul.
Elections to the ADCs were held last month after a gap of nearly 25 years. The term of the last elected ADCs expired in 1988. The councils existed only on paper since, with deputy commissioners holding charge as administrators.
“Now that the councils have been elected despite intimidations and threats, it is time for the hill people to take full advantage of our developmental programmes,” Singh said. The chief minister also indicated his government would hold no grudge against those groups which were opposed to the ADC elections.
“The government did not go against any tribe or organization by holding the ADC elections that are meant to bring about equal development of the hills and plains of the state,” he added. The plains of Manipur are dominated by the Meitei community that virtually controls governance in the state.
According to Naga organizations that imposed the 69-day economic blockade on National Highway 39 and 53, Singh’s “sensitivity” towards the hills was an indirect acknowledgement of years of neglect of the tribal areas. “One hopes his aren’t vacuous words to offset more economic blockades,” said a spokesperson of a Naga students’ body.
The economic blockade by Naga organizations was started on April 11 to protest elections to what they termed toothless ADCs. It ended on May 18 after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a meeting with various Naga organizations. EOM
Instead, he appealed to those opposing the elections not to disturb the developmental programmes.