Barely out of one economic blockade, militancy-mauled Manipur has landed in another. The United Naga Council (UNC), a frontal organization of Manipur-based Naga tribes, has ignored Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's plea to go ahead with its 20-day economic blockade from 6 am on Wednesday.
The blockade designed to choke Manipur's lifelines – national highways 39 and 53 – follows Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's "indifference" to an ultimatum the UNC had submitted on July 27.
The frontier northeastern State is yet to get over the impact of the 69-day blockade another Naga organization – All Naga Students Association of Manipur – had ‘imposed' from April 11 against the holding of elections to "dummy" autonomous tribal councils.
"Blockades on highways can never be a solution to any problem," said Chief Minister Singh.
"We appeal to UNC to call off the blockade in public interest."
Chief Secretary DS Poonia said the blockade was uncalled for since the government "is open to dialogue and willing to provide a forum for a healthy exchange of views to address grievances of all stakeholders".
Steps, he added, were being taken to ensure uninterrupted supply of essentials.
According to UNC general secretary A Ashohrii, unresponsive governments in New Delhi and Imphal forced his organization to take the highway blockade decision.
"Our demands are not inconsiderate, and ours is a democratic protest," he said.
The UNC's demands include judicial probe into the May 6 firing at Mao Gate (Manipur-Nagaland border) that killed two Naga students, "demilitarization" of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur and declaration of the tribal council polls as null and void.
Both NH 39 and NH 53, connecting Imphal to the rest of the country, pass through Naga territory. NH 39 is the better and shorter of the two routes, but it passes through Nagaland before entering Manipur. In Manipur, NH 39 pierces a 60 km stretch of Naga territory while NH 53 snakes through a longer stretch.
For the Manipur government, NH 53 is less troublesome. But it is in a pathetic shape, landslide-prone and has several temporary bridges that cannot withstand the weight of a single goods-laden truck.
Manipur truckers have continued to avoid NH 39 citing extortion by Naga organizations, but traffic via the "unpredictable" NH 53 has been erratic.
Consequently, Manipur's 2.5 million people are still reeling under scarcity of food grains and fuel.
The 20-day UNC economic blockade from Wednesday morning is not the only shutdown in Manipur. There are at least half a dozen more bandhs in force or planned in the next few days.
Here are a few:
Ongoing boycott of NH 39 by Transporters and Drivers' Council, Manipur
Indefinite stir against price rise by women vendors of Imphal markets from Tuesday (August 3)
48-hour 'chakka bandh' by Zeliangrong Students' Union, Manipur from August 5 to protest handing over charge of NH 53 from Border Roads Organization to Manipur PWD.
Shutdown threat by Committee on Protection of Tribal Areas, Manipur on the issue of hill district boundary demarcation
Stir threat by All Manipur Hill Districts Contract Basis Association for extension of orders of their services
Bandh plan by Federation of All Tribal Youth Clubs, Manipur over demand for designation camps for a militant outfit