A series of shutdowns in Meghalaya to protest a violent border row with Assam is set to affect two more highways – NH40 and NH44 – in the Northeast.
NH39 and NH53, both leading to Manipur capital Imphal, have been under siege for a month now.
United Democratic Party (UDP), the Congress’ ruling ally in Meghalaya has called a bandh on Tuesday to protest the killing of Khasi and Garo tribal people at Langpih, a border village 100 km west of Assam capital Guwahati, on Friday. The Khasi Students Union (KSU) and the militant Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council have also called bandhs in synchronicity or thereafter.
Four people died in police firing following a clash between a tribal group and Nepalese settlers in that village at the centre of a border row between Assam and Meghalaya since July 2008.
The prime target of the bandhs are NH40 and NH44, the lifelines of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and southern Assam’s Barak Valley.
NH40 branches off NH37 at Jorabat (15 km east of Guwahati) and ends at Jowai (headquarters of Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills district) 216 km southwest. NH44 links Meghalaya capital Shillong and Sabroom 630 km away in Tripura (near India-Bangladesh border).
NH44, in turn, is crucial for movement of essentials to Mizoram (NH54) and Manipur (NH53). The highway to Mizoram capital Aizawl starts at Silchar and the highway to Imphal begins at Badarpur, both in southern Assam.
Naga organizations protesting the holding of elections in Manipur’s tribal councils had ‘imposed’ a blockade on NH53 since April. The imbroglio over Naga rebel leader Thuingaleng Muivah’s visit to ancestral village Somdal in Manipur’s Ukhrul district added to the blockade on this highway as well as NH39, Manipur’s lifeline via Nagaland.
“We will go ahead with our 24-hour bandh from Tuesday. We cannot help if the bandh leads to cutting off a large chunk of the region,” said KSU president Samuel B Jyrwa.
Adding to the ethnic tension in Meghalaya are ‘quit notices’ served on Nepalese residents. Though the KSU ‘withdrew’ its notice served on Nepalese living in Shillong, the Jaintia Youth Federation has stuck to its determination to expel Nepali-speaking people from the Jaintia Hills.
Meghalaya Home Minister HDR Lyngdoh, meanwhile, has warned youth organizations against any ethnic cleansing drive. He has also appealed to agitating NGOs and political parties to take back their shutdown calls.