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Parties get ready to take a highway ride to power

Two highways that hog the limelight for all the wrong reasons are the flavour of Manipur's poll season.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2012 08:06 IST

Two highways that hog the limelight for all the wrong reasons are the flavour of Manipur's poll season.

'Highway management' is high on every parties' agenda, since people want a permanent solution to the highway blockades that continuously empty their purses.

Manipur's topography is like a stadium, comprising the playground - the Imphal valley - and an encircling gallery of hills.

Only two roads - NH39 and NH53 - connect this 'playground' with the country beyond. They are also the lifelines of the state. But on an average, the highways remain choked for four months a year, with various tribes blocking them to press their demands. The consequence is a nightmarish escalation of prices.

Residents are still feeling the impact of a 120-day blockade that ended in November. An LPG cylinder costs Rs 1,500 and cauliflowers go for Rs 60 a kilo.

"We want this to end for good," said K Thokchom, a resident of Thoubal town, 30 km east of Imphal.

The People's Democratic Front, a five-party alliance led by the regional Manipur People's Party, has promised to set up a highway protection force to offset blockades.

Another regional party, Manipur State Congress Party, has pledged to enact a highway protection Act. "This Act will counter and control the menace of economic blockades," said party president K Debabrata.

The BJP, CPM and the CPI, too, have promised mechanisms to end blockades. The CPI is an ally of the ruling Congress.

The Congress, however, has veered from the problematic highways, promising instead, to develop a third alternative - the Tongjei Maril, the shortest road from Manipur to Assam. Built by the British, the road from Imphal to Assam's Silchar, has been in disuse for nearly 200 years and has degenerated into a dirt track.

"We want it to be an all-weather road," said chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.

Nagas who inhabit the hills that NH39 and NH53 bisect strongly oppose the 'highway management' plans.

"No power on earth will be able to destroy our aspirations, and we will never be cowed by such moves," said United Naga Council spokesperson S Milan.