Manipur is in the news for the wrong reasons again. After the State government foiled the visit of NSCN Chief T. Muivah to Manipur on May 6, the Naga Students Federation joined the fray to block NH-39 and NH-53 — the lifelines of Manipur. The prices of essential commodities shot up. Petrol cost about Rs 200 a litre. It made headlines. But the media and the political parties missed the complete story, again.
Muivah’s proposed visit only accentuated the blockade of the national highways already imposed by the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur and the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur on April 11. They have been protesting the elections to be held on May 26 under the controversial Manipur (Hill Area) District Council Act (Third Amendment) 2008.
As everybody sees the blockade through the Muivah prism, the cause espoused by the students unions has been subsumed. The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 gave the district councils powers to legislate, plan and implement development programmes in the hill areas. It gave these councils full executive powers.
In the last 39 years, the state government failed to transfer many of the subjects to the district councils. Even executive powers relating to hospitals, primary health centres, high schools and colleges, and roads other than national highways in the hill areas, were not transferred.
Instead, the Manipur government adopted the controversial Manipur District Council Act which has been opposed by the tribals. The amended Act destroys the powers of the tribal villages. The Manipur government turned the district councils into its agents instead of truly autonomous bodies. Therefore, the blockade.
The tribals of Manipur are divided along community lines and have disagreements with regard to the model district council to empower them. Yet, there is no doubt that the Nagas and the Kukis agree that the current Act must go.
The Imphal valley has been badly affected by the road blocks. The hill areas too have been affected by the counter blockade launched by the United Committee Manipur and women groups since May 11.
The country will have to pay the price for the mishandling of Muivah’s visit. As the battle lines are drawn on communal lines, civil society groups have been propagating a communal agenda.
Manipur is not monolithic. The hills have the same story to tell about the Imphal valley as Manipur has to tell about New Delhi.
The author is the director of Asian Centre for Human Rights, Delhi