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Blockades are nothing new to Manipur, but this time it’s different

It is about time Manipur, which is home to more than 33 different ethnic groups, learns to find peaceful solutions. It is about time people celebrate the diversity and learn to live with tolerance and respect

opinion Updated: Jan 05, 2017 14:38 IST
Manipur blockade,Nagas,Sadar
Vehicles are seen burning after being set alight by protesters in Imphal, Manipur.(AFP)

It’s always been hard to describe to those who don’t know Manipur how deeply divided the state is and how hatred and venom are consuming its people at an alarming rate. And it’s harder to describe the pain of coming home to angry protestors who are burning tyres and vehicles and causing panic and fear. Painful still, is, coming home to a reality where normal life is almost suspended with an indefinite economic blockade where an LPG gas cylinder is up for grabs at ₹1000-2000, and a litre of fuel comes for ₹300 or more, if available.

The current unrest began with the recent creation of seven new districts. Given that the state is divided on communal lines, this decision did not go down well with the Nagas, as they stand to lose control of their ancestral lands in two districts: Sadar and Jiribam. People doubt chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s assurance that it was only for administrative convenience. But then, given that there is a perpetual breakdown of law and order even with the earlier nine districts, the intended purpose of administrative efficiency for which the state now has 16 districts is something that’s debatable.

Read | Creation of new districts could be game-changer in Manipur polls

What’s unfolding is an ugly chain reaction of things. The economic blockage was imposed by the United Nagas Council (UNC) to protest to the government’s decision.

In Manipur, economic blockade is nothing new. In 2011, it withstood a blockade that went on for more than 100 days. What really comes across during such economic disruptions are a couple of things about this landlocked state. Most glaring is the state’s utter dependence on other states for sustenance even for basic survival. Despite having fertile land, Manipur depends on other states for items like potatoes, onions and lentils.

The Meiteis responded to the blockade with counter protests. Vehicles that belonged to Nagas were burnt and a place of worship was destroyed. And those enterprising Naga women who sell daily fresh produce in the local markets are conspicuous by their absence. Suddenly, it’s as if that happy co-existence is something alien to the people. It’s almost as if the shadow of an ethnic war is looming large.

Read | Curfew continues in violence-hit Manipur district

Prices may soar but the deeper cut isn’t on the purse strings, it’s on the psyche of the people. It’s a worrying sign for the government that each time it announces a political decision, things should go out of its hands and people resort to take laws by their hands. And Ibobi Singh, who is said to be using his “Naga trump card’ each time his popularity is on the wane, surely needs to act like a leader and not a divider.

It is about time, the state, which is home to more than 33 different ethnic groups, learns to find peaceful solutions. It is about time people celebrate the diversity and learn to live with tolerance and respect. Importantly, it is also about time the Centre keeps a check on who it sends to Manipur, to make sure that the very emissary it sends isn’t just paying a flying visit but doing something constructive for the state.

Hoihnu Hauzel is a journalist

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 20, 2016 14:55 IST