Saturday, December 24, 2011

Will the N-E transform to India's eastern gateway? An analysis based on 121 days long Manipur blockade

Women's market in Imphal
Blockade... In Wikipedia Blockade is defined as '...an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally'. In the war history, you can saw a enormous number of references for blockades. Well it’s during war... but what about peace time? What about cutting of supplies for a part in a nation which believes 'Unity in diversity'?

It is not that blockades never happened in India, for various reasons people created blockades on road, rail etc. But most of it didn't last long; some went on for hours, another for some days. But the recently concluded 121 days of economic blockade and counter blockade in NH 39 (connecting Manipur with Nagaland - one of the two National Highways linking Manipur to rest of India, the other one is NH 53), wrote one of the black chapters in recent Indian History.

North-East is notorious for its deep rooted tribal rivalries; the situation in Manipur is no way better. The fault lines between Meiteis in the Valley and Tribal’s in the hills, between tribals - Nagas Vs Kukies, in between Nagas etc are causing problems for a normal civilian life in the state. There are around 40 militant organizations in Manipur. Even though not unprecedented (as the there was a 60 day blockade in the past), this blockade crossed the limits of a protest even in its wildest imagination. The first one ran from July 31 to Oct 31 and the counter one started from Aug 21 and ended on Nov 29.

Reason? Kuki tribes want to create a new district called Sadar Hills by splitting Senapati district and Nagas are opposing the division. According to reports Kuki tribal’s lifted their blockade when state government signed an agreement with them favoring their demands and Nagas lifted theirs saying that Indian Home Ministry had assured them that there will not be any split without their consent.

The irony is how both of the agreements are possible at the same time? In fact they postponed scenario to a later date. But how long we can continue the status quo? There is no guarantee that same demands will not be raised again. How long we can suffer the pain it creates on the civilian life and strain in inter-ethnic relations?

At the peak of the blockade petrol price touched 200 INR/Liter in Manipuri black markets, even though the government brought in tankers using the other highway - NH 53 - with paramilitary support. Just imagine what happened across the country when the central government raised the price of petrol by some rupees!!!

It is interesting to note that the parliament was in session from November 22 (second blockade was lifted only in Nov 29) and was wasting its valuable time on accusations and counter accusations - whether the Home Minister is party to the 2G scam? Member's alleged harassment by Prime Minister's security personnel, verbal clash between CPI-M and Trinamool Congress members etc.

Can't the members wait for the court verdict and the reports from two parliament committees (where opposition is also a party) on 2G scam? Regarding to the members alleged harassment issue - can't he give a formal complaint to PM or House Privilege committee? Oh... verbal clashes, can't they argue with reason by taking their own slots instead of forcing the entire house to adjourn?

The issue of blockade is critical to the unity and integrity of India. When two ethnic groups are raising contradictory demands political leadership can handle the situation in a better way. A constructive discussion on Lok Sabha regading this issue may results in an agreement and a mechanism to handle the similar situations in the future. But how much time parliament spent on discussing Manipur blockade?

These types of barricades are shows the vulnerability of poor road links between the states. If we are not able to remove blckade from one of the important entry point for a N-E state, then how we can implement our grand vision to open the north eastern border of India to the trade with ASEAN countries? In order to transform the closed NE border to India's eastern trade gateway we have to do much more home work...

Sajeev.

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