The blockade of Manipur by Naga political forces making the demand for “Nagalim” is threatening to take the two sides towards a showdown the region can well do without. The demand for Greater Nagaland has been the cause of much tension, involving as it does Naga claims on territory in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam. But the case of Manipur is unique. Nagaland controls access to the national highway that is Manipur's main link with the rest of India. Led by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), the Nagas have long exploited this geographical advantage to press the claim over four districts in Metei-majority Manipur through the politics of blockade. The present siege began on April 11 with the Manipur government's decision to hold Autonomous District Council elections, including in districts claimed by the Nagas. Given the confrontationist mood, it was strange that the central government gave permission to NSCN (I-M) leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his ancestral village in Manipur's Ukhrul district, without consulting the Ibobi government. Criminal cases are pending against Mr. Muivah in Manipur and New Delhi's instruction to the State government to provide security for the visit showed it had not thought this through. A similar unilateral decision declaring an extension of the ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) to the four contentious districts in Manipur led to the 'Great Uprising' of June 18, 2001. Predictably, Manipur thwarted Mr. Muivah's journey with the use of force, leading to the death of two Naga students and the heightening of tensions.

The lack of urgency shown by New Delhi in the matter is beyond comprehension. The blockade has crippled life in the State, creating shortages of essentials, from fuel to medicines and food items. But efforts to end it are not apparent. The people of Manipur would be justified in asking if their State's location — at the farthest end of India — has played any role in shaping New Delhi's apathy. A blockade there does not affect the rest of the country. The central government cannot afford to let the present situation drift any longer without a resolution. Manipur is already one of the most troubled parts of the North-East on account of several insurgencies. New Delhi must act to dispel the impression that it is appeasing Mr. Muivah and Naga sentiments at the cost of other ethnic groups in the region. Just as there can be no question of conceding the NSCN (I-M)'s claim of “full sovereignty,” the demand for Nagalim, which carries destabilising implications for the region, must be ruled out of court.

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