It is good that the United Progressive Alliance government has finally woken up to the suffering of the people of Manipur brought on by the 65-day economic blockade of the State by Naga political groups. The decision to send a convoy under armed escort to Manipur came after Naga student groups in Manipur refused to withdraw the blockade of National Highway 39 even after Nagaland-based groups lifted their siege on the State's crucial road link to the rest of the country. The latter were protesting Imphal's refusal to allow Thuingaleng Muivah, the leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M), to travel to his ancestral village in Manipur. The Manipur-based Naga groups, on the other hand, are protesting the Ibobi government's decision to hold elections to the Autonomous District Councils, which they fear will erode autonomy for Naga tribes living in the hill districts of the State. The two sets of protests were provoked by different events but both are linked to the demand for Nagalim, a “greater Naga land” that will include territory from adjoining States, including Manipur. With each passing day, it became clearer that the central government's failure to end the blockade, and the attendant shortages and rise in the prices of essential commodities, including medicines, was a dereliction of constitutional and humanitarian duty. The first hopeful sign came when Nagaland student leaders met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. The government is still trying to persuade the Manipur-based Naga groups to withdraw their siege, failing which trucks escorted by paramilitary personnel will take supplies to Manipur. That the Centre had to cite in support of its decision a recent Guwahati High Court order asking it and the Manipur and Nagaland governments to clear the highway speaks volumes about the complexity of the situation.
The Meities of Manipur and the Nagas have adopted inflexible positions that make compromise seem difficult. While the Nagalim demand is totally unacceptable, Manipur's decision to hold the ADC elections, after a controversial amendment to the relevant law affecting the authority of the elected councils, exposed an exclusivist ethnic approach to politics and governance. Deplorable as the Naga blockade is, the Manipur government's decision to bar Mr. Muivah from visiting his village in the State has caused problems for the central government, which has been in peace talks with the separatist leader for more than a decade. While there are no easy answers, what the situation cries out for is a responsible and coherent policy approach that places the interests of ordinary people at the centre of decision-making.