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Updated: May 20, 2010 00:05 IST

Manipur: no exit at the end of the road

M. S. Prabhakara
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Security men fire teargas shells to disperse protesters who were demonstrating against their deployment to check the entry of NSCN (I-M) Secretary General Thuingaleng Muivah into Manipur, at Mao Gate on May 6, 2010. Blockades at Mao Gate imposed by one or the other organisation in Nagaland have become a fact of life.
PTI
Security men fire teargas shells to disperse protesters who were demonstrating against their deployment to check the entry of NSCN (I-M) Secretary General Thuingaleng Muivah into Manipur, at Mao Gate on May 6, 2010. Blockades at Mao Gate imposed by one or the other organisation in Nagaland have become a fact of life.

The Mao Gate confrontation is just one instance of the bind which absolutist ideologies can lock themselves into.

Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor of the English Daily Imphal Free Press, bicycles to his office and everywhere else in Imphal. Sananami Yambem, who recently took voluntary retirement from NABARD, walks. So do many others in Imphal and other places in Manipur who for long had used motorised transport.

These choices have been forced on them. NH-39 is the principal highway from the rest of India into the State. NH-53 (the New Cachar Road) linking Cachar in Assam to Imphal is another lifeline, though it is longer and less preferred. There is yet another point of entry, going all the way into Mizoram and entering Churachandpur district.

The uniqueness of the political geography of the State is that Manipur is at the end of a receiving chain of roads, and on the edge of the periphery of the Indian state. Most essential goods come into Manipur; few goods considered essential by the rest of the country leave it. Blockade of highways leading into and out of Manipur, which has become a routine phenomenon, only hurts the State, not the rest of the country. This is not the case, for instance, with Assam, a well known candidate for such coercive blockades. When there is a blockade in Assam, Delhi has to resolve the real or imagined grievance that led to the blockade. Blockades of Manipur do not inspire such a sense of urgency.

Following the intensification of the ongoing blockade of NH-39 since early April (on an entirely different issue) at Mao Gate on Manipur's northern border with Nagaland by Naga organisations protesting against the Manipur government's resolve to bar the entry of Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M), into the State, and the violence that accompanied it, supplies of essential goods from the rest of India have virtually stopped. Petrol now sells in the so-called black market for about Rs. 200 a litre. So, bicycles that were once the normal mode of transport and indeed defined the State are returning to the roads, though they are sure to disappear when the blockade is lifted.

The blockade is not unique. For the people of Manipur as well as those from outside the State doing business in Manipur, blockades at Mao Gate imposed by one or the other organisation in Nagaland have become a fact of life. Road transporters moving goods into or out of the State have always paid tolls at various points to one or other militant group, self-proclaimed or real. These impediments by their nature were temporary and one could buy relief on the spot.

Things are rather complicated when larger political issues are involved. In the present instance, the NSCN(I-M) general secretary planned to travel to Somdal, his ancestral village in Ukhrul district, whose overwhelmingly Tangkhul Naga population supports the call by the NSCN(I-M) for the “integration of Naga inhabited areas outside Nagaland into a single political unit,” in other words, Nagalim, or greater Nagaland.

Inherent in this demand for an enlarged Naga Land — this form is used to differentiate the putative ‘Nagalim' from the present State of Nagaland — is the disintegration and effacement of the present State of Manipur. In the Naga nationalist imagination whose political programme has not always followed a rigid trajectory, such a formal acknowledgement of the territoriality of Naga nationalist imagination is the first step in the attainment of its final objective, a sovereign and independent Naga Land, Nagalim.

This fundamentally undermines the Manipuri nationalist imagination as articulated by the majority of the people in the Valley. In its more extreme form, this at least in theory requires an acknowledgement of the skulduggery that was inherent in the “manipulated merger” of Manipur in India in October 1949, though such an acknowledgement would not necessarily entail “the restoration of the sovereign and independent status of Manipur.” But this certainly militates against the Naga nationalist imagination whose very ‘reason for existence' is the disintegration of the present political and geographical State of Manipur. A rock and a hard place can well be the metaphor for such contending, and equally fervid, nationalist imaginations that, curiously, are united in their rejection of the broader, and (in their perspective) oppressively inclusive, Indian nationalist imagination.

June 18, the day in 2001 when many parts of Imphal went up in flames and virtually all the “people of Manipur” (a fraught expression that needs to be qualified and defined, which is not always possible given space constraints) rose in revolt against the Government of India's decision to make the annual periodic extension of ceasefire against the NSCN(I-M) applicable “without territorial limits to all Naga-inhabited areas” perhaps saw the first organised expression of the united resolve of the people of the Valley to resist with violence, if necessary, moves to diminish the political and territorial entity of Manipur.

The coming into being of the United Committee of Manipur (UCM) now means no initiative can be taken to resolve the Naga issue without the fullest consultations, not merely with the State government but also ‘civil society' organisations. The emergence of the UCM also challenged the generally accepted view (outside the State and the region) that while the Meitei people inhabited the Imphal Valley, four of the outlying districts (Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel, and Tamenglong) were Naga inhabited while the fifth, Churachandpur, was Kuki inhabited.

The reality is, however, more complex. Whatever may have been the population profile of these districts in historic times or in the wake of the colonial conquest or even at the time of Independence, now it is decidedly a mix of non-Naga ethnic groups, tribal and non-tribal, with the predominant Naga stream itself divided and sub-divided in terms of clans and others. People from one part of the State have moved to settle in other parts of the State, with the result that the once near-absolute correlation between a district and the people who inhabit the district no more obtains.

Even Ukhrul district, viewed as overwhelmingly inhabited by one Naga tribe, the Tangkhul, now has a significant presence of other people, in particular the Kuki. In Senapati district, supposedly inhabited overwhelmingly by the Mao Naga, Kuki people dominate the Sadar sub-division. They also have many political demands for ‘recognition', assertion of territoriality and demarcation of an exclusive political space. Much the same points may be made in respect of Tamenglong and Chandel districts. A further complexity of switching of tribal identities is a marked feature of the identity politics, which is especially marked in Chandel district.

So, Mr. Muivah, for years accustomed to having his way with the government of India, is unlikely to make his way, to Manipur, technically his home State. It was Mr. Muivah, above all, who made territoriality central to the nationalist imagination of the Naga people as sovereignty. Though ever since the beginning of the Naga struggle for freedom these two have been seen as two sides of the same coin, and without the one the other is not complete, it was the NSCN under Mr. Muivah that invested territoriality with its intensity and urgency. This has also made any compromise difficult.

The intensity of the blockade and confrontation at Mao Gate, which even the State government is not taking any initiative to resolve, is just one instance of the bind which absolutist ideologies with an all or nothing mindset can lock themselves into. There is a lesson in this for exclusivist nationalisms of every hue in the region. There is a lesson for exclusivist Manipuri nationalists, too, though by definition they cannot undertake any programme of blockade, which of its nature will be against the well-being of the very people whose cause they espouse.

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Isn't there any other form of democratic protest rather than such extreme steps, blockade of highways. Even though blocking any national highway is illegal by an order of Supreme Court, why govt is too soft on those organizations who indulge in all sort of inhuman activities?

from:  Fuganba
Posted on: Jun 3, 2010 at 10:11 IST

I don't know why we are inhuman toward our own family. Don't we remember tears in our parents',friend's eyes. How can we forget that precious smile which we are ruining this way.
This will gain nothing other than grief and life long pain.
Can't we stop this brutality?

from:  Kumar Ashish
Posted on: Jun 1, 2010 at 23:21 IST

Always using the two National highways leading to Manipur valley as a weapon by the Nagas is senseless, an act of human rights violation. Blocking highways even for a minor issue has been a common phenonmenonr. Valley people are helpless as they have to depend on these two highways where regular extortion, brutality take place.

from:  Naresh
Posted on: May 30, 2010 at 10:47 IST

its givin me a headach thinking bout d present condition here in manipur. petrol n other materials prices have gone skyrocket. pliz lets end it

from:  amar arambam
Posted on: May 29, 2010 at 15:35 IST

It is indeed a neatly compiled article. The issue of road blockades for Manipur has a very serious human rights violation aspect to it. That should directly call those in power, accountable for the present crisis, including significant stakeholders. Moreover, road blocade as an end to express difference between the NSCN(IM) and the state of Manipur is a recurring event. It is unfathomable, how could one think of/ propose "development discourse" when the ground realities are so defeating and defying, triggering a viscious cycle of gradual decay of collective aspiration.

It hurts to see how such gestures of narrowly ascribed nationalist aspirations have incapacitated generation after generation of youth of the region from exploring our true potential in terms of growth, contribution, leadership etc. for those, who would want to participate and express their views and differences, there isnt a way to do so, other than take to arms, be in power (which one isnot if one is not in power), or just stay mum. A whole section of youth is missing from the region, year after year, sent out by well wishing parents, in the name of higher education. it is shocking to even try and imagine the magnitude and impact of such a massive exodus of youths from the heart of a region..to see a region in the context of a marked absence of participation from an entire section of youths.

from:  angshuman phukan
Posted on: May 26, 2010 at 12:59 IST

Road blockage since a month and goods coming to the states are stopped, people in Manipur are suffering every second, Manipur is also a part of India. Why has this brutal incident been kept a secret without it being exposed in the Media. It seems like there is no concern for those people. If we claim to be an Indian then we cannot put off this issue at all. The Central Govt needs to take up a serious step to save the innocent lives and resolve this issue at the earliest.

from:  Monika Hijam
Posted on: May 24, 2010 at 14:38 IST

First of all thank you so much Mr Prabhakara. I wish Rahul Gandhi to visit Manipur at least once and see the condition of Manipur. He should travel the hilly route by bus like normal people, then he will know the problems faced by us. Apart from this, if the media also takes some more interest than before by telecasting the present situation elaborately then it will help a lot. News can reach various parts of the country. Both the state and central government should try to solve the problem so that this type of blockade won't happen again.

from:  Romina
Posted on: May 22, 2010 at 12:48 IST

The blockade in Manipur is the result of discriminatory actions by the State Government in Manipur. The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 2008 has been enacted with the intention to deprive and dis-empower the Hill tribes of their rights to land, resources and governance. Prabhakar should be more comprehensive in his write up. Although, I appreciate his article, more inclusive and comprehensive approach should have serve the journalistic works better.

from:  Zimik
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 18:52 IST

We cannot stop the blood flow to a part of our body.The whole body suffers when a part is affected. Government should immediately find a permanent solution for all the problems of North Eastern States. All the Political parties should cooperate with the ruling party as this is a National issue.

from:  c.c.gopalkrishna
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 17:20 IST

Manipur is best example for (i) Worst Governance (Centre and state are equally responsible), (ii) Worst Law and Order, (iii)Corruption(iv) Ethnic Cleansing (1000s of Kuki, Bihari, Muslim have been killed) (v) Worst Human Rights and so on and on on...! Manipur is a "Cursed State" Families will not have peace and harmony for many years to come unless Manipuris and Nagas give up their arms.

from:  Pradan
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 15:22 IST

A month long blockade of one of our states is very shameful. Soon people will die because of shortage of food and life saving drugs. This has to be resolved as soon as possible.

from:  Sriram
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 12:19 IST

The state government and the central govenrment are not doing enough to make a person live normal life in Manipur. There is not even a mention of Manipur in prime time news in any of these national channels even after the life of every Manipuri is under siege for the last 6 weeks. The ministers are not acting like ministers. The MPs from Manipur are just sitting idle. Do I even care to vote for such a government? India is not about only Naxalites or Moaist or IPL or 3G auctions or 26/11 . India is about Manipur also. Is MANIPUR the forgotten state of India? Does anybody care at all ?

from:  Brojen Nongmaithem
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 11:25 IST

A word of appreciation for M. S. Prabhakara for his opinion on the situation in Manipur. Besides essential goods, Manipur needs more coverage in the national media to alleviate the depressing sense of being marooned and abandoned.

from:  ginger kol
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 07:30 IST

The Nagas inhabiting the four hill districts in Manipur don't want to be part of Manipur state. Why does this bother the Manipur govt?

It's a fact that for so long, the valley people (meiteis) have been misusing all the hill district govt funds & schemes for their own benefits. We don't find any economic development in the tribal hill districts. See the road condition on National Highway 37 for example.

Even at the present situation (when essential commodities is scare in the state) due to blockades, why is that all the supplies are given only to the valley people NOT to the hill people. This clearly indicates their true color.

from:  James
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 03:11 IST

Let us all hold hands and offer a yagna for the resolution of this ill.

from:  Abdullah Gyani
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 02:06 IST

Although obliquely written, the main concept appears to be clear, even though there are no recommendations on how to resolve the impasse. The Naga people apparently do not identify with the State of India. So the questions really are: why is there a self-imposed alienation of the people of Manipur and what is the Government of India going to do to resolve the underlying contradictions?

from:  Samir Mody
Posted on: May 21, 2010 at 00:34 IST

Hope this political impasse will be resolved soon.The central govt. should contemplate on this Manipur issue with more sensitivity and empathy.

from:  Sayak Shome
Posted on: May 20, 2010 at 17:48 IST
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