Translating assurances into action
THE new BJP-headed coalition government has on Sunday finally managed to end the record-breaking economic blockade, which the United Naga Council (UNC) had imposed since November 1, 2016 to protest decision of the then Congress government to create seven new districts. Though it seems to be the joint efforts of Central and state governments as well as change in attitude by the UNC leaders towards the new government that resulted in the latter eventually acknowledging hardships caused to the common people, chief minister Nongthombam Biren deserves to be credited for lifting the siege on two national highways in Manipur sector. Though many central party leaders of the BJP, in the run-up to the just concluded 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly elections, assured that the economic blockade will be lifted if the party was voted to power, there should be no doubt that the spadework was done by chief minister Biren as was evident when he announced that ending the highway stir will be top priority for the BJP-led new coalition government in addition to initiating the dialogue process when he personally called on the titular king of Manipur Leishemba Sanajaoba to urge for using his position and good office to convince leaders of Naga civil societies for holding talks to find an amicable solution to the blockade issue. That the dialogue process, involving representatives of Central and state governments and the agitating United Naga Council which was held on Sunday in Senapati district headquarters days ahead of the earlier schedule on March 25 also testify that the N Biren-government is determined to translate into action assurances made during the election campaign.
Without an iota of doubt, the blockade had caused serious fissures in the multi-ethnic society as the highway stir was seen by many as targeting the valley areas. Though the valley pockets, the twin capital districts in particular, have been home to different communities the fact that Imphal remains the administrative hub seems to be the main reason why the UNC ignored repeated pleas by the governments, civil society organisations and even church leaders to lift the highway siege and continued to disrupt transportation of essential commodities through the two lifelines of the land-locked state. That the blockade, imposed since November 1, 2016, has been one of the core issues which has been plaguing Manipur could be assumed from the fact that the past four months of the UNC agitation had witnessed unknown armed persons slaying security personnel in ambushes along the Imphal-Moreh road, disarming state forces in a Tamenglong district area, torching of goods carriers and civilians suffering injuries in crackdown by security forces against blockade enforcers to name a few. The blockade issue was also raked up by politicians to draw public sympathy in the run up to assembly elections. It may be noted that none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had accused the Congress government of destroying the 'Switzerland of India' and depriving the state of development for years during one of his election campaigns, along with declaring that what Congress could not do in its 15 years of rule the BJP will deliver justice to the people in 15 months when BJP comes to power in Manipur. Joining the Congress bashing other BJP leaders had also asserted that the blockade would be lifted within 48 hours of the BJP forming the government in Manipur. The agreement that seems to have ended the highway siege was centred on the understanding that the Government of Manipur will start consultation with all stakeholders to redress grievances arising out of the ‘state government not-adhering to the four memoranda of understanding and the assurance by the Central government on the matter’ (creation of new districts). Taking into account that creation of the new districts is a sensitive issue and the fact that there is no guarantee on whether or not the consultation process will have the approval of the parties in dispute, only time will tell if the lifting of the blockade will be a temporary relief for the people of Manipur.