WITH the March 19 tripartite talk in Senapati district headquarters resulting in the Government of Manipur’s representatives agreeing to consult all stakeholders as part of the fresh process to redress grievances of the United Naga Council (UNC) in the aftermath of the previous Congress regime creating seven new districts, it would be premature to construe at this juncture that the record-breaking economic blockade has ended for good. The Senapati pact centring on holding consultation with the stakeholders concerned will technically mean revision of the entire process that ultimately led to the formation of new districts and for what reason the previous government ignored the four memorandums of understanding it had signed with some Naga organisations, including the UNC, which implied that all stakeholders should be taken into confidence prior to finalising any official process for realignment of existing districts or creating new ones. In-spite of the state government officials acknowledging UNC’s sentiment for reviewing the decision to carve out new districts, the commitment for holistic revision and consulting the parties in dispute is bound to give the new government, chief minister N Biren in particular, some sleepless nights as this very issue was one of the factors for the sub-par performance of the Congress party in the just-concluded state assembly elections. From a formidable political entity that had wrested 42 seats out of 60 in the 2012 assembly polls, the Congress party failed to reach the requisite figure to retain power when results of the 2017 elections, the tightest of all electoral battles in Manipur, were declared.
The latest election, which was bitterly contested between the Congress and the BJP, on the issues of creation of new districts and imposition of economic blockade on the two lifelines of Manipur, culminated with the then ruling Congress party winning 28 seats while BJP, which could not even open its account in the last polls, wrested 21 seats and subsequently formed the coalition government, comprising four other political parties, a Congress defector, and one each TMC and independent MLA. Though the Congress managed to fare fairly well in assembly segments which fall under the newly created districts, it faced roadblocks from foraying into Naga dominated areas as was evident from the ruling party’s inability to organise any large election meeting or rally. The anti-Congress current was so intense in Naga areas in the run-up to the elections that some Congress candidates, who were fielded for assembly constituencies in the hill districts, held their election meetings and flag-hoisting ceremonies at private residences located in Imphal areas. On account of the downfall of the Congress party after three consecutive terms in office, the BJP despite holding the rein of power will not have the luxury to revel any longer over their hard-fought victory but instead will need to chalk up an effective mechanism that would be acceptable to the UNC as well as those civil society organisations which are likely to pose serious challenge to social harmony in case the new government rolls back its predecessor’s decision to create the new districts. The N Biren government cannot ignore the fact that the UNC’s record-breaking siege on the two national highways for over four months was preceded by a similar protracted stir by the then Sadar Hills Districthood Demand Committee to demand district status to Sadar Hills, which the then Congress government fulfilled by declaring Kangpokpi as one of the seven new districts.