Back to square one
RATHER than shouldering the responsibility and put in collective efforts to end the protracted economic blockade so that inconveniences being endured by the people of Manipur are eased, the siege laid on the two lifelines of Manipur seem to be the right ingredient for leaders of rival political organisations, particularly the ruling Congress and the BJP, to outdo each other in trading charges in the run up to the ensuing state assembly election. Even since the United Naga Council (UNC) imposed the blockade on November 1 last, there has been ceaseless bickering among Congress and BJP leaders, with the apparent aim to shift the blame on one another over failure to end the highway stalemate. The mud-slinging has been so intense that it has, literally, overtaken the frequency of escorting empty trucks or bringing in the loaded vehicles from Jiribam side under security arrangement. The latest bout of squabbling over who should accountable be accountable for hardships besetting the state masses resurfaced on Sunday when Union human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar minced no words in claiming that the Congress government led by chief minister Okram Ibobi is not keen to solve the economic blockade. Contrary to the state government’s insistence that ending the highway impasse is dependent on what steps the Centre take, on the ground that the latter is involved in peace talks with the armed NSCN-IM and that the UNC is acting at the behest of the rebel group, the Union minister conceded Centre’s helplessness on the matter by stating that the law and order is a state issue and as such the Union government cannot intervene.
In addition to imposition of the economic blockade causing shortage of essential goods and the agitation taking an ugly turn when volunteers enforcing counter-blockade activities torched some passenger carriers and goods belonging to the travellers, which the agitators claimed was in retaliation for defying restrictions imposed on all vehicular movement, the national highway stir has been transformed into a political issue if one takes note of the fact that leaders of both Congress and BJP are giving more emphasis on rhetoric. While there are no more counter-blockade activities after the Khurai flare-up, there has been no respite from unwanted incidents taking place during the on-going blockade till date. Starting from the crackdown by security forces that left 11 agitators injured in Senapati town on January 3 followed by allegations of Assam Rifles personnel assaulting ANSAM volunteers who stopped and checked vehicles to verify whether the loads are meant for the central forces and abortive bid by unknown persons to torch office cum residence of Tamenglong district’s deputy commissioner in between January 9 and 10 to the most recent case of unknown gunmen slaying one and hurting three others near Khumji village in Tamenglong, the stir continues to be bereft of any sincere and concerted efforts by the governments with the exception of some civil society organisations trying to bring the parties in dispute to the negotiating table. Even more lamentable aspect of the protracted agitation was Prakash Javadekar accusing the state government of confining the additional central forces in their barracks instead of using them to sanitise both the national highways in Manipur sector. As Congress leaders are likely to react sharply against the HRD minister’s contention, it could be safely assumed that the blockade issue will linger, at-least till the votes are cast and next government has been formed.