The over-two-month-long economic blockade of Manipur might have ended, as Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), which imposed the blockade, decided to stop it following talks with the Prime Minister. But the damage has already been done. People in Manipur have been hit hard not only by spiralling prices owing to the scarcity of essential goods and the consequent immense hardship the ordinary people had to face, but also by a further deterioration in ethnic relations in the region. The NSF declared it would temporarily lift its siege after the Centre ordered paramilitary forces to clear the roads. And around 20 companies of the CRPF and the BSF have been deployed to clear National Highways 39 and 53 into the state. But that it took so long for the blockade to end suggests the complicated and complex nature of the problem in the Northeast. It also posits the failure of the central and state governments to first control the situation and then intervene much earlier to end the blockade of two national highways to Imphal.
The Meities of Manipur and the Nagas have adopted inflexible positions that make compromise seem difficult. This kind of understanding of the situation is problematic and has been influenced by deliberate ethnisisation of humanitarian issues. The stand-off however was between the Government of Manipur and the Naga groups, not between Meiteis and the Nagas on ethnic or community lines, as one of the parties to the current impasse would want the public to believe. In this backdrop, the lacklustre approach of the central government toward the complex issue in Manipur is in fact due to its failure to understand the ground realities. No one will ever understand the condition of national highways unless one traverses on them. Leaders who rarely or never travel on this route will never understand. The national 39 and 53 highways, which pass through the most treacherous mountain ranges that receive highest amount of rainfall and are prone to frequent landslides and landslips, are the lifelines of Manipur. Apart from nature fury, the more virulent problem is the dirty politicking on the national highways played by the fringe organisation with tacit support of the NSCN (IM), which keep the people of Manipur at ransom by resorting to frequent economic blockades, bandhs, illegal tax collection in the name of donation and so on. The people of Manipur have suffered a lot; there must be a limit to tolerance. It is high time the GoI and State Government addressed the grievances of the people. But it was quite shocking and abhorring to note that not only the central government but also the national media turned a blind eye to the plight of lakhs of people, who had to suffer due to this blockade. However government’s apathy is not difficult to understand, as there is only two seats available for Manipur in Lok Sabha, which explains everything. No matter, how many people starving and killing each other in Manipur, the central government says all is well. The government doesn’t care, so does media, which is quite deplorable.