It would appear that Manipur enjoys a legacy of never running out of dull moments, as much because — as not many in mainland India would know — today’s is the third straight generation that continues to live in the shadow of the gun.If there is a bomb blast today, tomorrow will find the police/commandos/security personnel battling/chasing rebels, with cause or without, and there will be fake encounters as well. Here people disappear without a trace and armed security personnel patrolling the streets 24x7 have become tourist attractions. Recently, a friend boasted that Meiteis had the capacity to fight and win a battle barehanded, obviously referring to how adept they were in martial arts. While Manipur journalists refer to troubled areas as conflict zones, the residents of Imphal valley have proved time and again their resilience against odds, having endured the harsh reality of 101 days of economic blockade of the national highways. Moreover, for the first time the Centre has created history by airlifting essential supplies within the country itself without a natural disaster being the cause!
As this is written, Manipur is boiling again. Since 29 January, the women of Tengnoupal village (Chandel district bordering Myanmar) have stopped vehicular traffic along the vital 110-km Imphal-Moreh Road (National Highway 102), demanding the shifting of the 24 Assam Rifles’ camps in the village. They carried placards reading “Go back 24 Assam Rifles, no friend of the hill people” and “Transfer 24 AR, we are not terrorists”. The trouble reportedly started after some villagers, including a pregnant woman and a paralysed patient, on their way to Imphal for treatment, were stopped by 24 AR personnel at the Sitalamkhai checkpost and made to walk for at least two kilometres. Between 6 pm and 6 am, the highway is strictly a “No Go” area.
They have a point. Why deploy the Assam Rifles to check the movement of vehicles (for illicit goods) when the job rightfully belongs to the local police and Customs? Under the Army’s command, the Assam Rifles is inducted specifically to control rebel activities.
Different organisations have already backed the agitation. On 4 February, the United Committee Manipur observed a 12-hour strike and the Joint Action Committee has threatened to impose a bandh in all of Chandel district. The importance of the DimapurImphal-Moreh road lies in the fact that under the Look East Policy it will be the Trans-Asian Highway that will link with others in Southeast Asian countries. If India is to boost trade through Moreh, legalised in 1995, the Narendra Modi government must be seen to be capable of acting fast on what is happening in that remote part of the country. The two sore points are blockades and rampant extortion.
The political crisis in Nagaland simmering since last month after 22 members of the ruling Naga People’s Front rebelled against chief minister TR Zeliang and refused to budge, ended in an exciting trial of strength in the assembly on 5 February. In what can be described as a hopeful turn of events, the entire house, with the exception of the speaker, voted for Zeliang.That included the ruling party’s own 37, one each of the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland partners like the JD(U) and the Nationalist Congress Party, one from the BJP and eight each among Independents and the Opposition Congress.
If Zeliang was not confident of winning he would not have recommended that the governor summon an assembly session for a trial of strength. During the impasse, legislators belonging to both sides were reportedly confined to luxury hotels with bills running into crores of rupees. Though the dissidents had realised early enough that they were on a sticky wicket, their leader argued that the main objective was not to break the government but to seek a change in the leadership. Zeliang’s winning the confidence vote means he will almost certainly complete the rest of his five-year term — he had taken over in May last year from Neiphiu Rio after the latter fought and won the Lok Sabha election. Well, he may have won the battle but to win peace he may have to keep his pack in good humour.