Manipur’s first BJP chief minister, N Biren Singh, who was sworn in last week has already earned a feather in his cap by persuading the pro-NSCN(IM), Manipur-based United Naga Council to lift its 139-day economic blockade (the longest so far) of the state’s two vital lifelines the 214-km Dimapur-Kohima-Imphal highway and the 219-km Silchar-Imphal Road.
The chief minister is also proud that he was able to achieve this before the Prime Minister’s electoral commitment of clearing the two highways within five days of the installation of a BJP government. The chief minister was left with little choice but to end the blockade as Manipur High Court in its 7 March ruling had declared it illegal and observed, “The persons/organisations responsible for the blockade of the national highways, have violated the fundamental rights of the citizens to satisfy their own political wishes at the cost of the miseries of the people, and it is not in the interest of the state”.
The end of the blockade was due anyway because before the assembly elections there was some sort of understanding and BJP-Naga bonhomie was all too clear. Not for nothing was the venue for the tripartite talks, involving the Union home minister and state government officials, the Naga-majority Senapati district headquarters (46 km from Imphal) which happens to be the NSCN(IM)’s stronghold in Manipur and where the people lent support for Greater Nagaland. The UNC’s two top leaders, who were under judicial custody since December, were freed.
Before the election the Centre showed little interest in helping out the outgoing Congress government. It could have at least approached the NSCN(IM) leadership to interfere but it conveniently steered clear for fear of jeopardising the ongoing Naga peace talks. The Union home ministry sent 4,000 para-military personnel and when Ibobi could not break the blockade he was blamed.
The BJP leaders could not have been unaware that such an exercise in the past had never worked. Now the big question is, will the 139-day blockbuster be the last one? People who resort to blockades must ask themselves whether starving citizens to achieve their aspirations is ethical. The ordeals of the people of Imphal valley are likely to become unbearable once the cry for greater Nagaland gains stridency. There has to be an end to the no-holds-barred intimidation of the travelling public and truck drivers keeping in mind that the Dimapur-Imphal-Moreh road is part of the Asian highway, vital for the success of the now renamed Act East Policy. The Centre must involve itself.