Manipur flounders through blockades

Iboyaima Laithangbam *

A damaged vehicle and bandh supporters checking a passenger bus at Sardar Hills on August 01 2011
A damaged vehicle and bandh supporters checking a passenger bus at Sardar Hills on August 01 2011 - Pix: Sangai Express

The two national highways which are the lifelines had been degenerated to the playgrounds of various groups by imposing protracted economic blockades, general strikes or more ridiculously, local obstructions while some meetings were being held. As the highways meander through the mountains such blockades have been very successful.

Besides the hamstrung government has been a silent spectator. The Supreme court ruled that blockades along the national highways are illegal. However the state government has miserably failed to enforce law.

But then Manipur has different laws contradictory to the established laws of the land. For instance, in all civilized states a driver who violates the parking restrictions is fined. In Manipur the befuddled police and VDF personnel push down the two wheelers and deflate the tyres of the cars if found parked in these zones earmarked by them.

In a sense the weeklong economic blockade is somewhat understandable and tolerable although it can never be justified in view of the Supreme court ruling and the fact that the people are hit below the belt. The stonewalling government had turned a deaf ear to the vociferous demand for the Sadar Hills district and it has backed out of the commitment. Despite its numerous assurances for a full fledged Sadar Hills district the movers and shakers are stalling for time by sidelining the protagonists.

The similar demand by Jiribam is also reasonable and worth considering. It was a grave political mistake and world class joke that the Imphal East district is separated from the Jiribam sub-division by a distance of 222 km which is considerable in the mountainous region fraught with bridle paths. There is administrative bottleneck since documents and petty criminals have to be brought all the way here.

In case of the ranking officials on duty, hardcore militants and hardened criminals they have to board the shuttle flights between Imphal and Silchar and the tax payers have to foot the prohibitive bills. Due to lack of proper administration foreigners have swamped the indigenous people at Jiribam and in the foreseeable future any politician of Bangladeshi extraction will get elected. There is no club or organisation there which can prevent such a person from contesting the elections.

There had been instances of blocking the national highways for trifle issues like deplorable telephone services, erractic power supply and other puerile issues. The scheming traders are making best use of the recurring blockades. It is a stunning blow to the people since the state is limping back to normality from the multiple landslips along the national highways due to rains. Today one kg of potato is sold at Rs 18 whereas it is available at Rs 4 at an overpopulated metroplis like Kolkata or Rs 6 in New Delhi. The government has not checked it and the hapless and floundering consumers have the Hobson's choice in paying the exorbitant prices.

The government which had shirked responsibility and accountablity long time back remains deaf to the public outcry. In a democracy the opposition should have pulled up the non-peforming lame duck administration. But the opposition is gagged, blindfolded and cubbyholed. In a small place like Manipur the people do not have to delve much deeper to know the reasons for this public disgrace and political blunder.

It is for the government and the protagonists for the district demand committees to hammer out an agreement or part ways since there is no eyeball to eyeball contact. But the people should not be made the punching kit. It will be a wrong strategy and misconception if it is assumed that by targeting or involving the people the issues would be redressed soon.

In the past such moves had backfired. The smouldering wrath of the people who have to spend their hard earned money because of the protracted blockade will be counter productive and this may be one of the killer blows the government may be looking for.

Since the directives of the Supreme court cannot be implemented here the state government ought to do something to skirt this contempt angle and utter disregard of law and at the same time to redress the grievances of the people. The state government had approached the centre for setting up a highway protection force. It had several unpluggable flaws.

The proposed force would operate only in Manipur since Nagaland will object. Because the numerous check points from Khuzuma to Dimapur-Golaghat are the hens that lay golden eggs for several powerful elements. Understandably the then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had brushed it aside saying that Manipur should deploy its forces since law and order is a state subject. But assuming that the people are fools the government went on harping whenever there were blockades.

Just a handful of state troopers are used to shotgun ride the long cavalcade of trucks and buses along the two national highways. There had been appalling complaints against some central troopers since they had allegedly refused to lift a finger. There is an untenable excuse for shortage of personnel.

However if the troopers and the VDF men deployed in the Imphal town are withdrawn and used in escorting the vehicles the problem will be solved. There is no sense in degenerating Imphal to a garrison town since all that could have been done is to ask the IMC not to issue licences for parking lots in the main thoroughfares.

It will be a sorry commentary on the SPF Ministry if the two highways, Imphal-Mao (109 km) and Imphal-Jiribam (222 km) cannot be policed. Now blackmarketings of all sorts will burgeon due to the unbridled hoardings stemming from the blockade.

The ball is in the court of the goverment. The people in other districts are not interested in the demands for the creation of new districts. They are more interested in the uninterrupted lifting of consumer items and checking price hike if there is a government that delivers goods to the people.

In the past there had been instances of the government providing a protective ring to the blood suckers instead of sending them behind bars. Will history be repeated this time ?

* Iboyaima Laithangbam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition) The journalist can be reached at impreport(at)rediffmail(dot)com
This article was posted on August 02, 2011.

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