Since November 1, 2016, that is for nearly two and half months, the people of Manipur are facing the consequences of an economic blockade that has been imposed on them.
There is complete disruption of normal life. Both the National Highways that connect Manipur and its capital Imphal to the rest of India have been blocked off. The international trade via Myanmar has come to a virtual halt. Thousands of trucks carrying essential commodities are stuck at different places on the highways.
The cost of petrol has risen to Rs. 250 a liter. Essential medicines as well as other basic requirements of the people are all in extremely short supply. The people of the Imphal valley have faced the brunt of the blockade.
The call for the blockade has been given by the United Naga Council which is supported by the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM).
The NSCN (IM) has been waging a long standing struggle for self-determination for the Naga people. As part of this struggle, it has also been negotiating with successive governments at the center to achieve its aims. Just last year, Prime Minister Modi announced that the talks had resulted in a ‘historic’ resolution of the conflict. However till now, what actually is the content of this agreement has not been revealed publicly.
In this background, the immediate reason advanced by the United National Council for the current blockade of the Imphal valley is the decision of the government of Manipur to create seven new districts, including one with a Kuki majority by redrawing the present boundaries of the hill districts of Manipur. The United Naga Council has accused the Manipur state government of doing this unilaterally without consulting the Hill councils.
The Hill Councils have been created to allegedly protect the rights of the hill people. Under Article 371(C) of Constitution, these Hill Councils are to be consulted on all matters relating to the people living in the hill areas. The United Naga Council has condemned the state government for trying to attack the rights of the Naga people who constitute the majority of people living in the hills of Manipur by dividing the existing districts. It has accused the Manipur government of violating various agreements between central and state governments on the one hand and the Nagas on the other, regarding decisions affecting Naga majority areas.
The Chief Minister of Manipur has openly accused the central government of backing the present blockade and not taking any concrete steps to end it. Various political parties in the Imphal Valley have launched a counter blockade of the hill districts, with the tacit support of the state government. Vehicles going from Imphal to the hill districts have been torched.
In the name of maintaining “law and order”, the Central government has deployed over 150 companies of para military forces all over Manipur. Imphal is under curfew. This is in addition to the already heavy deployment of the army and paramilitary forces all over the state justified under the name of “counter-insurgency operations”.
In these conditions, the Election Commission has announced that elections to the Manipur Assembly will be held in two phases on February 4 and February 8.
Reacting to this announcement, the United Naga Council has announced that it will continue the blockade of the Imphal valley. It has declared that elections cannot be held peacefully in the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur until the prevailing problems are resolved.
The situation in Manipur is a tinder box about to explode.
What is the trouble and who is the trouble maker in Manipur?
The propaganda machinery of the Central government keeps repeating that the problem in Manipur is the creation of various groups of insurgents and separatists with affiliation to different ethnic groups. According to this story line, the people of Manipur are bitterly divided on ethnic lines as Meities, Nagas, Kukis and so on and it is the army and paramilitary forces deployed in the state that has ensured that they do not slaughter each other.
This is nothing but a monstrous lie.
The truth is the people of Manipur, irrespective of their ethnic or tribal affiliation, have lived together peacefully over the centuries. Together they constitute the nation of Manipur which has evolved over the centuries with its own history, culture and language.
The people of Manipur waged ceaseless struggles against the British colonialists along with the rest of the Indian people for independence. However, following the declaration of Indian independence in 1947, the new rulers of India carried out a treacherous attack on the people of Manipur. After arresting the Maharajah of Manipur, the Central government forced him to sign on papers declaring the merger of Manipur with the Indian union. Manipur was thus forcible annexed into the Indian Union in October 1949, on the eve of the declaration of India as a Republic. The Manipuri people have never forgotten this. They have continued their struggle for sovereignty.
The Naga people never agreed to be part of the Indian State. Their struggle for self-determination has raged right from 1947 till now.
The Indian state has pursued a typically colonial and imperialist policy towards the Manipuris, Nagas as well as the peoples of other North Eastern states. On the one hand, it never tires of claiming that these people are part of the Indian Union. On the other hand, it has waged a no holds barred war against these people, through the army and paramilitary forces. Under the fascist Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958), the Army has untrammeled powers to rape and murder the people, and no questions can be asked. Tens of thousands of innocent people have been murdered by the armed forces over the years. Life is a living hell for the people.
The Manipuris, Nagas, and other peoples of the region have refused to give up their struggle for human, democratic and national rights. They have waged a powerful struggle for the repeal of the fascist AFSPA which has enjoyed ever growing support amongst the people of other parts of the Indian Union. Under these conditions, the Indian state has combined state terror with other diabolical weapons.
In order to smash the unity of the peoples of Manipur and the Nagas which is being forged in the common struggle in defense of rights against the Indian State, the intelligence agencies of the state have set up, financed and armed numerous militant groups in the region. Such armed groups carry out senseless acts of violence, with the aim of discrediting the just struggle of the people for their rights. They provide justification for continued Army rule and the AFSPA.
Alongside of Army rule and the operation of its undercover agencies, the central government carries on the charade of organizing periodic elections. Through this, some sections who hope to benefit from the present conditions have been coopted into the political process. They become MLA’s and ministers. They inflame sectarian passions amongst the people and work systematically to smash the unity of the people.
The Central Government also tries to split the different national movements in the North East by carrying on separate negotiations with this or that group. Through these negotiations, it carries out its policy of divide and rule.
The negotiations of the Central government with the NSCN IM have this aim. The announcement of the State government of Manipur to create new districts from the existing hill districts all has this aim. The fear amongst the people of Manipur that the center would come to agreement with the NSCN(IM) to divide up the state of Manipur, has been manipulated by various political groups in Manipur, including ruling and opposition parliamentary parties, to whip up hysteria amongst the people. Thus the Meitei-Naga divide has been deliberately sharpened.
The problem in Manipur and the whole of the North East is the forcible denial of the human, democratic and national rights of the people by the Indian state.
The blockade and counter blockade do not contribute to the solution of the problem. It is the people of Manipur, both the valley people and the hill people, who are suffering as a result. The Central government is enjoying this situation of anarchy and strife.
The communists and progressive forces of Manipur face a big challenge. They have to explain to the people that no problem can be solved by reposing faith in the Indian state. No solution to the problems of state terrorism and the problem of national rights of the people of Manipur can be found within the present Indian Union. This can be seen in the fact that despite massive opposition to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, this fascist act has not been repealed. Now the central government is using not only the bogey of fighting insurgency movements in Manipur as justification for army rule; it is saying that army and AFSPA are necessary to prevent ethnic clashes in the state.
The situation in Manipur once again raises the question of reconstitution of the Indian Union, as a voluntary union of consenting nations and peoples. The people of Manipur, Nagas, Meiteis and others, are all oppressed by the same state. In unity with working class and all other exploited of the rest of India, the people of the oppressed nations have to fight for replacing the present Indian Union with a new state which will guarantee human, democratic and national rights of all.