For more than 3 months since August 1, two National Highways in Manipur, NH 39 and NH 53, have been under blockade. While organisations of the Kuki people launched the blockade to demand the creation of a separate Sadar Hills district within the present Senapati district, the United Naga Council in Manipur established its own blockade to oppose this demand. The blockade has been continued by the UNC alone after the state government announced on November 1 that a separate Sadar Hills district would be formed at some indeterminate date.
Since the blocked highways, which connect Imphal with Guwahati and Silchar, constitute the lifelines of the Manipur economy, the impact on prices and supplies in Manipur has been devastating. Petrol has been selling for more than Rs 170 per litre, and cooking gas for Rs 2000 per cylinder. Various commodities coming from outside the state, including life-saving medicines and medical equipment, have been in critically short supply.
People in Manipur are very clear that the responsibility for this situation lies entirely with the Government, and primarily the Central government. The demands of the different peoples within this region to govern themselves and enjoy greater political rights are of very long standing, and are very well known to the government. Neglecting the political aspirations of the people, refusing to listen to their demands with any seriousness, is the hallmark of the policy of the Central government towards this region. For instance, the government has persistently refused to heed the common demand of the people of this region for removal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act. A few years ago, the people of Manipur conducted a powerful agitation lasting several months to demand its removal. But the Central government persistently ignored their demand. Then after several months it announced the formation of a committee to consider it. And finally, a couple of years later, it completely refused to accept the demand.
At the same time, the Central government has always pursued a policy of divide and rule in this part of the country, which has a multiplicity of different nations, nationalities and tribal peoples living in it. The Centre sometimes openly or tacitly encourages the demand of one group of people which it knows will be resented by another group. It then later revokes its commitment under the pretext that it will be opposed by the other group. Its aim is to foster tension and animosity among different groups, so that they do not get together and fight their common oppressor.
The common oppressor of all the peoples of Manipur and the North East is the central state, which is controlled by exploiting classes headed by the monopoly capitalist houses. The condition that is common to all the peoples of this region is extreme economic backwardness, very high unemployment, and denial of even basic human rights, political rights and national rights. In the name of protecting the “unity and integrity of India”, or of defending India’s border region, the Centre has no hesitation to deploy huge numbers of army and paramilitary forces and impose emergency laws in the region, and carry out all kinds of draconian measures. But when the people of the region suffer severe hardship, as the people of Manipur have been doing these last few months, the Centre adopts a hands-off attitude and is quite content to let the situation fester and get worse. The Central Government has not even taken steps to protect the National Highways and the transportation of essential articles. It is acting as if the suffering of the people in Manipur is of no concern to the country as a whole. .It is no wonder that the people of this region believe that they are being ruled like a colony from New Delhi.
Denial of national and political rights is built into the very structure of the present-day Indian Union. Within this Indian Union, certain nations and nationalities, particularly in the north-east region, have historically been the targets of extreme national oppression. This deep-seated historical problem must be resolved.
The various parties and organisations of the people of Manipur need to come together and talk directly to each other, to build their political unity. They should not look to the Centre, or to the state governments that do the bidding of the Centre, to act as “honest broker” or to give any of them real justice.
Reconstituting the Indian Union as a voluntary union based on full recognition of and harmonisation of the rights and interests of all the different nations, nationalities and tribal peoples, is an important part of the agenda of the working class of this country. The path to resolve the longstanding problems of the people of Manipur and other peoples in the North East lies in joining hands with the working class to bring about the democratic renewal or Navnirman of the Indian state and society on new foundations, with a new Constitution.