Naga blockade of Manipur – the reasons and effects

Naga organizations working in Manipur have called for a blockade for an indefinite period with the aim to halt all the cars and vehicles plying on the state and national highways that fall in the areas of Manipur that are dominated by them. The blockade is being organised in order to protest the death of a couple of protesters during last week. The United Naga Council has proclaimed that it shall not allow any vehicular traffic on the two national highways that connect Imphal, the capital of Manipur, to the remainder of India.

On August 30 at Ukhrul, which lies almost 85 km from Imphal, police opened fire on the protesters and two of them died in that firing. 10 others were also injured in the firing. This is why United Naga Council (UNC hereafter), which is the leading political body of Nagas, has imposed the blockade. Recently Section 144 had been imposed in the district, whereby it was forbidden to have an assembly of more than 3 people.

However, the protesters, including the deceased, had opted to defy that and taken out a rally with the demand that the Indian Government come up with a suitable solution for the problems between Nagas and Indians. They were also protesting against the supposed bias being shown against the ethnic Nagas by the state government in Manipur. Over the years the Nagas living in Manipur have asked for a separate administrative facility within Manipur but the state government led by Congress has been opposed to it. This has led to problems between the state and the Nagas living here. Incidentally Ukhrul is a district with a majority Naga population. The blockade has also been called in other districts of Manipur like Senapati, Chandel and Tamenglong. These are Naga majority areas as well and are also inhabited by members of the Kuki tribe.

Security curbs imposed

Section 144 had been levied in the district after Ngalangjar Malui, a well known member of the Autonomous District Council of Ukhrul, had been killed. At that time it had been suspected Naga militants, who almost have a free hand in Ukhrul town, were responsible for the killing. 8 suspects had also been put behind bars for the same reason. The said rally had been taken out by a number of hill organisations inclusive of the UNC.

The UNC has further claimed that the firing, where the India Reserve Battalion jawans participated as well, was done in an indiscriminate way and stated that the protesters were without weapons. The police have meanwhile claimed that it only used rubber bullets and tear gas at the start so as to drive away the demonstrators but they had to start firing when they heard gunshots thus indicating that the protesters may have turned violent. Rajnath Singh, the Union Home Minister, had meanwhile had a meeting with the Chief Minister of Manipur and asked him to take steps necessary to make sure that roads in Manipur are not blocked as a result of the agitation.

The state government, too, has been taking some steps to improve security along the two national highways, which happen to be the lifeline for Manipur, a landlocked state. M Okendro, the spokesman of Manipur Government, as well as the Education Minister, had stated that security convoy would be deployed in the two national highways – Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar and Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati. It is through these roads that everyday essential supplies are brought from 6 am to 6 pm in Manipur. Okendro had also stated that road opening parties made up of various security officials would be posted in different areas of the two national highways.

Basis supplies hampered

Thanks to the blockade, however, the supply of basic commodities has been affected badly as trucks that carry such supplies to Imphal have been stopped by the Naga groups. The situation is especially dire in areas that have been affected directly by the shutdown. Meanwhile, in Imphal people have been gathering important commodities by themselves.

Majority of the petrol pumps have been shut down and ones that have managed to stay open have been seeing long queues. Thanks to the shortage the pumps have been forced to provide fuel worth INR 700 to each customer and not more. In Guwahati, bus drivers have stated that services to Imphal have been suspended as of now. The situation is the same in Imphal where the ticket booking counters for travel to other areas of India have remained closed. This implies that the security measures have not been sufficient enough and more effective steps need to be taken by the government.

The prices of essential commodities such as onions and potatoes have also been soaring like anything. The traders have been requested by several social bodies in the state such as the All Manipur Students Union to not increase the prices. Hundreds of vehicles that include trucks with essential goods and buses filled with passengers have been stranded at Mao, which falls in the border between Manipur and Nagaland.