Manipur: Christmas to remain sombre as economic blockade enters 53rd day

Caught between an economic blockade, protests and violence that entered 53rd day on Friday and a cash crunch caused by demonetisation, normal life remains paralysed in Manipur as the state faces shortages and escalating costs of essential supplies such as food and fuel. And it's likely to continue even on Christmas eve despite the central government's intervention.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Ministry of State — Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju had arrived in Manipur for a day-long on Friday to review the situation. However, the minister made no reference whether or not the economic blocakde will end anytime soon.

It was expected that Rijiju who had a meeting with Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in Imphal might reach out to Naga groups to ease the tension in the landlocked state.

A four-day economic blockade was called on 1 November by the United Naga Council as a mark of protest against the state government's decision to form seven new districts in Manipur. However, it has emerged into an indefinite strike as naga groups continue to oppose the move.

The state has a history of ethnic tension between the Meitei Hindus (in the valley) and Naga tribes (living in the hills) mostly Christians with the latter calling for the formation of a greater Nagaland. The state government's decision to form the seven new districts is being seen as a threat to the idea of Nagalim.

 Manipur: Christmas to remain sombre as economic blockade enters 53rd day

Angry Manipuris in Imphal East district set vehicles on fire in protest against the United Naga Council (UNC)'s indefinite economic blockade on 18 December. PTI

All vehicular movements have stopped on the National Highway-2 since the blockade was announced with the state facing shortages and escalating costs of essential supplies such as fuel and food. There have also been reports of violence.

Following the blockade, as Firstpost reported on 18 December, at least 22 cars, buses and other vehicles were torched in some places in Manipur's Imphal East district on Sunday by angry residents protesting against the Naga economic blockade and several incidents of militancy targeting security forces.

"This is a humanitarian crisis. We want that the Manipur government end the blockade as early as possible. Whatever assistance from the central government is required, we will give," Rijiju said on Friday, maintaining a stand similar to that of Union Minister Rajnath Singh, who had rapped the state government for failing to fulfil its "constitutional duty".

On Thursday, Singh sent a letter to Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and asked him to “discharge the constitutional obligations with utmost promptness” as “maintaining law and order and essential supplies is the State’s responsibility", The Hindu reported.

Earlier, boxing champion Mary Kom had written to the central government urging it to intervene and find a way to end the blockade.

However, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh has accused the National Socialist Council of Nagaland — Isak-Muviah (NSCN-IM) with which BJP had entered into a peace agreement in 2015, for the ongoing tension. He had also slammed the central government for failing to rein in the Naga insurgent group.

"Some groups are not happy with our decision to form seven new districts. You know who those people are: it is UNC which is the mouthpiece of the NSCN (IM). They oppose it thus they started the indefinite blockade," Singh told India Today.

According to News18, around 70 heavily armed men suspected to be from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) attacked seven posts of the Indian Reserve Battalion and snatched 20 weapons from the security personnel in Noney district of Imphal on 17 December.

According to local newspaper, The Sangai Express, curfew was imposed on the state following the incident. It has been relaxed in Imphal East district between 4 am to 9 pm since Friday, but curfew remains effective in other parts of the state.

Though, the days following the incident have been calmer, Rijiju may find it tough finding an immediate solution, as according to NDTV, the Naga Students Federation has announced its decision to impose a "total blockade" on all Imphal-bound vehicles, including passenger and goods carriers.

Updated Date: Dec 23, 2016 13:56:40 IST