Now that Manipur has a BJP-led state government for the first time following decades of Congress rule, expectations are high. Here are some ideas for the new BJP government on how to re-energise the people of Manipur and transform the state.
- It was in Manipur that the National Flag was hoisted for the first time on Indian soil, by the Indian National Army on 14 April, 1944, and the place was Moirang, 45 km from Imphal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must visit the INA Museum at Moirang on 14 April this year and hoist the flag. This would bring pride to our citizens and make the rest of India aware of a little-known fact.
At a short distance from the museum is Loktak Lake (area 236 sq kms), the largest freshwater lake in the Indian sub-continent. Modi's visit there could do more to promote tourism than any advertising campaign ever could.
- Broker peace between the Nagas and Manipuris. Every time they fight, the Nagas block the Dimapur-Kohima-Imphal road, also known as Manipur's lifeline, which leaves the state crippled by shortages and prices skyrocket.
While talking peace, the government can also reduce the impact of the economic blockade in two ways. One, allow the import of daily use items from Myanmar at the border town of Moreh against payment in Indian rupees. Two, send daily use items by ship from Kolkata to Rangoon, from where it is sent to Moreh by road and then all over Manipur.
- Make Manipur India's gateway to Myanmar. This can be done through regular flights from Imphal to Bagan and Mandalay. Rejuvenation of the Asian Highway project, direct flights from Imphal to Gaya, bus and taxi services between Imphal and Bagan are other ways it can be achieved in.
Indians going to Myanmar through Moreh can be allowed a 15-day visa on arrival in Myanmar. Also, instead of having to go to Myanmar via Bangkok, Indians can go via Imphal. Similarly, Buddhist devotees from Myanmar can reach Imphal by bus/air and take a direct flight to Gaya. To promote goodwill between the two countries, the government should give every devotee returning to Myanmar a cycle. This would make travel cheaper and faster.
It's important to have restaurants serving Gujarati and Punjabi food in Bagan and Mandalay, because both communities travel extensively and are high spenders. Imphal had such restaurants when I visited the city in 2014.
- New Delhi must begin to see Myanmar's market as an extension of India's and permit free trade at the Moreh border provided it does not become a conduit for Chinese products like motor cycles and air-conditioners to enter the Indian market.
Sources state that trade through banking channels stands at about Rs 1,000 crores, while unofficial trade is approximately Rs 4,000 crores where payment is through hawala or barter. If payment for trade of daily use and specified items is permitted in Indian rupees or Burmese kyat, it would increase the volume of trade and kill the hawala market.
- A development package and special attention to make Moreh an economic hub. Because of bad roads between Moreh and Imphal, imports have fallen. Business has now shifted to the Mizoram-Myanmar border. Roads are to be repaired and widened, while a proper immigration facility, 24 x 7 internet connectivity (banking stops due to connectivity problems), and development of a water and drainage system are also important.
- Rejuvenation of the Asian Highway project will promote legal export of Indian products that are in demand (bicycles and motor-cycles).
- Promote tourism. The Sangai Festival, held from 21 to 30 November every year, showcases Manipuri culture and music like none other. Design special package tours for those interested in Word War II history. The Azad Hind Fauj marched till Imphal. Allied forces fought the Japanese and won the Battle of Kohima.
From Kolkata, Imphal is only a hour and a half away; air-fares are reasonable. One can get a good double-room for Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 a night. People are friendly and helpful. In short, Manipur is affordable and convenient.
- Polo was founded in Manipur. The government should organise polo tournaments on an international scale where teams from all over the world take part.
- Lift the ban on sale of liquor. This will reduce influx of spurious products and generate revenue for the exchequer.
- Sensitise the police force. Manipur police is among the most corrupt in India.
- Develop infrastructure, especially education and health facilities in tribal-dominated hill districts. Vivekanand Kendra and Ramakrishna Mission should be incentivised to open schools since they have the experience of running over 40 schools in tribal-dominated Arunachal Pradesh.
- Reduce corruption by bringing in transparency in government dealings and contracts. Use technology to improve the quality of service.
- Imphal is India's boxing capital, and the home of Olympian Mary Kom. Government and private institutes can enroll hundreds of students. If marketed properly, students from other parts of India can come to Manipur and learn how to box.
- Let reputed yoga institutions open training centres in Imphal. Given the insatiable demand for yoga teachers worldwide, it can be a huge employment generator.
- Manipuri culture is rich in music and dance. The government's tourism department must organise Manipur festivals in other parts of India and abroad. When people see the richness of Manipuri culture, they will appreciate it and be better able to relate to it.
- Improve infrastructure, especially roads, power supply and ensure that projects are completed on time.
When I visited Manipur, I found it to be a beautiful state with lovely people. They deserve the best support that we can offer.
The author is an independent columnist and founder of www.esamskriti.com. He tweets @sanjeev1927
Updated Date: Mar 16, 2017 15:37 PM