Research Associate, ISAS
In the last two months, one of the important issues which has preoccupied Northeast India is the economic blockade on two of Manipur’s national highways in the Sadar Hills area. This has caused immense hardship to the people of the state. The problem arose because two groups of Hill People, the Nagas and Kukis are claiming proprietorship over the area. The Kukis, have for decades demanded that there be a creation of a separate revenue district for Sadar Hills , where they are the majority, although historically the land belongs to the Nagas.
In pursuit of the objective, since 1 Aug 2011, the Sadar Hills District-hood Demand Committee (SHDDC) has been imposing an economic blockade on highways NH 39 and NH 53. At the same time, the United Naga Council (UNC) has imposed a similar blockade denouncing the state government’s alleged attempt to bifurcate Naga-dominated areas to create new districts in Manipur. As a result of this, supplies to Manipur have been restricted and oil prices have skyrocketed. Outside of Manipur the oil prices are about 60-70 Rupees per litre, whereas in Manipur, it can reach up to 120- 130 Rupees. During my stay in Manipur, it was common to find long lines of vehicles queuing up for oil throughout the night.
What’s alarming is that the blockade has been allowed to carry on for such a long time without intervention from the State or Central Government. This is despite the fact that causes of the conflict traces back to policies of the Central Government and the State Government. It is likely that both governments are trying to find a solution which is not biased towards any community. However, some negotiation and resolution must be undertaken to restore economic normalcy to the region, as all parties are suffering due to the blockade.
It is a worrying trend that problems in the Northeast are not given sufficient attention in mainstream political circles, media and academia. For example, while Anna Hazare’s series of fasts have captured the attention of India and the world, Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for the past 11 years to demand that the Government repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which she blames for violence in Manipur and other parts of Northeast India, is hardly known outside of Manipur. Northeast States should be granted more political representation and media attention to bridge the cultural, economic and political alienation they feel from the rest of India.
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