Politics

Manipur Civil Society Delegation Meets Rajnath Singh to Seek End to Economic Blockade

The United Naga Council had called the blockade, ongoing since November 1, in protest against the state government’s decision to carve out two new districts.

Manipur chief minister Ibobi Singh with union home minister Rajnath Singh. Credit: Twitter

Manipur chief minister Ibobi Singh with union home minister Rajnath Singh. Credit: Twitter

New Delhi: Joint Forum for Peace, a civil society organisation comprising 64 outfits representing various ethnic groups living in Manipur, met home minister Rajnath Singh today to urge the Centre to help end the economic blockade in the state that has been on since November 1.

The blockade has led to a scarcity of essential commodities, affecting normal life across the state for over two months now.

The 17-member team comprising representatives of organisations like United Committee-Manipur, Kuki Inpi-Manipur, All Manipur United Clubs Organisation, All Manipur Muslim Coordinating Committee, Committee of Civil Societies-Kangleipak, Kabuli Mothers’ Association and All Manipur Tribal Students Union, met Singh at his office “for an hour” and submitted a memorandum “to appeal to him to do something that is tangible to the people of the state that the Centre is really willing to end their miseries caused by the 78-day-long economic blockade called by the United Naga Council(UNC).”

“We also apprised him of two things. One, that people across the state have a feeling that the Centre is not doing enough in this regard. Two, that if the situation continues like this, it can turn into a bloody ethnic fight, like one saw in 1992-93, where many innocent people lost their lives,” said Elangbam Johnson, the spokesperson of the peace forum.

Addressing a press meet at the Manipur Information Centre, Johnson said, “The minister said he is well aware of the issue but whatever he said was nothing different from what he said earlier. But the people of the state are tired of this political game playing between the Centre and the state. In the process, the fundamental right to life given to the people of the state by the constitution is being affected.”

The civil society delegation  with home minister Rajnath Singh. By special arrangement

The civil society delegation with home minister Rajnath Singh. By special arrangement

The delegation also accused “the union ministers visiting the state singing the same tune.”

“In the run-up to the assembly elections (slated for March 4 and 8), many union ministers are visiting but when it comes to the economic blockade, they have only one standard answer to the people – maintaining law and order is under the state jurisdiction. This is happening even after the Supreme Court, and the Manipur and the Gauhati high courts have said in response to PILs against economic blockades in the state that the Manipur and central governments should take necessary measures to end them,” pointed out Johnson.

He said, “A litre of petrol costs between Rs 150 and 300, that too after standing in over a kilometer in queue. There is scarcity of cooking gas and other essential items. Anything that happens in Kashmir is noted by the government and the media but not when it comes to Manipur. In 2011, an economic blockade went on for 120 days, in 2010, it was for 53 days, and now for 78 days and counting. The same organisation [UNC] has been calling these blockade. We think it is the democratic right of every organisation to oppose a decision of the government but that doesn’t mean it can take away the rights of the public who has no role to play in it.”

The UNC had called the blockade in protest against the state government’s recent decision to carve out two new districts of Jiribam and Sadar Hills (Kangpokpi). With the UNC continuing the blockade, the state police arrested its president Gaidon Kamei and publicity secretary Sanhui Stephen on November 25. They have been in jail since.

“The demand for districts in Jiribam and the SADAR Hills is nothing new, agitation has been going on since 1972. Many times the government has promised it and this time it relented,” said T.N. Haokip, president of Kuki Inpi and the member of the delegation.

“A section of people started a counter blockade too, stopping goods and vehicles from going to the Naga districts of the state. It turned violent on December 18 where over 20 vehicles were burnt. Recently, unidentified gunmen shot dead a driver of a goods truck and injured two other people while they were proceeding towards Imphal on the national highway 2 with the help of central forces which were sent to the state to break the blockade. We told the minister that sending more central forces is not the answer but bringing the UNC representatives to the table is. The Centre must do it as soon as possible and by all means,” said a member of the team.

On January 18, Singh held a meeting with the Manipur and Nagaland chief ministers to find a solution to the problem. Singh reportedly urged Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang to intervene in the matter.

As per home ministry officials, the Centre has called for tripartite talks with the Manipur government and the UNC on December 15. However, it was not attended by the Manipur government.