Manipur Blockade is the result of security failure
It is said that true character is revealed in times of crisis. Indians, especially Manipuris, were faced with several revelations in the past 65 days of the Manipur Blockade. The apathy of the Congress-led Central Government towards the plight of the people of Manipur was on naked display. Suffering severe shortages of essential commodities and steep prices because of the economic blockade of National Highways 39 and 53 by Naga organizations, the Manipuris were left to their own fate. The Delhi-based “national” media have ignored the Manipur Blockade for as long as a month or so, until some passionate activism by concerned citizens on the Internet, especially Twitter, shamed them into coming up with a report or two now and then.
Delhi’s apathy towards the sufferings of the Manipuris is only one side of the problem. The main contributing factor to the Manipur Blockade was security failure. From a security perspective, there are two sets of causes for the Manipur Blockade: long term and short term.
From a long term perspective: the failure to end the Naga insurgency led by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) and the failure to ameliorate the ethnic conflict in the Northeast rank first. Admittedly, these problems are very complex. No other country probably has ethnic conflict of such complexity in an area with such ethnic diversity and rapid social change as Northeast India. However, one cannot escape the feeling that the Central government has not been proactive enough in dealing these problems effectively.
Even after a ceasefire agreeement with Naga rebels in 1997 and more than 60 rounds of talks, Naga insurgent activities only continue to rise. There seems to be no realization that endless negotiations and peace talks with armed groups only emboldens them and provides time to rearm and regroup. The presence of armed insurgent groups is always a threat to transport infrastructure and other lines of communication. Only a few weeks ago, the bombing of a railway track by Maoists in West Bengal resulting in the derailing of the Jnaneshwari Express and the killing of over 150 people.
The elections to the autonomous district councils, and the Manipur state government’s refusal to allow Thuingaleng Muivah, chief of Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM, to enter Manipur to visit his ancestral home, the two main grouses of the Naga organizations behind the blockade, are only short term causes. The negligent and irresponsible response of the Manipur state government and the Central government to the blockade contributed no less.
The main problem with the Manipur Blockade was not that a bunch of thugs could blockade two national highways and bring an entire state to a standstill. The main problem was that the ‘blockaders’ have not been arrested or shot down the very afternoon the blockade began in order to force lift the blockade.
The most immediate response to a bunch of thugs blockading an important transport route must be to send a police force of suitable size, suitably armed, to disperse the blockaders, take control of the highway and restore traffic. But then, in light of the lax attitude to security that has become internalized in our political culture and administrative system, it’s no aberration that the Central government has promised to send central security forces to Manipur to force lift the blockade over two months after it was imposed.
Why did not the Central government wake up to the Manipur Blockade in April itself when it was becoming clear that the blockade was working to make daily life increasingly difficult? Has the Congress-Communist state government in Manipur sent police forces to disperse the blockaders and guard the highway? Has the Congress-Communist state government in Manipur sent a request to the Central government to send central police forces or the Army in order to force lift the blockade? If it did, when, and what has been the response of the Central government? Why did it take over two months for the Central government to decide to send central security forces to force lift the blockade when even emergency supplies like life saving drugs were fast running out?
Was it only sheer negligence on part of the Central government and the Delhi based so called “national media” that it took so long to understand and react to the situation in Manipur? Why has the same intellectual community and media that was vociferous in opposing the economic blockade imposed on Kashmir Valley by the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti in 2008, not displayed the same enthusiasm over the Manipur Blockade?