Manipur: Stuck between a blockade and demonetisation

The PM Modi-led BJP government in the Centre and the Okram Ibobi-led Congress government in Manipur seem to be blaming each other for the blockade with an eye on the Assembly election due in early 2017.

Manipur: Stuck between a blockade and demonetisation

Be it Naga. Be it Meitei. Be it Kuki. Be it Meitei Pangal. If one group or a community blocked the throat of another, it is certain that the other community or group, which has been suffering, will react. The December 19 incident, in which 22 vehicles were vandalised and torched was “unfortunate”, but it was an exact and obvious response the United Naga Council expected. It had, by then, blockaded the lifeline highways to the Imphal Valley for more than 48 days.

At this time of turmoil, when UNC-led Naga bodies imposed the indefinite blockades, bringing the state to its knees, it’s no wonder that, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government in the Centre and Okram Ibobi-led Congress government in the state have been playing the blame-game over the blockade with an eye on the Assembly election due in early 2017.

The UNC imposed the economic blockade on Imphal-Dimapur NH-2 (the old NH-39) and the Imphal-Jiribam NH 37, which are the lifelines for landlocked Manipur,since November 1. The blockade was again customised to a total shutdown from November 25, after the arrests of UNC president Gaidon Kamei and information secretary Stephen Lamkang.

There have been many untoward incidents reported in the valley and hill areas after CM Okram Ibobi announced seven new districts and the arrests of the two UNC leaders. Many vehicles have been attacked, torched; places of worship attacked, gutted; three Manipur Police personnel were killed in two different ambushes; nearly 70 NSCN terrorists attacked an Indian Reserve Battalion post. The slow cascade down.

In an apparent attack against the BJP government in the Centre, the Ibobi government of the Congress blamed the UNC for the communal tension in the state, calling it the “mouthpiece and front organisation of the NSCN-IM’’, the terror outfit based in Nagaland, with which the PM Modi had signed a peace accord in 2015. The NSCN(IM) has also been demanding the formation of Nagalim (a proposed independent country for the Naga people), which includes four Manipur districts. CM Ibobi has recently written to Central government to reign in NSCN(IM) as the Centre is in talks with them.

Even after 57 days, Okram Ibobi Singh, who is heading the Congress government in Manipur, seems not to have taken any concrete step to end the blockade. Blockade and counter-blockade have caused immense hardship to both hill and valley residents. On December 21, Ibobi alleged that Centre was “not intervening and taking action in time’’ to help restore order in the state. He also said the Centre should prevail on the UNC to call off the economic blockade, according to a report in The Indian Express.

For his failure to resolve the blockade, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had lambasted the Chief Minister asking him to “discharge the constitutional obligations with utmost promptness”. After watching 52 days of blockade and the violence that broke out, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju on Friday visited Manipur as a Central emissary. Saying that law and order is a state subject, Rijiju said, “The state government has not been able to end the blockade. It must end as soon as possible as law and order is the responsibility of the state government. Nobody will be allowed to take political advantage out of a humanitarian crisis where common people are suffering.”

Demonetisation and Mobile Internet Ban

With the state facing a shortage of essential commodities due to the blockade, PM Modi’s demonetisation turned out to be a knock-out punch on the people of Manipur. Queues less than 1 km long cannot be seen in any part of the state. Apart from the queues in front of petrol pumps, banks and ATMs, long queues were visible in front of grocery stores, to buy a few kilos of essential commodities.

While PM Modi urges people to go cashless post-demonetisation, the state government has suspended mobile internet services, citing rumours on online networking sites, which can increase tension among people. But this move of the state government seems to have added fuel to irate residents, who have been facing a cash crunch.

“The internet ban has added more salt to the wounds of the people. While PM Modi is planning to go everything digital and encouraging cashless transaction, Ibobi government’s move contradicts it,” said Maheshwar Gurumayum, owner of an Imphal-based web designing site, eManipur.

“Government could ask the service provider to block the access of social networking sites and apps from their end using methods like IP blocking, DNS tampering, and URL blocking using a proxy, if they think rumours are circulating in social networking site,” he added.

Radhakanta Sharma, a resident, said: “Digital payments have also been affected due to ban on mobile internet. As I don’t get One Time Password (OTP), I am unable to complete any transaction using my debit card.”

“As Imphal is not a developed city like Delhi or Mumbai, there are few ATMs. After standing in a long queue for around 2 hours, I got Rs 2000 from an ATM,” said Radhakanta. “I bought some household items for Rs 1,755. When I tried to pay by card as cash is hard to get these days, the shopkeeper told me that his swipe machine is not working due to internet ban. So, I had to use cash that I just got from the ATM.”

Patience is the only virtue the Hills and the Valley have. But that can also run out in these interesting times.