MANIPUR BLOCKADE AND ASSOCIATED CONCERNS
There has been an ongoing crisis in Manipur which has taken a communal colour owing to its multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. An indefinite blockade along Imphal-Dimapur road and Imphal- Silchar road has been imposed by United Naga Council (UNC), an apex body of Naga civil society organizations in Manipur state.
Now, UNC is ready to discuss the matter with the government and the blockade may end in the near future. The blockade has resulted in severe shortage of items in the state.
Central government too has sent its paramilitary troops to the state to ensure safety and stability in the region.
Why Manipur has been reeling under the crisis?
- Son of the soil' doctrine which causes multiple traditional communities to claim themselves as natural heirs of their homelands and such claims often overlap over each other's causing social rifts and even violence.
- Occupational conflict of interests of various communities especially between those which practice settled agriculture in plains vis-à- vis hunters, gatherers and shifting cultivators who live in dense forests high up on the hills.
- Flawed governmental approach of ad-hocism and incrementalism doesn't help the cause either and only provides more legitimacy to groups advocating for violent means, sidelining the moderates.
- Civil Society too has not played its due role as a mediator between insurgent groups and the government.
- Colonial legacy of British administration which divided lands into revenue-earning valleys and non-revenue earning hills. Thus, hills were largely left unadministered under the British political agent whereas valley was brought under modern administration. Even today, hills continue to be governed as per customary laws and principle of eminent domain may or may not apply on the hills.
- Nagas do not want Kukis and Meitis to have separate district status for Sadar hills and Jiribam sub-divisions. This is because they consider these groups as outsiders and not original occupants of the region.
Why UNC imposed an indefinite blockade?
It was imposed after the Manipuri government passed "three anti tribal bills" in August 2015 leading to violent protests in which some of the protestors lost their lives.
Besides, UNC (representing Nagas in Manipur), did not want Manipuri government to divide Nagalim into districts without their consent. But the government went on to create 7 new districts by dividing the existing ones effectively adding fire to the conflict..
What is the significance of this move?
- As per Manipuri government, creation of new districts would provide better administration and equitable development to regions which were located far from the capital, Imphal.
- It may lead to further ethnic confrontations between different tribal groups owing to fears of falling of some of the Naga populated villages into the Meitei dominated area, thereby weakening the demand of greater Nagalim.
- Now, even the Kukis and Meitis have been granted separate district status by the government.
- It also shows the political will of the government to move ahead despite the imposition of indefinite blockade by the UNC.
- At the same time, Nagas feel disenchanted with the passing of such decisions without the consent of Hill Area Committees.
- Last year, 3 "anti-tribal bills" had been passed by the state government which had risen serious ethnic tensions disturbing the delicate ethnic balance within the state.
A diverse country like India can ill-afford such arguments which are based upon ethnicity attached to territories as it causes serious conflicts and economic loss to the public exchequer. Besides, it keeps the regions trapped in self-defeating movements like economic blockades and riots which do not bode well for the Indian Society.
Regionalism, be it in Maharashtra, Karnataka, or even in North East cannot help the cause of India's socio-economic development.
Government too, on its part, needs to be well-prepared for such exigencies in the future, both in terms of security forces and its policies with respect to such movements. It would be wise for the government to adopt an accommodative approach and involve both the state governments and the individual groups to derive a consensus-based solution to the issue.
It is a long-term issue carrying severe security implications which needs to be dealt with requisite sincerity and political will and cannot be handled in a "status-quoist" and "firefighting" mode.
Ever since the Manipuri government had passed "three anti-tribal bills" in 2015, there has been unrest in the border state. An indefinite blockade has engulfed the state indefinitely and the crisis has been made worse by the recent decision of the state government to divide the existing districts to form seven new districts. The ethnically diverse state seems to be divided over the issue of "Son of the Soil doctrine" versus administrative convenience. What is given priority over the other will determine the peace of the region.
- Critically analyse the government's approach of handling the Manipuri crisis in context of government's aim to ensure peace within the North East India. Suggest an approach that you think will be suitable for the purpose.
- Are economic blockades announced by individual political groups in order to achieve their political aims justified in the context of Indian Polity. Justify your opinion for the same.
- India's North East seems to be reeling under ethnic conflicts which threaten the social fabric of these regions. How far the "son of the soil doctrine" is a threat to India's social construct? Comment with suitable examples.
Institute for defense studies and analysis (IDSA):"The Creation of New Districts in Manipur: Administrative Necessity versus Naga Territorial Aspirations"
Livemint: "Manipur's old patterns of violence reignited"
The Hindu: "Chronicle of a conflict foretold"