This time the blockaders have gone a step ahead by burning two truck loads of life-saving drugs which is unheard of even during full scale wars. It is strange that New Delhi sees no reason to intervene even as the so called Indian citizens of Manipur are enduring the severest hardship in the entire history of this ancient nation, now turned into a buffer state of the Indian Union. While New Delhi’s prolonged silence remains incomprehensible, we are at pain to note the poignancy of the protracted blockade and the resulting humanitarian crisis. Whereas the State Government is seemingly helpless to do anything on the vexed issue of Sadar Hills district, it appears the blockaders are also equally confused when and how they can proudly discard the highly offensive strategy of highway blockade without achieving anything substantial in return for all the hard labour put in by their supporters. In fact the blockaders themselves have been trapped intractably in their own strategy. This is the tragedy we all are suffering together with no sign of relief in sight. It’s just like champions of the blockades know the way in but not the way out. While taking recourse to the offensive strategy of protracted highway blockade, the blockade champions completely overlooked the concept of strategic retreat and its crucial importance in long drawn battles like the Sadar Hills district demand. As the term implies, strategic retreat is not defeat. Perhaps, we are wrong if this is the final battle for the coveted trophy of Sadar Hills district. Even if this is the final battle, everybody would agree the battle has been dragging on for too long, and after more than two months the battle is still caught in stalemate. Call it collateral or deliberate, people’s suffering has already crossed the limits. Thanks to the twin blockade. Many people have been deprived of their daily basic necessities, and a sizeable section of our impoverished mass are on the verge of starvation with cost of living suddenly leapfrogging beyond the reach of tens of thousands of families. With the blockades continuing uninterrupted in another record breaking run, Sadar Hills district is no longer the prime issue. Once again, highway blockades and the resulting miseries have taken the centre-stage. There is a strong possibility that division among the people based on who support Sadar Hills district and who do not, would be replaced by a new circumstantial division between who want food and who support highway blockade. We believe such division would be decisive in breaking the stalemate and relieve our people who are suffering yet another worst non-military crisis.
As for the Government of Manipur, it is as good as dead. Whatever it is saying are all rigmarole, devoid of any sense or logic. But then, what can one expect from a bunch of illiterate gun wielding politicians ? Still we pity them in the present situation for they are caught between the proverbial devil and the deep sea. Misery of the mass, helplessness of the Government and confusion among blockade champions have blended so perfectly to make the situation so poignant which none can miss.
Policy of non-intervention
Whereas the State Government, the general public as well as the blockade sponsors (both demanding Sadar Hills district and those opposing the same demand) have been looking up to New Delhi to bring out a panacea from its magic hat, New Delhi is so far following a policy of non-intervention except for Home Minister P Chidambaram’s lip service in the form of a mere appeal to lift the blockades. Nevertheless New Delhi’s lackadaisical attitude or rather non-response to the prolonged blockade left an indelible impression on the general perception of the Indo-Manipur relations. By following a policy of non-intervention, New Delhi has unwittingly exposed the skeleton of the Indo-Manipur relations behind the facade of enchanting and impressive rhetoric of Manipur being an integral part of India and its people ‘equal citizens’ of India. Juxtaposing the strategy of highway blockade which has become something chronic today and New Delhi’s policy of non-intervention, it is crucial to make a comprehensive study by drawing a line of reference to the controversial Merger Agreement of 1949. The relationship between the two political entities of India and Manipur forged by the Merger Agreement needs a re-visit in the backdrop of New Delhi’s failure to respond to the prolonged blockade for a long time, which was also the case last year too. It is a shameful reality that the post-Merger history of Manipur is largely a narrative of political subjugation and economic deprivation. Manipur was a proud, sovereign nation when it was merged with the Indian Union but 60 years after the controversial merger, Manipur has been turned into a sort of captive market. In terms of geopolitics, Manipur has been rendered a buffer state against the not so friendly eastern neighbours of India. Economically, Manipur has been reduced to some sort of a parasite, unable to live without the mercy of host India. With all its indigenous economic institutions uprooted and destroyed systematically over the last 60 years, Manipur is now compelled to beg for funds, aids and grants from New Delhi to operate some semblance of economy. By and by, a concept of dependency (on India) was ingrained in the minds of Manipuri people, and India attained overlordship over Manipur. In this way, Imphal-Silchar highway (which is a misnomer given the existing condition) and Imphal-Dimapur highway were made our so called lifelines.
Manipur’s dependency on India can be measured by the degree of misery our people endure when these so called lifelines are blocked. At the moment, opening highways is paramount but for posterity, we need to think beyond highways and blockades. We need to pool together our political wits and mental strength to free ourselves from the quagmire of dependency. Just as long as this dependency persists, the very soul of the distinctive Manipuri nation will fade into oblivion, and ultimately Manipur will go down the history as one of the lost civilizations. We do agree that no nation can be fully self-reliant in the modern world. Inter-dependence is an indispensable phenomenon of the modern economic dynamics. At the same time, no nation can survive and prosper without some productive bases of their own. Sadly, this is exactly what is missing in present day Manipur. Without a productive base of its own, one can hardly expect Manipur to make any progressive stride. We are of the firm opinion that Manipur can be self-reliant at least in agriculture sector, and this can serve as a launching pad for other economic sectors of which Manipur has enough potential. An intensive green revolution and socio-political awakening is long overdue in the backdrop of the decaying politico-economic landscape of Manipur. Fight dependency has been the implicit distress call of the past and present humanitarian crises which the State underwent/undergoes because of prolonged highway blockades.
The Indo-Manipur relation as it exists today can best be described within the concept of neo-colonialism. The Indo-Manipur relation operates on the line of an ‘imperial power-colony’ matrix. In the so called democratic political set up of India, Manipur finds no place except as a buffer zone or a neo-colony. The assumption that Manipur constitutes a buffer state or more precisely a neo-colony of India is hardened by New Delhi’s insidious policy of keeping Manipur remote as far as possible. The limited and unreliable connectivity Manipur has with the rest of India and the world through NH-2 (erstwhile NH 39) barring air service is enough for movement of Indian armed forces. New Delhi does not care economic security of Manipur. That is why, New Delhi could not see any reason to open up and develop viable alternative routes to Manipur. The indication is glaringly clear. The existing road(s) can serve the purpose for movement of troops. There is no urgency to develop other routes nor any need to intervene in the serious humanitarian crisis unfolding in the buffer state called Manipur. This is the implicit message behind New Delhi’s policy of non-intervention. When Manipur suffers, no Indian citizen suffer; and for this very reason, Manipuris should stop looking up to New Delhi but struggle for themselves.
Now that the unreliability of New Delhi has been proven time and again, the onus of resolving all outstanding issues lies with the indigenous communities themselves. None of the stake-holders, be it the State Government, or the blockade sponsors or the general public can force New Delhi to intervene in the present crisis if New Delhi does not wish to. Perhaps, New Delhi has too many greater pressing issues to divert any attention to the highway blockades and the resultant humanitarian crisis. Instead of pitying ourselves and blame each other, let’s us be more accommodative and open to each other. Let’s think outside the box. We should solve all our problems within ourselves. Even if New Delhi volunteers to intervene, any kind peace or solution brokered by New Delhi would not be lasting nor satisfactory to all communities. There must be a solution, and definitely blockades cannot be a solution. The situation demands collective discussion and dialogue at people to people level on the fears, insecurities and aspirations of each and every community of Manipur. For this, individuals must first learn to think beyond their own respective communities, and shed tribal mentality towards ethno-exclusive domains.
This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, October 9, 2011