Many years ago, Benedict Anderson, a thinker of nationalism, described a simple model of the state in the developing world. The state, he said, was like an electric bulb with a lampshade hanging from a ceiling. The space close to the bulb was filled with intense light. The farther one moved from the lamp, the darker it became. State authority in most decolonized countries fades away from the centre.
It may irk many that we think India could fit that description. After all, such examples are from Africa, South America and other forlorn corners of the world. India, with its big army and its gigantic economy, can hardly be such a place. But 65 days of a private blockade of Manipur, an Indian state lest anyone forget it, calls for a rethink of this comforting reality. It was a private blockade, instigated by the leader of an insurgent group, Thuingaleng Muivah, who does not hold an Indian passport and could not visit his native village in Ukhrul district of Manipur in April.
Soon enough, Naga “student” organizations blocked NH39 and NH53 that connect Imphal and Dimapur (in Nagaland) and Imphal and Silchar, respectively. Inflation took a new meaning in Manipur. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders became unavailable or had to be purchased in the black market for Rs1,500-1,800. Petrol prices shot up to Rs200 per litre. These prices are reminiscent of a country after a war or one that has been through a bout of disastrous economic ideas.
Yet, in these 65 days, the Union government did nothing but engage in some tepid “intervention” between the two parties in conflict, the Manipur government and the Naga organizations. Clearly, the place was too far removed from the bulb to matter. On Monday, Union home secretary G.K. Pillai finally said that Central security forces would move in to take control of the two highways. What prevented the Union government from taking these steps earlier?
The answer is that for all practical purposes, the people of far-off states, especially those in the North-East, are politically unimportant. The result is that their suffering does not count. It requires little imagination to understand the effects of LPG cylinders being sold at Rs1,800 in New Delhi and Mumbai.
This is not how the Union government should imagine these states. They are a strategically vital part of the country. Abutting China and Myanmar, they require special attention and care if only to prevent alienation of citizens there.
Is Manipur an ignored state? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org