Manipur has just entered the third month of a blockade of its two major highways. The hardship this has imposed on its residents is hard to imagine, even if it has made news in recent days. The blockade—its reasons and its effects—has important lessons for the Union government.
Since 1 August, the state has witnessed blockade and counter-blockade by Kuki and Naga groups. Kukis—a group that is geographically interspersed with other communities in Manipur’s ethnic patchwork—have demanded a Kuki majority district in the Sadar Hills region of the state’s Senapati district. Senapati has a numerical preponderance of Nagas. Two national highways—NH-39 and NH-53—remain blockaded.
Soon enough, Nagas, who fear that the state government dominated by a third ethnic group—the Meiteis—could try and divide this Naga majority district, imposed a counter-blockade, so to speak.
From that time, the prices of essential goods have shot up to rather painful levels. There is a thriving black market for all supplies in Imphal. The state government claims it is supplying these goods through its own distribution network, denies the existence of a black market, but cannot explain black market prices.
Blockades are not new in Manipur. Last year, the state government barred the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland —Thuingaleng Muivah—from visiting his birthplace in the Ukhrul district. The result was a Naga blockade. The state government did not let Muivah enter Manipur as it feared that it would be the first step in the creation of a “greater Nagaland”, one that incorporates part of Manipur, further truncating one of the smallest states in the country. Manipur is a good example of politics based on sub-regional identities going haywire. It shows that there’s no end to the process of linking territory with ethnic identities, a divisive process that can go way beyond what is administratively feasible and politically reasonable. States can be divided into districts and sub-divisions made new districts and finally new states pulled out like rabbits out of a hat. Once the word Punjab came to one’s mind; the current expression is Telangana.
The Union government needs to be aware of the ill effects of giving into such demands. The risk to the unity and integrity of the country cannot be overstated.
Should administrative units be created along ethnic lines? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org