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End ethnic cauldron

End ethnic cauldron
Highlights

Even as the New Year dawned, Manipuris are quite crestfallen. Highway blockades, besides a debilitating demonetisation, are crippling the State. 

Even as the New Year dawned, Manipuris are quite crestfallen. Highway blockades, besides a debilitating demonetisation, are crippling the State.

The blockades on NH2, which links Imphal to Dimapur in Nagaland, and NH37, which connects Imphal and Jiribam in the State, are imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC) since October 31 following move for reorganisation of districts.

This is straining the fragile economy of the State where 90 per cent of territory falls in the hill districts. Also, the rich diversity of Manipur which is home to Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis and over 30 other ethnic groups is at stake.

The UNC has for long been agitating for Nagalim or Greater Nagaland comprising Naga areas in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. It is in no mood for any rapprochement.

Precipitating crisis is shadow boxing by BJP at the Centre and Congress in the State. The creation of seven new districts by the Okram Ibobi Singh government, forming a total of 16 districts, is apparently to win over the Kukis and set them against the Nagas.

Meanwhile, the Naga blockade has angered the Meiteis who are now embargoed all movement to the hill districts. Thus, Manipur is caught in a quagmire of ethnic dissonance.

It is high time the Centre intervened to help defuse tensions before the simmering hatred breaks into a full-scale ethnic war.

Initially, BJP supported the people in the plains when the government passed the inner line permit law. This law makes it obligatory for Indians in other States to obtain permission to enter Manipur as in the case of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.

But it is mainly intended to check the influx of non-Manipuris to settle down in the State. However, after a peace deal with NSCN-IM for peace in Nagaland, BJP has changed its stance and appears to be backing the hills people, mostly Nagas.

After winning Assam and wresting power from Congress in Arunachal Pradesh last month, an emboldened BJP is now queering pitch for Congress and is itching to unseat Ibobi Singh, who has been in power since 2002, in the elections which are round the corner.

Thus, political sagacity is lacking in both the national parties. It is no wonder then that the EC gearing up for five State polls in 2017 in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa is much concerned over the grave situation in Manipur. It fears ethnic protests may hamstring free and fair polls.

The unrest is causing much pain to the people. Prices of essential items have skyrocketed. Reports say a litre petrol costs around Rs 300 and an LPG cylinder up to Rs 3,000.

Unless, the nation right away goes to the rescue of Manipuris, the growing sense of alienation of North East people will only thicken and enlarge.

Mere deployment of paramilitary forces without pursuing a political solution cannot ring in an enduring peace and heal the festering wounds of racial animosity.

Clearly, the Modi government has its work cut out. Or else, his Act East Policy for all-round development of North East is certain to come a cropper.

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