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Peace in the hill State
Manipur blockade ends, now for lasting solution
The newly stalled BJP-led Government in Manipur has scored an early success in persuading Naga agitators to end the 139-day long blockade that was called by the United Naga Council (UNC). The UNC was opposed to the previous Okram Ibobi Singh-led Government's decision to bifurcate seven (out of a total of nine) districts of the hill State. In a tripartite meeting of the UNC, the BJP-led State regime and the Centre, a consensus was arrived after the Nongthombam Biren Singh Government gave the thumbs-up to broker peace with the agitators. Adopting a lenient attitude, the Government agreed to release the arrested leaders of the UNC and side by side also settled to withdraw all cases against the Naga tribe and student leaders related to the economic blockade.
That the agitators were in a jubilant mood — bursting crackers — demonstrates the fact that they have reposed faith in the new regime. While the previous Government's decision was welcomed by residents and other groups alike, the UNC in particular had problems as they felt that this division was done in violation of the earlier memoranda of understanding with the Government. They also felt that the Government had arrived at an agreement without consulting them and that with this bifurcation, certain Naga-populated areas would be divided. The UNC had genuine grievance, which did not get a lending ear. Instead, Okram Ibobi Singh Government kept giving false assurances to the extent of administrative convenience. Lastly, when there were counter clashes, the Government had cited various orders from courts, including one from the Supreme Court, which defined highway blockades as “illegal and unconstitutional”, arrested the president of the UNC.
With the release of the leader, the new Government has surely passed the first test. But the end of the blockade is a temporary and an immediate relief. The next test for the Government will be to open talks with the aggrieved groups; it is to be held within a month. Parties concerned will be meeting to undertake fresh talks and the Government must use the momentum to iron out differences and arrive at a permanent solution. The discussions, to be held under a conducive environment, has the potential to script a new history in North-East. Meanwhile, the Nongthombam Biren Singh Government scored brownie points on two counts.
First, the Congress Government was largely distrusted by the agitators, while the new Chief Minister struck the right chord on this count by making the agitators feel that his Government was ready to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for all ethnic groups. Second, this Government had the backing of regional parties — the National People’s Party and the Naga People’s Front — which have emerged as the representative of Naga political demands. In reality, blockades serve no purpose. Instead, they create immense problems for the masses — daily life gets affected, there are shortages of essential supplies such as fuel and food etc. Manipur, in particular, has had a long history of blockades. The most memorable of them was the 2011 blockade, which continued for more than 100 days. The BJP-led Government and agitating groups must avoid situations that end up in adversely impacting the populace.
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