Blockade lifted, but Manipur still tense

Imphal, Dec 2 (IANS) The economic blockage has been lifted in Manipur, but it has not done much to douse the seething anger of people still reeling under the crippling effects of the 121-day ordeal. A sense of despondency prevails in the air as locals feel the relief is only short-lived.

'The lifting of blockade is a mockery of government as the two warring tribes (Kukis and Nagas) can hold the government hostage anytime they wish,' an angry local told IANS following the withdrawal of its blockade by United Naga Council Monday.

'It's a slap on the face of government. Lifting the blockade is like allowing us to eat for a few days and then prevent us from eating by blocking highways at their disposal. It's an utter failure of the state and the centre to control these recalcitrant groups,' he added.

Although he United Naga Council's move has come as a shot in the arm for the state government, locals feel it is only a 'transient' relief for the government, and not for the people.

'Bandhs, strikes, blockades and curfews have become part and parcel of our lives. It is us who suffer, not the government,' said 23-year-old Suresh, a student.

Life in Imphal had just started getting normal after the withdrawal of the blockade that a bomb blast Wednesday morning indicated that all was not well really.

'See what happened... Blockade lifted, bomb exploded. The governments at the centre and state are sleeping. The government panders to the whims and fancies of Kukis and Nagas,' said Naunang, who works at a hotel in Imphal.

Some even believe the decision to lift the blockade had nothing to do with the government's pressure.

'Had they continued the blockade, the Naga leadership would have become unpopular as the supply of essential commodities would not have reached the Naga population in Manipur ahead of Christmas,' said Pradip Phanjoubam, a veteran journalist.

Christmas is one of the most important festivals for the Christian-dominated Naga tribe.

'They will not block highways until Christmas which can bring temporary relief to the strife-torn Manipur,' Phanjoubam added.

However, a state minister said the lifting of blockade was only a good sign.

'Though the conflict between Nagas and Kukis remains complicated, the withdrawal of blockade has come as a relief for the people,' the minister told IANS, requesting not to be named.

It all began when an economic blockade was launched by the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) Aug 1 to demand conversion of the Kuki tribal majority Sadar Hills area into a full-fledged district.

The Kuki group lifted the blockade of two National Highways -- Imphal-Dimapur-Guwahati (NH 39) and Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar (NH 53) -- on the 92nd day after the state government agreed to their demand for creating a district, a move opposed by the Nagas.

The United Naga Council has been spearheading a counter blockade on the two national highways since Aug 21.

The blockade led to severe shortage of essentials, petroleum products and cooking gas cylinders, besides medicines and machines, causing untold misery to Manipur residents.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at gaurav.s@ians.in)