The year is ending on a note of disquiet for our border areas. While Kashmir has been in focus for quite some time, Manipur is now showing signs of becoming administratively fragile — a situation that calls for cool heads as an alternative to the use of heavy security deployment. The situation in this northeastern state has been tense since Sunday, and the Centre had to rush 4,000 paramilitary personnel to quell violence if eventualities arise warranting the use of force.
In response to the state government’s move to rearrange some districts in the state, the Naga population has been made anxious. The state’s apex Naga body, United Naga Council, enforced an economic blockade of two key national highways to protest against the November 1 order on the formation of new districts. This was reinforced with the Naga Students’ Federation also supporting the protest.
Manipur is a landlocked state and would reel in despair if highways are blocked. After the Naga protest began, the situation turned volatile when those in the state opposing the blockade torched over 30 vehicles headed to the hill areas, where Manipur’s minorities, mostly Nagas and Kukis, reside. There evidently was poor handling of the situation by the Congress government of Ibobi Singh. Since making and remaking of administrative units can be a sensitive matter, especially when minority sentiments are involved, the government should have factored this in and consulted Naga social and political bodies to allay apprehensions. To end the Naga-enforced blockade, the state government was free to use the security apparatus, but this could have gone hand in hand with efforts to dissuade the protesters through dialogue.
Nagaland CM T.R. Zeliang has shot off letters to the Centre and the Manipur government to secure the lives and property of the Naga people. It would have been better if he had first spoken to his Manipur counterpart to ascertain the situation and the intent behind the formation of new districts. As matters stand, he just appears to be pandering to local sentiments.
India is a fascinating mosaic of castes and tribes at various stages of development. Tensions and conflicts are certain to arise. It is up to politicians and social leaders to show wisdom and counsel restraint. The Central government too should tread warily and do nothing that might appear that it is trying to take political advantage since Manipur has a Congress government. It should offer fair counsel to both sides.