50 Days of Economic Blockade: The Manipur Crisis Explained
The state of Manipur is once again in turmoil, with Imphal witnessing large-scale rioting. Protesters attacked hundreds of Nagas travelling to their villages for Christmas on 18 December, setting 22 vehicles aflame.
After the attack, the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) has decided to impose a "total blockade" on all Manipur-bound vehicles, including passenger and goods carriers. The blockade will be in all Naga-inhabited areas till the Manipur government gives its assurance to the Naga people about their safety and security in the state.
Manipur, with a population of just over 25 lakh, is divided into people living in the Imphal Valley and the hills. The disagreements between these two groups lead to bandhs and protests throughout the year. Imphal Valley is predominantly inhabited by the Meiteis, and the hills are predominantly inhabited by the Nagas and Kukis.
The clashes that the state has witnessed in the last few days are because of several related events and a number of disagreements between the government of Manipur and the two communities.
In October 2016, the Chief Minister of Manipur, Okram Ibobi Singh, decided to eleviate the sub-divisions of Sadar Hills and Jiribam to full-fledged districts. The United Naga Council (UNC), the apex civil organisation of the Nagas in Manipur, objected to the plan, saying that it should be done only after consulting with all the tribal organisations.
The government did not pay any heed to the UNC’s demands. Its argument was that the new districts were created keeping in mind administrative convenience. But the Nagas didn’t want to stay under the same administrative roof as the Meiteis.
Timeline of Events
1 November: UNC called for an indefinite economic blockade along two national highways, 2 and 53 – the lifelines of the state. They blocked the transport of essential goods from the hills to the valley. The price of essential goods shot up and normal life of the people in the valley was affected. Security personnel tried to escort vehicles carrying goods to the valley but that didn't help much.
25 November: Two top leaders of the UNC, the apex civil organisation of the Nagas in Manipur, were arrested for violent protests. The two leaders, UNC president Gaidon Kamei and Publicity Secretary Stephen Lamkang, have been sent to remand till 2 January.
9 December: Okram Ibobi Singh announced the creation of five new districts – Tengnoupal, Pherzawl, Noney, Kamjong and Kakching. Some communities welcomed the move, but it was like rubbing salt in the wounds for the Nagas. Soon after the creation of the districts, the tensions in the valley increased as trucks were set on fire by alleged Naga militants and two government offices were burnt down.
A Counter Blockade
In retaliation for UNC's blockade, the Meiteis imposed a counter-blockade, preventing vehicles carrying essential goods from moving to the four Naga-dominated hill districts from Imphal Valley.
15 December: The situation worsened as four policemen were killed and eight others were injured in clashes in Chandel, Tengnoupal and Noney districts of the state. Three blasts were also reported in Imphal, which the Manipur Naga Revolutionary Force (MNRF) took responsibility for.
17 December: Suspected National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) IM cadres attacked 9 IRB Post and 6 Manipur Rifles post at Nungkao, which is 50 km from Jiribam district and took 20 loaded weapons. The same day, some unknown miscreants vandalized Manipur Baptist Convention Centre Church.
18 December: Following the attacks on the previous day, Meitei protesters got more violent on Sunday and attacked vehicles carrying Nagas, who were on their way to their respective villages to celebrate Christmas. Hundreds of innocent civilians were stranded after the vehicles on which they were travelling were burnt, vandalised or pushed into the river.
Sensing that the volatile situation that could lead to a communal riot, the state government has imposed indefinite curfew in Imphal East and West districts. Internet and data services were also stopped in Manipur.