Politics of economic blockade dominates Manipur polls

Imphal
16 Feb 2017

The politics of poll-bound Manipur revolves around the economic blockade issue as all political parties are trying to use it as the key issue in the state Assembly election slated for next month.
Even though economic blockade brings misery to the border state whenever NH-2 and NH-37, Manipur's lifelines, are blocked, it relegates every other issue - demonetisation, corruption or anti-incumbency - to the background. Economic blockade is an issue which has seemingly widened the divide between the hills and the plains. The land-locked state is witnessing an indefinite economic blockade by United Naga Council (UNC) since November 1, 2016 against the state government's decision to create seven new districts by bifurcating the existing ones and upgradation of Sadar Hills to a full-fledged district.
The state government had, however, claimed that the decision was taken to improve administrative efficiency. Although ruling Congress has accused main Opposition BJP of instigating the UNC to continue with the blockade and not doing enough for the state, the BJP has levelled counter allegations that Okram Ibobi Singh-led government has deliberately bifurcated the districts to divide the state along ethnic lines and gain out of ethnic frenzy in the Valley arising out of the blockade. "BJP is covertly supporting the blockade and is hand in glove with UNC. Whenever we try to take any action against UNC, they create some problem. Even though a blockade is going on for three months and the supplies are drying up fast, the Centre is silent and is not taking necessary action to restore normalcy in the highways," senior Congress leader K H Joykishan told news agency PTI.
Supply of essential commodities, including fuel has been severely hit due to the economic blockade and their prices are shooting up in the state. The Congress leader said the decision to bifurcate districts was done to ensure more administrative efficiency and was under consultation for the last two years. State BJP president K Bhabananda Singh, however, said: "The Congress was facing tough anti-incumbency after ruling for the last 15 years and they know they would lose the (assembly) polls. "So to win the elections they have divided those districts knowing very well that it will push the state towards economic blockade and thus divide it along ethnic lines," he said.
Almost 65 per cent of Manipur's population lives in Imphal Valley dominated by the non-tribal Meiteis. Two tribal groups Naga and Kuki-Zomi, account for the remaining 35 per cent of the population scattered across its hills that make up 90 per cent of the state's geographical area. The plains have 40 of the 60 seats in the state Assembly. Meanwhile, activist Irom Sharmila and Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who is seeking a fourth term, today filed their nominations for Thoubal Assembly seat in the upcoming Assembly elections. Sharmila filed her nominations on behalf of her Peoples' Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), which is making an electoral debut, while Ibobi Singh for Congress. Anti-AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) crusader Irom Sharmila, who ended her 16-year-long hunger strike in August 2016, will be one of the main opponent against the Congress veteran in Thoubal.
Sharmila reached Thoubal on her bicycle, covering a distance of about 20 kilometres from Imphal, flanked by her party activists. PRJA is hoping to make an impact using alternative political practices. Ibobi, the three time chief minister of Manipur, is eyeing for a fourth term in office after being elected successively in 2002, 2007 and 2012 respectively. Polling for the 60-member Manipur Assembly will take place in two phases on March 4 and March 8 respectively, results for which will be declared on March 11.