There is none in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – from the state karyakarta to national leaders, from the ministers in the state government to the Union ministers including Prime Minister who doesn’t claim boldly and consistently that Manipur hasn’t witnessed any bandhs and blockades since the BJP-led coalition government came into power on March 15, 2017.
The BJP workers and leaders, ministers both in the State and Union governments persistently continue to claim that law and order situation in Manipur has been improved in the last five years and the BJP government has brought peace and all-round development in the state.
The BJP has claimed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the centre has brought stability to Manipur, which has always face continuous blockades.
“For the last five years, Manipur hasn’t witnessed any bandh. Once Manipur witnessed 700 days of bandhs and blockades, but not a single day of bandh has been witnessed in the last five years… This is the sense of assurance,” said BJP National General Secretary (Organisation), BL Santosh on December 2.
The BJP leader further claimed, “In the last seven years, the government has brought a sense of reassurance to the common man that there is a system in place.”
Santosh made the statement while speaking after releasing a book titled “Modi 2.0: A Resolve to Secure India’, which captures opinions and inputs of national security experts and various leaders on the overall performance and strategies of the Narendra Modi Government.
However, Manipur witnessed first bandh on March 26 under the regime of newly elected BJP-led government of Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren. The bandh called against induction of Independent MLA Ashab Uddin as Parliamentary Secretary has rekindled the migrant and indigenous debate in the State.
The 17-hour bandh called by a student organisation in Manipur, Democratic Students’ Alliance of Manipur (DESAM) has partially affected normal life in Manipur.
The student body has alleged that Ashab Uddin is a migrant that people from outside has got elected and this is threat to indigenous people.
It may be mentioned that BJP has in the run up to assembly polls has promised Manipur free from bandh and blockades.
Ahead of 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly elections in Manipur 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 25, 2017 speaking in a public meeting for the election campaign said, “There will never be an economic blockade when BJP comes to power in Manipur, I assure you this.”
Understandably, after over four months, Manipur’s longest economic blockade which started on November 1, 2016 on National Highway Nos. 2 and 37 called by United Naga Council (UNC), ended on March 19 midnight after four days as BJP government came to power on March 15, 2017.
The blockade was imposed by the UNC on November 1, 2016 to protest against the creation of seven new districts in the state for administrative convenience by erstwhile Congress government under Chief Minister Okram Ibobi. The UNC maintains that the new districts affect the interest of the Nagas.
In the initial months of the blockade, the state witnessed crippling scarcity of supplies especially petroleum products and essential medicines. It eased a bit when convoys of trucks started reaching Imphal under heavy security.
During the blockade of the state’s lifelines, three security personnel were killed and over a dozen injured in attacks allegedly by cadres of the extremist National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah).
Recently, Union Home Minister Amit Shah who participated virtually in the foundation stone laying ceremony of Rani Gaidinliu tribal freedom fighters’ museum in Manipur on November 22, stated that the Centre and the Biren Singh government in the State which had witnessed bandhs, blockades and terrorism for several years prior to Nongthombam Biren taking over as the Chief Minister have brought tremendous improvement in the law and order situation, education, power and other infrastructure sectors.
“Before coming to power in Manipur, we had promised to end bandh, hartal and blockade. We have ended all the three, and significantly improved the law and order situation,” he claimed.
However, one wonders whether the Union Home Minister Amit Shah was aware or not that he made the claims speaking those words in the midst of a 24 hour shutdown of the hill areas called by the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM) along with All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM) and Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO) while an indefinite economic blockade was just beginning.
Notably, BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda on November 26 while addressing a public meeting at Khongjom in Manipur’s Thoubal district said, “Before the BJP-led government came to power in the state in 2017, there was criminalisation of politics. There was a rift between the hill and valley besides the days witnessed several days of bandhs and blockades.”
He said that the Narendra Modi government restored stability in Manipur through ‘sabka saath, sabka vikash.”
Again, BJP National President JP Nadda while speaking at the inaugural function of the State Government’s Go to Village 2.0 for Bishnupur district held on November 26 at Ngaikhong Khunou ground has asserted that the Nongthombam Biren-led State Government has been delivering benefits of different Government schemes to the doorsteps of each and every household whereas the previous Government delivered bandhs and blockade to the masses. The BJP National president further said that the Go to Village Mission was an initiative of Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren led Government to ensure delivery of services and benefits of welfare schemes at the people’s doorstep.
Now, the proposed Autonomous District Council (ADC) “Bill” has been pushed hard by Hill Areas Committee (HAC) of Manipur Assembly with full support from ATSUM, ANSAM and KSO organisations, in view of the ensuing 2022 general elections thereby causing rift between communities and resurfacing the chasm of hill-valley divide while the majority of the people struggle for the integrity of Manipur.
Significantly, it is still afresh in the minds of the people that the indefinite bandhs and blockades on the National Highways when groups of all hue used to resort to such coercive tactics even at the drop of a hat had benefitted the BJP, Naga People’s Front (NPF) and National People’s Party (NPP) in the last assembly election in 2017.
After a relative calm for about four and half years with intermittent bandhs and blockades, one wonders why the ghosts of hill-valley divide and bandh-blockade days seems to have come back to haunt the state once again when the next Manipur Legislative Assembly election is just knocking at the door.
Even though the indefinite economic blockade imposed along National Highways from November 22 by tribal student bodies in Manipur has been lifted temporarily, after three student bodies reached an agreement with the State Government on November 25 just before the arrival of BJP President JP Nadda in Imphal, there is likely to resume the indefinite economic blockade if their demands are met by November 30.
However, the question is – will the BJP benefit from the bandhs and blockades in the coming State Assembly election or will the bandh and blockades affect Nongthombam Biren while the general population has to face immense hardships?
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics