Shadow of December 8, 2016
Ultimatum from UNC
The ghost of the seven new districts continues to haunt the State Government. December 8, 2016. That was the day when the then Congress Government announced the creation of seven new districts-Jiribam, Kamjong, Kangpokpi, Pherzawl, Noney, Kakching and Tengnoupal-in the dead of the night and The Sangai Express had to announce ‘Stop Press’ to include the news item, with the Editors rushing back to office from home as soon as the news was received. What followed after that is there for all to see, with the United Naga Council leading the 139 days economic blockade and the counter blockade that followed, igniting tension filled days. That a number of students studying outside were returning home for their Christmas holidays in December 2016, only added to the tension and the misgivings between different communities threatened to snowball into a sort of a confrontation. Fortunately no such confrontation took place, maybe because the people of Manipur had become accustomed to coping with such situations from bitter lessons learnt from the past. Rewind to 2005 when Manipur underwent her first marathonesque economic blockade with the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM), spearheading the blockade against the decision of the then State Government to declare June 18 as ‘State Integrity Day’, to take cognizance of the June 18 uprising of 2001 when the words ‘without territorial limits’ were inserted in the ceasefire pact between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM). In between 2005 and 2016, Manipur witnessed numerous blockades, including the one over the demand to grant district status to Sadar Hills, with the blockade called by the Sadar Hills Districthood Demand Committee and the other called by the UNC and sister organisations against any move to grant district status to Sadar Hills.
The examples are many to show that people of Manipur are ‘blockade hardened’ veterans. Yet on the other hand, it is more than obvious that the ghost of December 8, 2016 is yet to be exorcised and this is amply demonstrated by the call raised by the United Naga Council to roll back the phrase, ‘Cabinet meet at Kamjong’ held on January 15 this year. How the BJP led Government respond to the demand put up by UNC remains to be seen, but it is significant to note that an earlier decision to hold the Cabinet meeting at Kamjong was dropped at the last moment, for reasons which have not been spelt out officially. The tripartite talks involving the State Government, the UNC and the Central Government over the districts creation is still on, though it has been put on hold in view of the global pandemic, but it should be more than obvious that the UNC is not ready to take things lying down and is intent on pursuing the matter further. What however has not been spelt out clearly is why no such opposition was raised when similar Cabinet meetings have been held in Naga dominated districts earlier. With the BJP led Government taking Cabinet meetings to the hill districts, Kamjong was not the first hill district to host a Cabinet meeting. Such a meeting has been held at Senapati, Ukhrul and Tamenglong and even Chandel, places where the writ of the UNC is believed to run large. Not yet clear how things will unfold, but it is more than clear that the uproar over the creation of the seven new districts is yet to be resolved. It will be interesting to see how the BJP led Government intends to address the issue, especially since the NPF is a major partner in the coalition Government.