One of the major promises of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recently held assembly elections in Manipur was to end the economic blockade imposed by the United Naga Council and ensure that such blockades do not take place in the state. After taking oath as the new chief minister of Manipur, Nongthombam Biren Singh of the BJP sent government officials to the Senapati district headquarters to hold a tripartite dialogue with the UNC representatives and the Central government.
At the end of the meeting, the UNC agreed to lift the economic blockade that had lasted for over four months. It was also agreed that there was non-adherence to four memoranda of understanding signed between the Nagas and the government of India. The state government agreed to start consultations with all stakeholders to redress the tension arising out of the creation of the new districts and to hold the next round of tripartite dialogue within a month.
The end of the blockade will bring relief to the people of Manipur. It is also the first major achievement of the state BJP government as well as of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
The lifting of the blockade would improve the state's economy. But the tripartite agreement has the potential to cause a different wave of unrest in the state. If the accord is interpreted literally, it means that the government of Manipur acknowledges its mistake of breaching the agreements reached between the Nagas and the Union government. In other words, the Manipur government is apologizing to the UNC and is now ready to consider the interests of the Nagas.
If the agreement is to be implemented in letter and spirit, there are three possibilities. First, the state government would have to roll back the decision to create the seven new districts by the Congress regime last December. The new districts, the earlier government had said, had been created for administrative convenience. Doing away with the decision could imply the acceptance of the UNC's claim that the new districts were destroying the ancestral land of the Nagas.
A revocation would be a terrible blow for the people, particularly those from the Sadar Hills who have demanded its creation for over four decades since Parliament passed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, dividing the hill areas into six autonomous districts with the ultimate goal of creating full-fledged districts, including that of Sadar Hills. The five other autonomous districts have all been upgraded to full-fledged districts.
The second possibility is that the boundaries of the new districts would need to be redrawn after consulting all stakeholders, including the Nagas, in line with the UNC's demand. If this is to be implemented, the UNC will demand the amalgamation of all Naga-inhabited areas with the Naga- dominated districts.
Third, the Indian government would honour the framework agreement it signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) in August, 2015. Although the Modi government has not released the details, there is a possibility that the Centre is considering some kind of a supra state or an alternative arrangement for the Nagas with a certain degree of autonomy.
If the first and second theories hold, there is the probability of the people of the new districts launching counter agitations, including economic blockades, and of ethnic violence between Kukis and Nagas in Tengnoupal and Kangpokpi districts. The Meiteis in the newly created Jiribam may follow suit. If the third theory becomes a reality, the majority Meitei population would also launch agitations.
The state government and the Centre need to take judicious steps to address the issue. The manner in which the UNC demands are handled will also determine the fate of the BJP dispensation.