From our Special Correspondent
IMHAL, July 22: The unscrupulous traders, corrupt government officials and others who make best use of the gravy train seem to be waiting for the 98-hour blockade against Manipur the United Naga Council (UNC) will impose from Monday midnight. This is to further the demand for making alternative arrangement for the Nagas in Manipur contending that they do not want to stay under the communal Manipur government.
Though some high officials of the Central Government have conferred with the UNC and some other Naga groups nothing concrete and positive had emerged. In absence of a clear cut public stand of the centre the demand of the UNC is growing more strident. It is a foreknown fact that the people of Manipur shall flounder in artificial shortage and exorbitant prices. During the 100 days of blockade against Manipur there was not a single leader from the centre to stand by the people in good stead. Much later the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had come to Imphal. The starving people who were armstwisted to buy petrol at Rs 250 a litre or LPG cylinder at Rs 2500 each thought that he would pull the chestnuts out of fire for them. He had gone to Senapati district to talk with the Naga leaders. However, he left Imphal in a huff without saying a word or doing a single thing to end the blockade. The State Government also did not explain why the Union Home Minister took this strange stand which showed he did not care two hoots for the sufferings of the people for such a long time. Mercifully, the blockade was suspended ahead of the visit by Prime Minister Manmohon Singh and the Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
In normal circumstances the centre should have taken a clean interest in the latest announcement by the UNC for an indefinite blockade since it will hit the people below the belt. In clear cut terms the UNC leaders could have been told the factual position. If there is no agreement special arrangements could have been made to ensure that there is uninterrupted supply of consumer items, fuel and cooking gas. During the protracted blockade people could not find even life saving drugs and baby foods.
Early this month the South Angami Youth Organisation had imposed an indefinite blockade against Manipur depamdning arrest of four miscreants who had stolen a mini truck from a Naga driver who was drugged. The lame duck administration in Manipur could not ensure unfettered movement of the trucks bringing various commodities. Dozens of inter state buses were stranded somewhere in Nagaland and the haggard passengers were starving and were facing lots of problems. It was only after the lifting of the blockade that normal movement of the vehicles was reported. During the UNC sponosred blockade no vehicle will move in Nagaland. Besides there are Naga tribal villages along the two National Highways which are the lifelines of Manipur.
It has been seen most convincingly that the armed escorts provided to the cavalcade of vehicles along the highways are far from sufficient. Besides there are increasing instances of the personnel looking the other way or not interfering at all when the drivers are beaten up or vehicles torched or damaged. The demand of the UNC cannot be solved in a week. There has been no solution to it for so long. On the other hand, the centre has not been poking its nose. Besides the hamstrung State Government has not been able to ensure free movement of the trucks and buses along the highways.
Whenever there are reports of landlsides or blockades along the highways the befuddled traders hike the prices of all commodities including those which had been stocked long before the blockade. There is no state mechanism to check this kind of exploitation by the traders who enjoy political patronage. It is the students’ organizations and not the government officials who try to check the spiralling prices by verifying the prices. However, they are shooed away by the police as if they were indulging in something illegal and anti-national. The oil pumps will be shut down since it is more profitable to sell petrol through the roadside vendors. The gas agencies pull down shutters although the ubiquitous roadside shops and kiosk have LPG stock round the month.
When the public outcry for controlling the prices the government became deafening the government officials were constrained to take up some steps. But the people were disappointed since all the officials did was to meet the leaders of the chamber of commerce to consult on the prices. It was reported that in many cases the prices thus fixed by the officials at the directives of the Chamber of Commerce were much higher than the prevailing prices. In any case there is no authority to see it that the shop keepers do not charge more than the prices fixed by the officials.
Even today most of the oil pumps are closed as a reuslt of the nine days of blockade by the SAYO which had been lifted long time back. There is no explanation from the government for this criminal conspiracy between the corrupt offiicials and the traders. The situation will become intolerable once the UNC sponsored blockade becomes effective.
And all the time the impotent opposition parties have been remaining as silent spectators. The central leaders who seem to have a hidden agenda in this region will elect to remain at a safe distance.