Once again, Manipur is back with its business of bandhs and blockades. This time around, the state government has added its own brand of the ‘bandh culture’. While not being able to do anything to stop the strings of bandhs and blockades on the highways, the state had chosen to vent its frustration of life itself by imposing bans wherever it could. Since it came to power in early 2017, Central and state BJP leaders had been baying about how they have managed to cure Manipur from the malady of bandhs and blockades. BJP leaders blamed the Congress regime for the malaise.
Now, when the bandh culture is back with all the paraphernalia they are nowhere to be seen or talking about it. They get angry when people remind them of the claims they made of good governance and public relations triumphing over the scourge of bandh and blockade as if it was a victory of good over evil. Now, they are at a loss so much so that they sometimes choose to ignore it.
What BJP did not know was that bandh blockade had become a way of life in the state and it will take more than ‘deals’ to cure the malaise. In Manipur, bandhs and blockades are called at the drop of a hat by anyone or anybody. It is the easiest way of airing a grievance or making a demand by announcing it.
For those who resort to bandhs and blockades, they are simply not bothered about the humanitarian crisis that the common people face with food and essential commodities not only becoming scarce but prices soaring and becoming unaffordable. Imphal-Dimapur road (NH 2) and Imphal-Jiribam road (NH 37) have always been a rallying point for politics by certain communities doting both sides of the national highways and a pressure point for raising of all kinds of demands and grievances.
Manipur being a land-locked state highly depends on the highways for ferrying in food and all other goods including essential items from outside the state, which is exactly why highway blockades have become a bargaining chip for groups who have an axe to grind with the state authorities or holding it to ransom for realisation of their demands howsoever petty it be sometimes. There is already a court order against bandhs and blockades, which the state government cannot implement properly till now.
Look at how the government is playing with Section 144 in dealing with public unrest or protests. It has become so routine that it seems to have lost its utility. Several districts, more particularly the two capital districts of Imphal had been perpetually under prohibitory orders of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure with only some breaks in between. Under the section, a general order prohibiting gathering of four or more persons and carrying of articles which may be used as a weapon had always been there. Then, there is the unending matter of curfew.
Although there is relaxation of curfew hours in several districts, there is still a ban on mobile internet. The state government is of the view that anti-social elements might use media extensively for transmission of images, hate speech and hate video messages inciting the passions of the public which might have serious repercussions for the law and order situation in the state.
Yet again, when the ban on the internet has been going on for more than six months and entering the seventh month people are feeling the pressure and internet based business ventures have taken a heavy toll. Funny thing is that, the state government keeps on extending the ban on mobile internet after every five days as if they are really assessing the possibilities of misuse by social media users. But, when there are directives from the court and pressure from bodies like ANSAM they have come up with relaxation of the ban on piecemeal basis. We appreciate the relaxation, but we also seriously would like to understand the ‘assessment report’ if there is anything such.
Now, most of the valley-based students’ organisations have come up with their own demand for completely lifting the ban on mobile internet. Is the government waiting for a bandh to resort to ‘assessment’ again?