NEW DELHI -- It has been 95 days but there is as yet no clear end in sight to the economic blockade in Manipur. On Friday, after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) brokered peace talks between the Manipuri government and the United Naga Council (UNC), which has imposed the blockade since 1 November last year, there emerged a glimmer of hope that some sort of truce could be called. The tripartite talk that began at 3 pm at North Block continued for over five hours, ending inconclusively at 8.30 pm.
"There is no breakthrough yet," UNC general secretary Milan S told HuffPost India in an exclusive interview following the marathon meeting. "We made substantial progress today but there are many things that need to be negotiated. I would call this a good beginning and that channels of communication are now open."
"It is now more convenient to call on each other."
This is a significant change from the Naga group's earlier communication with both the Manipuri government and the Centre, where it had ruled out withdrawal of the economic blockade unless and until its demands were met. This included addressing the state government's creation of seven new districts in Manipur without consulting the Nagas. Their main grouse is that the state government had made the decision unilaterally, which was against the four Memorandums of Understanding it had signed with the Naga people between 1981-98, and also against the written assurance from the MHA in the matter in 2011.
While the UNC leader did not indicate if the economic blockade would be withdrawn by the Nagas, he ruled out fighting the creation of the new districts in court. "The courts are at the convenience of the Indian government," he said. "It is opposite to our cultural and traditional practices."
He declined to comment on whether the Nagas would allow the upcoming election in Manipur to go on unhindered even if they did not withdraw the blockade. "We cannot conclude today but we will come up with a decision very soon," he said.
Sources who attended the meeting said that the state government was not in a position to make any changes in the districts now as the Model Code of Conduct has already been imposed on Manipur, where polling is expected to take place on 4 & 8 March. "Things have become quite complex now," said a source privy to the discussions. "Only bureaucrats attended the meeting who were not in a position to make any major decisions on the districts."
A decision by the UNC is expected in the next few days regarding the economic blockade. "The government of Manipur is in a very embarrassing position," said Milan to HuffPost India. "We'll consult the people of our community and decide our next steps."
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