Culture of bandhs, strikes, blockades in Northeast; but sometimes they become instrument of achieving goals

By Oken Jeet Sandham

About 20 bandhs and blockades are normally called by several organizations in Assam in a month. Maximum bandhs and blockades are called in Districts of Karbi Anglong, Golaghat and Jorhat bordering Nagaland. Calling bandhs and blockades have become routine affairs in Assam.

They will launch agitations in the form of “economic blockade” and sometimes a complete “bandh.” The bandh will be effective for 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, 100 hours, 300 hours and even 1000 hours, while the economic blockades will be one week to indefinite.

Bandhs and strikes have also become order of the day in Manipur. These days, calling bandh and strikes have become so easy that any community can also do it by issuing a press release to the mass media. One just issues a press statement to mass media for the bandhs, it just works. However, demands of some organizations sometimes do not have merits for calling any bandhs or strikes.

There have been frequent inter-State (Assam-Nagaland) border issues leading to frequent bandhs, blockades and clashes. Many innocent villagers living in the inter-State border areas have been facing untold measures. There are reports that people living in the border areas cannot even go to their paddy fields due to border tensions. Many innocent villagers also died due to inter-State border clashes. Their properties and houses were burnt down during such clashes leading to large scale violence in border areas. The district administrations mostly from Nagaland side used to issue advisory to their citizens from travelling in Assam roads when during such time, while many organizations in Assam would call bandhs, strikes and indefinite blockades in protest against the border incidents.

Nagaland’s one drawback is it does not have any major roads connecting with its State capital, Kohima without going through the Assam roads. “There are well established roads connecting Assam and the foothill areas,” said Nuklutoshi, Minister for National Highways and Mechanical. “However, these areas do not have direct road connectivity with the state boundaries to travel towards the state capital, Kohima and also to the commercial hub of Dimapur, thus leaving them no other alternative but to travel to Assam.” Therefore, during the bandhs and blockades in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur are literally cut off from the rest of the country.

One of the emergences of constructing “Nagaland Foothill Road” from Tizit in Mon to Khelma in Peren, some 428 kms, bordering Assam, is because of these frequent bandhs, strikes and blockades in Assam. The proposed “Foothill Road” from Tizit to Khelma touches at least six major districts of Nagaland – Mon, Longlen, Mokokchung, Wokha, Dimapur and Peren. The construction of the “Nagaland Foothill Road” is also the demand of the people particularly living in the border districts as they thought that once this road is constructed, the people living along the border will not face frequent harassments and sufferings.

Whenever bandhs and blockades are called in Karbi Anglong and Galaghat Districts in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland bound hundreds of trucks carrying essential commodities, hundreds of oil tankers and passenger buses remain stranded in many places in Assam. When such bandhs and blockades run for weeks, the prices of essential commodities in Manipur and Nagaland will skyrocket. There will be long vehicle queues in many oil pumps in Imphal, Kohima and Dimapur adding more traffic woes. Nervous buyers of essential commodities will also be seen in Manipur and Nagaland during such week-long bandhs and blockades in Assam.

The economies of the States are badly affected during such bandhs and blockades. At the same time, thousands of poor vendors who solely depend on their daily sales for their daily livelihood face immense miseries. In fact, the common people are the main sufferers during such time.

A day’s bandh in Assam costs the State exchequer Rs 41.14 crore according to a 2005 study. “This figure must have double by now,” said R S Joshi, president, Federation of Commerce and Industries in the North Eastern Region. Say in a day’s bandh these days (2015) in the State costs its exchequer Rs 80 crore. Then the State suffers loss of Rs 600 crore if 20 bandhs are there in a month and mind boggling whopping loss of Rs 7200 crore in a year.

According to sources, the frequent bandhs and blockades in Manipur cost State exchequer nearly Rs 2000 crore yearly.

Dimapur-Imphal National Highway Road via Kohima is the lifeline of Manipur. There is another National Highway Road connecting Imphal is from Silchar in Assam via Jiribam, Manipur. But this Imphal-Silchar Road is less traveled comparing to Imphal-Dimapur Road. The only railway service that touches Manipur is Jiribam Railway Station and now construction of railway line from Jiribam to Tupul in Tamenglong is almost completed. The new broad-gauge line from Tupul to Imphal will be completed by March 2016. This project will cover Imphal East, Tamenglong and Senapati Districts.

Dimapur is the only railway station in Nagaland. There is already another proposal for Dimapur–Kohima (Zubza) railway line. It may be mentioned the proposed railway line between Dimapur and Kohima was surveyed way back in 2008.

Many are questioning as to why even after 68 years of India’s Independence, no railway services are given to many State capitals of the Northeast including Kohima and Imphal. In fact, five State capitals in the Northeastern Region are yet to be connected with railways.

Nagaland has one airport in Dimapur. The big aircrafts refuse to land in Dimapur airport because it is not only small but infrastructure is so poor that it looks like a vintage airport. It is so pathetic that the passengers have been experiencing one of the most irregular flight services forcing State Chief Minister and Governor to talk to the Civil Aviation and DoNER Ministries to look into the matter, besides many known airlines are reluctant to provide services in Dimapur airport. There is already a proposal for the construction of a new Airport at Razaphema. The Chief Minister along with the officials of the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation already made an aerial survey of the site.

Bottom Line:

The bandh cultures are today deeply rooted in the minds of the many organizations and individuals. Although the SC already bans calling bandhs, many in the Northeastern Region still feel that unless they call bandhs, their voices are not heard of. As we don’t see immediate solution to these frequent bandhs, strikes and blockades, we have to fight for more airports, more helicopter services, more railway services especially connecting the State capitals and other major commercial hubs in the Region. But to achieve these demands, it looks like having no means again except calling “bandhs, strikes and blockades.”

Look at massive ongoing agitations by students in Manipur for the introduction of ILP system in Manipur. Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh listens to them only after violent protests broke out. It may be remembered that he revoked controversial and draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1985 (AFSPA) from the seven Assembly segments in Imphal areas only after a dozen Manipuri women shed their clothes in front of an Army garrison in the heart of the Imphal and taunted the soldiers to rape them in 2004. This was the culmination of the month-long agitation following the Manorama-rape-and-murder case by the security forces.

The people are made to believe that violent protests, bandhs, strikes are weapons to achieve their demands. Sometimes, it becomes an instrument to achieve goals.

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