Manipur has been under siege for 46 days. Home secretary Gopal Pillai tells Shoma Chaudhury what the centre is doing about this

Gopal Pillai

Manipur has been facing a severe economic blockade for 46 days. No food, no oxygen in hospitals, no medicines, no petrol. If Mumbai or Delhi had been similarly cut off, everything would have been done to resolve it. What about Manipur? How long do you think it will take to resolve this?
Of course, some immediate supplies like rice etc were airlifted from Assam into Manipur. Now National Highway 53 is also open. About four days ago, the first 85 trucks passed through. Then another batch of about 250 trucks came through. Now more trucks are reaching Jiribam [the border town with Assam]. So one can’t say things are normalising, but I am hoping the situation will start to ease up soon.

But NH-53 opened up only because one minister took a private security detail and forced his way through. Why couldn’t the state government have done that? What about NH-39? There are so many military and paramilitary forces in Manipur. Why weren’t they deployed?
We have deployed some forces but it is a very politically charged situation and we did not want to aggravate the situation by taking any harsh measures. We have to lower the temperature step by step. The situation is very difficult because the blockade is not just in one place but in at least 2-3 places on NH-53 and over 10 places on NH-39 [the arterial road that runs through Nagaland]. There are over 2,000 women sitting on these roads. We did not want to lathi-charge them and create a fresh situation. Now, for example, we’ve put three companies of crpf at Mao Gate — they have replaced 600 Manipur state police. We have to create confidence among both the Nagas and the Meiteis. So, as I said, we have to take it step by step. But in the future, we are also thinking of raising a dedicated National Highway Protection force.

Chief Minister Ibobi Singh was a highly hated figure. Suddenly he’s become popular, by not hesitating to use force. Is he not breaking the blockade to milk the situation politically?
Well, everyone’s playing politics, but he’s the biggest hero among the Meiteis just now. This is a highly emotive issue in Manipur, so it’s not possible to ignore it.

Given the peace talks with the NSCN-IM, would you have liked Muivah to be allowed to visit his village in Manipur? Is the Centre pussy-footing on the issue, afraid they’ll walk out of the talks?
No, we have told Muivah very explicitly that he’s not welcome in Manipur just now, and asked him to withdraw from Viswema village and go to Dimapur or somewhere else. We are hoping he will do this very soon. Our position has also been very clear on the other issues of sovereignity and territorial integration that NScN-IM has raised. We have said no territorial integrity of any state — whether Manipur, Assam or Arunachal Pradesh — will be disturbed. That is non-negotiable. It is on this basis that talks have gone on. So the people of Manipur need not be disturbed that any one will break up the state. But there is still a big trust deficit between the Nagas and Meiteis so we have to tread carefully.

Talking of trust deficit, both you and the Union Home Minister had said AFSPA would be amended very substantially. Why did this fizzle out?
It’s lying before the Cabinet with everyone’s comments. Not everybody agrees with us, but that is why we rely on a Cabinet decision.

The Salwa Judum has been such a disaster in Chhattisgarh, yet Manipur DGP Joy Kumar is talking of raising one in Manipur. Are you okay with that?
This is the first time I am hearing of it. Manipur has the highest police-topopulation ratio in the country. Why would he need a Salwa Judum? He has over 4,000 new recruits training under him. Yes, too many policemen are doing VIp duty, we have recommended that he withdraw some of them and deploy them to protect ordinary people instead.