Manipur must be amongst the most beautiful states of India with green hills, flowery valleys and vast clean water lakes mesmerising the viewer and in many ways dwarfing Switzerland's over-stated panorama.
The state is on fire today. Terrorist organisations demand secession from India, local tribal conflicts and a total collapse of the civil administration has turned this state into a virtual hell otherwise famed for its Radha Krishna dance the world over and a stunningly sharp martial arts said to be the predecessor of karate.
A few facts first.
1. Since January 16, 80,000 state government employees have been on a 'pen down' strike demanding implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission's recommendations with retrospective effect. This has paralysed the government machinery, but Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has refused to talk to the striking employees.
2. A stifling blockade on National Highway-39 and a partial blockade on NH-53 has caused an unbelievable scarcity of oil, food and medicines. Buses and trucks are given 40 litres of petrol/diesel per day through a self-imposed rationing system. Diesel and petrol are being sold at exorbitant rates in the black market.
Bus fares have increased two to three times (the Imphal to Churachand Pur bus fare has gone up to Rs 150 from Rs 40 earlier).
3. The only one major government hospital is not getting oxygen cylinders, hence it has stopped operating upon patients. With a few oxygen cylinders left, it has closed down the casualty department, keeping the scantly available reserve for emergencies.
4. The Guwahati-Imphal air fare has suddenly gone up and people are simply unable either to enter or leave Manipur by road.
5. Non-Manipuris have been served notices to quit the state by the Peoples' Liberation Army, an outlawed separatist organisation with Chinese contours; it has set May 31 as the deadline.
Thousands of labourers and workers have already left in panic; the remaining traders and teachers are terrified with zero security assurance either by the state government or by the Centre.
So this is the state of India where citizens are asked to leave like the jihadis did to Kashmiri Hindus. People ask who owns Manipur. Why don't the Delhiwallahs care for them?
If a small road was blocked for day in Haryana or Uttar Pradesh, the media would have covered it immediately. But a month's blockade of two arteries joining the state with the rest of India hasn't attracted even a fraction of that attention. Why? Because Haryana and UP are more important to South and North Block than Manipur?
Roads are blocked cutting the state from the rest of India, hospitals do not run, an administration is on strike for the last four months, terrorists virtually rule the land and above that the Centre decided to allow T Muivah, a leader of a separatist insurgent organisation, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Issac-Muivah faction, to visit his ancestral village in Manipur.
Muivah has been booked in several cases of murder and mayhem in Manipur. On finding that the Union home ministry is proposing to send him under Z-plus security cover in a government helicopter to the state, Manipuris boiled in anger. Chief Minister Ibobi Singh, a Congress leader, flatly refused to accept the central government's unilateral decision.
Nevertheless, this move further aggravated the already tormented state and all social and political organisations joined hands to condemn the Centre's move, threatening dire consequences if Muivah was allowed to visit the state. In protest clashes, three young men have been killed.
Muivah is demanding a Greater Nagaland, and his organisation's slogan is 'Nagaland for Christ'. The movement is supported openly by various denominations of Nagaland's churches and it gets funds from Western countries. Muivah is accused of having engineered the 1992-1993 ethnic cleansing of Kuki tribes in Manipur which is said to have claimed more than 900 lives. During that NSCN-IM operation, 350 Kuki villages were uprooted and 100,000 Kukis were turned into refugees.
They are bewildered why such a person is given so much importance and Z-plus security cover. Is the only 'crime' of the Manipuris that they still owe an allegiance to the Indian tricolour?
Manipuris oppose Muivah's visit to his ancestral village Somdal in Ukhrul district. It may shock many that Muivah is originally a Manipuri Naga, hence his credibility amongst the Naga-Nagas is low. Manipuris fear this will further accelerate and strengthen his demand to merge four Manipuri districts into his proposed Nagalim state.
The Government of India has so far not assured it will keep Manipur's territorial integrity intact.
Non-Manipuris, organised under a banner, quite ironically called the 'Hindustani Samaj', are in a deadly trap.
On March 17, 2008, eight non-Manipuri people were killed on the outskirts of the capital Imphal. Seven of them were brought in a van, lined up on the roadside with their hands tied behind their backs, and shot dead from close range with automatic weapons. A few miles away another non-Manipuri was shot dead in similar circumstances. This was the first time in Manipur that militants targeted non-local migrants who are either labourers or petty traders.
In the two years since then 32 non-Manipuris, mostly Biharis and Bengalis, have been killed.
This year in February, the Revolutionary People's Front, a banned organisation in Manipur through its armed outfit, the Peoples' Liberation Army issued a quit notice to all Mayaangs -- a derogatory term used for non-Manipuris, who came to Manipur after 1949 (the year when the princely state was merged with the Indian Union) to leave the state by May 31.
Non-Manipuris travelling from Guwahati to Imphal by bus -- the only mode of travel available to poor people -- have been denied tickets at Guwahati ticket booking counters.
Yet none of the great national leaders or organisations, barring the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have thought it fit to voice the pain and anguish of the Manipuri people. Neither the television channels nor national newspapers sent their correspondents to cover the unprecedented crisis.
That's what makes the north-eastern people think that Delhi does not care for them. Hindustan's boundaries for the so-called mainland politicos are up to Kolkata in the east and Amarnath in the north. Even the local Manipur media cannot refuse to publish threatening press releases of the terrorist groups.
In the famous Mothers' Market in Imphal, the women traders seethe in anger. Their leader Mangi Devi says, "How do you think our children will get a good education when 15 days a month, their schools are forcibly closed? Can they ever think of qualifying for the IAS and IPS like your children in Delhi? There is no petrol, no kerosene, it has become extremely difficult for the common person to travel to his village, no medicines in hospitals. Is this the India we should be proud of?"
The Manipuri people hardly get to celebrate Independence Day or Republic Day -- they are not allowed by the banned outfits who virtually dictate the state's life. Only under heavy security cover can government buildings hoist the tricolour for a short time.
No school, public place, private institution can display the national colours. Hindi is banned; Hindi movies have not been allowed in movie theatres for the last ten years. In school textbooks, the national anthem cannot be printed.
Every single government contract has a 20 percent share for the terrorist separatist organisations and government officials take cash out in bundles and distribute it, according to the size and influence of the organisation, to their representatives whenever a new contract is awarded.
Leaders of various social organisations are so terrified are no local political party has been able to condemn the threat to the non-Manipuris. The market wears a ghostly look after 6 pm and the last movie show (all showing either Manipuri movies, shot on video cameras or Korean ones) is at 4 pm. Unemployment is widespread; educational degrees from local colleges mean nothing as they are given without a proper regimen.
With none to protect them and engulfed in such a darkness it is a great tribute to the patriotic Manipuris that they suffer in silence and have not yet revolted.
Tarun Vijay is the Bharatiya Janata Party's national spokesperson and director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.