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Bread-bombing in forgotten belt

Aug. 6: Manipur has finally replaced Mumbai on Delhi’s radar.

Nearly 50 days after the northeastern state’s supply lines were choked by a blockade, the Indian Air Force today mounted a rare “bread-bombing” mission to reach essential commodities to Manipur.

People residing near the Tulihal airport in Imphal came out of their houses and cheered as the first cargo plane hovered over the airport. They had been waiting since word travelled that supply planes would be coming in today, carrying 40 tonnes of consignments.

“These planes are bringing us hope. Why did the Centre take so long in sending the commodities we desperately need' But then, something is better than nothing,” said Ratna Devi, a housewife.

Bread-bombing, a phrase that was in vogue during the Tamil Tiger insurgency in Lanka in the eighties when Indian forces airlifted supplies to Jaffna, is rarely activated to tackle domestic situations. The air force does drop relief material during natural calamities but it is not usually marshalled to get around civilian-enforced barriers.

Last year, India was on the brink of another bread-bombing run ' to Nepal, which was crippled by a Maoist blockade. But the rebel clampdown was lifted and the Indian plan was shelved.

The Manipur blockade was enforced on the midnight of June 19 by Naga students to protest the state government’s declaration of June 18 as “state integrity day”. The day was chosen by the state government to commemorate the 2001 uprising against Delhi’s attempt to extend the ceasefire with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) beyond Nagaland.

Manipur is opposed to the demand to unite all Naga-dominated areas ' some of which fall in Manipur ' under a Greater Nagaland, the root cause of the conflict.

However, the Centre did not make any move to help Manipur on the scale that was on display when Mumbai went under water.

The first sign that Delhi had woken up came when home minister Shivraj Patil told the Lok Sabha a few days ago that essential commodities would be airlifted.

Today, two jumbo An-32 cargo planes made eight sorties with foodgrain, sugar, edible oil and life-saving drugs. Hundreds of troops in battle gear took position around the airport when the planes landed.

A month’s stocks are expected to be airlifted in the next few days. Officials in Imphal said stocks of rice were running out.

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