Inter-state rivalries over boundaries or common facilities like river water are not new in India. But the latest tension between Nagaland and Manipur has nothing substantive at stake. Manipuris are understandably upset over the attacks on the passengers of three Imphal-bound buses and the alleged molestation of two women passengers inside Nagaland. It was obviously a criminal act that underscored the Nagaland government’s failure to ensure the safety of passengers travelling through the state. But to hold it against Nagas in general is to give an unwarranted and ill-conceived ethnic angle to the crime. There have been other issues such as New Delhi’s abortive attempt to extend to Manipur the ceasefire with Naga militant groups and the recurring fear in Manipur of the demand for a “Greater Nagaland” that keep alive the ethnic tension between the two states. There is no justification whatsoever in compounding ethnic confusions over a law and order issue. This is not to underplay the seriousness of the crime or to condone the Nagaland administration’s incompetence. In fact, Kohima’s complaint that the incident has been blown “out of proportions” is a regrettable attempt to wriggle out of its res-ponsibilities. This attitude is not going to help prevent such crimes or assuage wounded feelings in Imphal.
At the same time, to close National Highway 39 in protest against the incident is to cripple the economic lifeline not only of the two states but also of other areas in the Northeast. Tripura, for instance, will face acute shortages of essential commodities for no fault of its own if the blockade of the highway continues. Besides, it may lead to a vicious cycle if an organization of the Nagas decides to retaliate with a counter-blockade of Manipur-bound vehicular traffic. It is time the highway, which has often been held hostage to inter-state rivalries, was converted into a symbol of good neighbourliness and happier rites of passage in the entire region. Both Manipur and Nagaland can make a new beginning by helping, instead of fighting, each other on matters of common interest. The civil administrations in the two states would do well to join hands to improve law and order both on their own turfs and in bordering areas.