Manipur: UNC hails formation of core committee on Naga issue
Representational image

Ukhrul (Manipur): A freshly painted mural of Naga rebel leaders Late Khodao Yanthan, Late Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah with hands holding up Naga flags in the background draws attention to the northern boundary wall of a mini stadium here. Hanging from the top right corner is a BJP flag tied to a post and on the left is that of Naga People’s Front.

The frame mirrors the current election mood in this small hill town where people are gearing up to choose a candidate to represent them in the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly but with the lingering effect of the unfinished talks between the Centre and NSCN (IM) under the Framework Agreement signed in 2015, serving as a reminder of the violent past that this northeastern part of Manipur had witnessed during the Naga insurgency.

Worthem, a middle-aged man who runs a book shop in Ukrul’s landmark Wino Bazaar, says people here are desperate for long-lasting peace and development, and he would be voting with that in mind when polling takes place on March 5 in the second phase.

“Yes, there has been a perceptible change and there is peace after the Framework Agreement was announced but there is still that shadow of the past, there is still that uncertainty. What if the Nagas don’t get what they have been demanding?” he said.

The long wait for the talks to conclude is beginning to tell on the patience of Abam Chahonghao, who mans the ticket sales counter of private passenger bus service between Ukhrul and the state’s capital Imphal.

“We are hoping that it will be concluded soon but we have been waiting for over five years now and are getting tired and we don’t know where it is headed,” he lamented.

As for Agrippa J, in his mid-twenties, who returned to his home state leaving behind a corporate job in Bengaluru to start his own business of opening a food court during the pandemic, there is a curiosity to know what has been agreed under the Framework Agreement.

“The youth today want development and peace. We will vote accordingly, on the basis of which candidate can fulfill our wishes and not based on party. We also want to know the details of the Framework Agreement as it is important in deciding our future,” he said.

Agrippa said that there needs to be harmony and co-existence between the various ethnic groups in Manipur, and the divide between hill and valley people in the state must be bridged.

His business partner, Saching S W, a former cabin crew with a private airline, said the youth of the region should also have a say in deciding their future.

“Our generation has a disconnect with the older politicians as they cannot understand us, our aspirations and wishes. So, we will definitely vote for the candidate who can represent the youth, who will work for peace and development of our region,” she asserted.

At the other end of the age spectrum is A Simrai, an elderly lady vendor at the women-only Ava Market here. Having witnessed violence in the past, she hoped that long-lasting peace prevailed in Ukhrul.

“In the last few years, there has been peace. I want that to continue for the remaining part of my life,” she said.

Thirty-one-year-old Amung Raingam had invested in a larger area for his Food Inn Restaurant before COVID-19 hit. Trying to recover from the impact, he has less time to devote to actively participate and support any particular candidate but like other young people, he also says development and peace are key deciding factors.

“People are not going party-wise. They are choosing candidates based on their credentials. I am also doing the same,” he said.

On the basis of development, Shomi S, who drives a passenger bus, said those who have done constructive work should be voted for.

Citing the current work of widening of the over 80-km highway between Ukhrul and Imphal from a single lane, he remarked, “Now, it takes three hours but imagine when the road construction is completed how the distance, not just physical but emotional, will be reduced.”

For Ukhrul Assembly constituency, sitting Congress MLA Alfred Kanngam S Arthur, former national footballer Somatai Saiza of BJP and retired IAS Ram Muivah of Naga People’s Front are locked in a three-cornered contest.

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