It's hard to see anything positive coming out of the 60-day economic blockade in Manipur (India). But the blockade and counter blockade by two communities have actually led to a new wave of consciousness in this northeastern state with people, particularly youngsters, getting together and demanding a change in the present state of affairs.
With assembly elections due next year, many people are networking online and off it too to organise themselves and be the arbiters of their own 'destiny' in the Congress-led state wracked by unrest.
Anguished by the poor state of affairs in his home state, Bimol Akoijam has started an online campaign on the social networking site Facebook titled 'People's Campaign for Assembly Election 2012: Deciding Our Destiny'.
'It's time we act in order to have a life with dignity and well-being. The right to choose our political leadership is the basis for the change that we are seeking. The aim is to make the political class accountable for the mess and decadence that we are in today,' Akoijam wrote on his Facebook page.
The economic blockade called by the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) Aug 1 and a counter blockade called later by the United Naga Council have crippled normal life in Manipur, making prices of household commodities soar and resulting in acute scarcities, including of life-saving drugs.
Among the various activities planned is one on Oct 18 that aims to bring together all those who have moved out of the state for education, employment or other purposes and take their help in spreading awareness about the upcoming assembly elections and urge people to vote for the right candidate and make it an 'issue-based election'.
The meet, which is to take place in different cities across the country, has found many takers.
Yet another online group, 'Debate on Economic Blockade in Manipur' has scores of followers voicing their opinion.
'The economic blockade is happening because some people have political authority over their tribe, but even their own tribe people condemn this (blockade). Majority of people- whatever be their tribe- are suffering because of this,' wrote Achilles Vaiphei.
'The people of Manipur have been taken for a ride for far too long,' said Sharmila Singha, a homemaker from one of the worst affected districts, Chandel. 'Because of the interest of a handful of people, the entire state is in doldrums. And all the while the government has not been able to do anything about it.'
The main bone of contention in the logjam is the demand by the SHDDC for a separate Sadar Hills district, which is strictly opposed by some other sects as the area also includes some ethnic-Naga settled areas.
So, as the clashing communities remain firm on their demands, the rest of the state looks on helplessly and pays a heavy price.
Therefore, even as people in other states protest the rise of petrol prices to Rs.67 per litre, in Manipur it is being sold at around Rs.200 in the black market. An LPG cylinder can cost anywhere between Rs.1,800-2,000.
'We have gone back to using firewood for cooking. How can anyone afford a cylinder at such prices? Whatever be the issue, it's always...always the common man who suffers,' said a bitter Priyanka Yumnam, a homemaker.
Madhu Chandra, who hails from Manipur and is the spokesperson of the Northeast Support Centre in Delhi, told IANS: 'There is a feeling that there is a dearth of things in the state, but these are available in the black market for those who can afford the high prices...the blockade has therefore unleashed corruption in a big way.'
Mandira Singha, a 20-year-old who lost her father to the blockade because of lack of life-saving drugs, added: 'There is government apathy towards our condition. It's been 60 days and nothing has been done by the centre. Why? Had this happened anywhere else in the country would the reaction have been the same?'
(Azera Rahman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)