Manipur - Here's how a BJP-led government can transform the state

Now that Manipur has a BJP-led state government for the first time after years of Congress rule, expectations are high. Here are some ideas for the BJP government in the state and Centre and re-energise the people of Manipur and transform the state.

1: It was in Manipur that the National Flag was hoisted, for the first time on Indian soil, by the Indian National Army. The day was 14th April 1944 and the place Moirang, 45 km from Imphal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi must visit the INA Museum at Moirang on 14th April and hoist the flag. This would bring pride to our citizens and make the rest of India aware of a little-known fact.

At a short distance from the museum is Loktak Lake (area 236 sq kms), the largest freshwater lake in the Indian sub-continent. Modi's visit will do more to promote tourism than any advertising campaign ever could.

2: Broker peace between the Nagas and Manipuris. Every time they fight, the Nagas block the Dimapur-Kohima-Imphal road, also known as Manipur's lifeline, which leaves the state crippled by shortages and prices skyrocket.

Whilst talking peace, the government can also reduce the impact of economic blockade in two ways. One, allow the import of daily use items from Myanmar at the border town of Moreh against payment in Indian rupees. Two, send daily use items by ship from Kolkata to Rangoon from where it is sent to Moreh by road and then all over Manipur.

3: Make Manipur India's gateway to Myanmar. Here are some ideas to promote tourism.

a. Regular flights from Imphal to Bagan and Mandalay. Rejuvenation of Asian Highway project. Direct flights from Imphal to Gaya. Bus and taxi services between Imphal and Bagan. Indians going to Myanmar through Moreh be allowed a 15-day visa on arrival in Myanmar.

b. Instead of going to Myanmar via Bangkok, Indians can go via Imphal. Similarly Buddhist devotees from Myanmar can reach Imphal by bus/air and take a direct flight to Gaya. To promote goodwill between the two countries, the government gives every devotee returning to Myanmar a cycle.

c. This would make travel cheaper and faster. Important to have restaurants serving Gujarati and Punjabi food in Bagan and Mandalay because both communities travel extensively and are high spenders. Imphal had such restaurants when I visited in 2014.

4: New Delhi must begin to see Myanmar's market as an extension of India's and permit free trade at Moreh border provided it does not become a conduit for Chinese products, for example motor cycles, air-conditioners to enter the Indian market.

Treat Myanmar as an extension of the Indian market. Remove all restrictions on imports from Myanmar by this route for all products produced  in Myanmar. Simplify and liberalise payment procedures and formalities for buyers and sellers alike.

Sources state that trade through banking channels stands at about Rs 1,000 crores while unofficial trade is approximately Rs 4,000 crores where payment is through hawala or barter.

If payment for trade of daily use and specified items is permitted in Indian rupees or Burmese kyat, it would increase the volume of trade and kill the hawala market.

5: A development package and special attention to make Moreh an economic hub.

Because of bad roads between Moreh and Imphal, imports through Moreh have fallen. Business has now shifted to Mizoram border with Myanmar. Roads to be repaired and widened, a proper immigration facility, internet connectivity 24 x 7 (banking stops due to connectivity problems), development of a water and drainage system.

Rejuvenation of the Asian Highway project will promote legal export of Indian products that are in demand (bicycles and motor-cycles).

6: Promote tourism, especially during Holi and Sangai.

Holi is called Yaosang in Manipur and celebrated over five days. "Temples reverberate with Krishna bhajans. They go to the temple with pichkaaris and play Holi, first with Krishna's idol in Govindajee's temple and then with each other in the temple precincts". The Sangai Festival, held from 21 to 30 November every year, showcases Manipuri culture and music as none other.

Design special package tours for those interested in history of Word War II. The Azad Hind Fauj marched till Imphal. Allied forces fought the Japanese and won the Battle of Kohima.

From Kolkata, Imphal is only a hour and a half away. The air-fares are reasonable. Many people speak Hindi and restaurants serve North Indian food and dosas. You can get a good double-room for Rs 1000 to 1200 a night. People are friendly and helpful. In short, Manipur is affordable and convenient.

7: Polo was founded in Manipur. Organize polo tournaments on an international scale where teams from all over the world take part.

Sangai Festival 2014

8: Lift ban on sale of liquor. This will reduce influx of spurious products and generate revenue for the exchequer.

9: Sensitise the police force. Manipur police is among the most corrupt in India.

10: Develop infrastructure, especially education and health facilities in tribal-dominated hill districts.

Vivekanand Kendra and Ramakrishna Mission should be incentivised to open schools since they have the experience of running over forty schools in tribal-dominated Arunachal Pradesh.

11: Reduce corruption by bring transparency in government dealings and contracts. Use technology to improve the quality of service.

12: Imphal is the home of Mary Kom and India's boxing capital. Government and private institutes can enroll hundreds of students. If marketed properly, students from other parts of Indian can come to Manipur and learn how to box.

13:  Let reputed yoga institutions open training centres in Imphal. Given the insatiable demand for yoga teachers worldwide,  it can be a huge employment generator.

14: Manipuri culture is rich in music and dance. The government and Department of Tourism must organise Manipur festivals in India and abroad. When people see the richness of Manipuri culture, they will appreciate it and be better able to relate to it.

15: Improve infrastructure, especially roads, power supply and ensure that projects are completed on time.

When I visited Manipur,  I found it to be a beautiful state with lovely people. They deserve the best support that we can offer.

The author is an independent columnist and founder He tweets @sanjeev1927

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