ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Politicising Roads in Manipur

Spatial and Temporal Relations of Infrastructure

Roads across Manipur are ephemeral, foregrounding the politics behind their development as well as their spatial and temporal nature. Drawing from fieldwork conducted in Manipur, this article analyses contemporaneous state practices of infrastructure and its sociopolitical processes, and offers evidence to understand their materialities, forms, and societal relations. The nexus between politicians, contractors, bureaucrats, insurgents and elites causes frequent suspension of road projects, setting a new form of contingent development practice in Manipur.


The author acknowledges and appreciates the valuable suggestions by anonymous reviewers.

Roads entail (dis)connectivity, and circulation of goods, people, ideas, and social relations. Roads across Manipur are highly politicised and ephemeral, foregrounding the spatio-temporality of infrastructure, but this infrastructure also provides a basis to understand issues of access, inclusion and exclusion, equity and social justice, and state practices. Roads, especially highways, in Manipur are also a site of conflict and contestation. Various ethnic communities and civil society organisations frequently block highways to draw attention to issues affecting their lives. In Manipur, as elsewhere in the North East, infrastructure projects are rarely completed on schedule. This has adversely affected the construction of National Highway 2 (NH-2), NH-37, NH-102 A and B, NH-155, and rural roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Also, most of the rural roads constructed under the PMGSY are washed away by the monsoons. The long gestation period and corruption in infrastructure projects leading to cost inflation and suspension of projects midway points to the temporal dimension of infrastructure.

Drawing on the case of Peruvian roads, Harvey and Knox (2012) suggested three promises of emancipatory modernity that roads seem to instantiate: the promise of speed and connectivity, the promise of political freedom and the promise of economic prosperity. Until recently, social scientists, apart from economists, paid scant attention to the study of infrastructure. Over the last decade, studies of infrastructure from a socio-anthropological perspective, that is, ethnographies of infrastructure, have offered a new theoretical lens to understand their materiality and forms, relationship with society, power dynamics, authority, everyday politics, governance, exclusions, and social future, among others.1 Since infrastructure projects can be suspended, dismantled, torn down, and removed, their spatio-temporality needs to be theorized as its own condition of being (Gupta 2015). The temporality of road infrastructure seeps into the fabric of everyday experiences while traversing on roads and highways filled with potholes and craters. Infrastructure development suffers from endemic monetary demands to contractors by both state and non-state actors, kidnapping and threatening labourers, and competing interests of varied contractors. This condenses and refracts the failure of infrastructural governance. Building on research on the social dynamics of infrastructure development in Manipur from 2013 to 2017, this article analyses road infrastructure from a spatio-temporal frame and argues that the nexus of politicians, contractors, bureaucrats, insurgents and elites drive the temporality of road infrastructure in Manipur.

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Published On : 15th Feb, 2024

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