Sinlung /
29 July 2013

Are Insurgencies in Northeast India Moving Towards A Resolution?

Way back in 1964, when one of my responsibilities included the dissemination of information of the activities of the army in the eastern sector, I visited the headquarters of the 8 Mountain Division in Kohima, which was commanded by Maj-Gen K. P. Candeth.

When I called on Major General Candeth, besides giving the clearance for me being briefed about the role of the division in fighting insurgency, he told me that I should spend time meeting the soldiers and get an impression of the jobs they were doing in fighting insurgency and citizens around Kohima and have a chat with him later.

During my informal chats with the soldiers, I gained the impression that the soldiers were finding it difficult to understand their roles. They were trained to fight an enemy, and it was difficult to distinguish the 'dushman'. One gets the feeling that the Indian soldier continues to have this difficulty in fighting insurgency, which has now spread to more areas in the north-east as well as in a more virulent form in Jammu and Kashmir.

Most of the north-east was then administered from Shillong. The troubles in Nagaland had a fresh spurt after the India-China War. In an effort to establish peace, the Tuensang sub-division was separated from NEFA in 1963 and the state of Nagaland was created.

However, incidents of violence continued. Assisted by Reverend Michael Scott., who had close links with the underground group, an effort was made by the Government of India to negotiate for peace. A cease-fire was concluded with the Naga Peace Mission in September 1964.

The troubles in Nagaland were followed by disturbances in Mizo areas in the south of Assam. The army had to be rushed there too in 1966 to put down the insurgency.

The negotiations with a faction of the underground Naga rebels, which did not accept an accord within the Indian Constitution, and an attack on the convoy of then Chief Minister Hokishe Sema on the Dimapur-Kohima Road in August 1972, resulted in the resumption of army operations.

The effort to reach an accord continued, and in November 1975, the second cease fire known as the Shillong Peace Accord, came into effect. However, this accord has not been accepted by a section of the underground Nagas led by Isak Su, Muivah and Khaplang, leading to the formation of the NSCN. There is also the demand for a Greater Nagaland, which aims at inclusion of Naga inhabited areas of Manipur.

The trouble in Manipur is due to the sense of betrayal among the Meities, a culturally advanced group, who have not been granted Scheduled Caste status, as compared to the Kukis and the Nagas.

Violence erupted in Manipur and the army had to be called in 1980. Ever since then, Manipur has been on the brink of violence, the clashes between the Nagas and Meities and the Kukis and Nagas, and the Meities and the Kukies, keeping the valley of Manipur blocked for months every year.

The army and the Assam Rifles, which were responsible for maintaining peace in Manipur have had a difficult task, as plains people in Manipur feel alienated when the security forces use force to establish peace during clashes between them, the Nagas and the Kukis. The alleged rape of Manorama Devi by the Assam Rifles in 2004 led to a movement for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the state.

Not to be left alone, Assam too has had its share of troubles. The Bodos have had a sense of being neglected by the Assamese and they have been agitating for creation of a separate state. To add to the problems, Assam has a large migrant population from Bangladesh, who have been crossing the border in search of jobs. The anti-foreigner movement in Assam between 1979 and 1985 resulted in large scale violence, and the emergence of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), which created a mass movement against the migrant population in Assam.

The signing of the Assam Accord in August 1985 resulted in a brief respite, but the trouble erupted often and the army had to be called to put down the activities of the ULFA, which had bases in Bangladesh.

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a determined effort to establish peace in the North-East by granting statehood to Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura. The relief has only been marginal. The militant groups, which have been receiving weapons from Chinese sources in the early years, shifted their bases to Bangladesh and Burma. The establishment of better relations by India with Bangladesh and Burma and India's Look East policy has been a positive step forward.

Colonel Gautam Das, who has had the experience of both working in the field in counter insurgency operations as well as in the staff in the Eastern Command, has given a detailed account of these developments in his book.

The book ends with a chapter on the way forward. The author presents many options. The authorities involved in finding a solution are far too many.

The neighbouring countries provide a base to insurgents, the authorities in the national capital which include the Home Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the Army Headquarters, and the Parliamentarians, the lawmakers and bureaucrats and policemen in the states.

All in all, one gets the feeling we are groping for a solution to put down insurgencies. The army, the paramilitary forces, and the local police work under different masters and coordination is a difficult task. But they have the strength to ensure that the insurgents do not succeed People are tired of violence and hope that solutions will emerge to the different problems that we face in the seven states in the north east. .


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