Guwahati, Aug 25 : Assam, which existed as the composite Assam Province under British rule, and the four new states carved out of it post Independence, are yet to come to terms with their demarcated boundaries.
The result — bloody border clashes.
Barring the two princely states of Tripura and Manipur, which were not annexed to Assam by the British, the four new states of Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram all have interstate border disputes with Assam.
The clashes along the Assam-Nagaland border, which broke out in Uriamghat in Golaghat district on August 12, spread to interior areas of Assam, resulting in a major law and order problem. At least 14 Assamese villagers were shot dead by armed Nagas and their houses burnt. Protesters in Assam directed their ire against the state government and accused it of failing to protect the border from the Nagas.
What followed were week-long clashes between protesters and Assam Police in Golaghat district till the Army was called in on Wednesday. Three agitators were killed when police opened fire to quell the protests.
For Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, the recent border trouble has been the most serious crisis he has faced since taking charge in 2001. People and his political rivals hold him responsible for giving Naga attackers a free run along the border.
Gogoi told TOI, "The border disputes started after the states were formed. We moved the Supreme Court to end the dispute with Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Several border commissions have been set up to settle the issue with Nagaland, Arunachal and Meghalaya, but the other states have not accepted the recommendations of these panels. We are waiting for the Supreme Court's verdict because these commissions can only provide recommendations. They cannot ensure that they are binding."
Nagaland was the first to be carved out of Assam in 1963, followed by Meghalaya in 1972. This was followed by the creation of Mizoram as a union territory in 1972 (it became a state in 1986). Arunachal Pradesh, formerly known as North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and annexed to Assam, attained union territory status in 1972 before becoming a full-fledged state in 1987.
Gogoi said, "Assam accepts the constitutional boundary defined at the time of creation of these states. But they (Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh) say they will accept only historical boundaries, instead of constitutional ones." By historical boundaries, these states mean boundaries which existed long before the country's Independence.
A government official said Nagaland is the biggest troublemaker along the border. The flashpoint of the Assam-Nagaland border conflict has always been Merapani in Golaghat district. In 1979, Nagas killed at least 70 Assamese villagers and Nagaland Police were alleged to have lent a helping hand. In 1985, another violent clash between the police forces of both states left 50 dead and several wounded. Many casualties were from Assam Police.
Minor clashes have been reported from the Assam-Mizoram border. Only the borders with Manipur and Tripura have been relatively peaceful so far.
Assam government records say that Nagaland has encroached upon 19,819.619 hectares of Assam's land, while Arunachal has captured 5,756.02 hectares and Meghalaya, 65.62 hectares, since 2001.
It is not just Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland or Arunachal who have rejected the suggestions of the border commissions. Assam recently rejected recommendations by mediators appointed by the Supreme Court.
Nagaland and Manipur have locked horns over administrative control of Dzuko Valley, spread over Senapati district in Manipur and Kohima in Nagaland. Travel brochures of tourism departments of both states lay claim to the valley, known for its flowers.