Assam became a part of British Indian Empire in 1826 by the treaty of Yandaboo. Since 1874, colonial Assam grew with an area of 2, 55,000 sq km, comprising the Northeast except the princely states of Manipur and Tripura. Assam was governed under a Chief Commissioner with its capital located at Shillong. The territorial arrangement remained the same for almost a century under the British and became one of the most important province and a favoured destination for investments in the tea, oil, coal, and timber industry.
After the departure of British in 1947, the Indian State started the fragmentation of Assam. In 1955 the Naga armed rebellion under the Naga National Council (NNC) broke out against the Indian State for an independent Nagaland. The end result of the Naga insurgency was the division of Assam. The Indian State first separated the Naga areas comprising the Naga Hills district of Assam and Tuensang district of NEFA in 1957 and created the state of Nagaland in 1963. Nagaland was formed with simple majority vote in the Indian parliament. The Assam government was simply coerced to give the consent.
In 1966 the Lushais/Mizos under the Mizo National Front (MNF) revolted against the Indian State to achieve independence. The Indian State reacted in the same way and the Lushai Hill district of Assam was made first a Union territory in 1972 and then upgraded to a state named Mizoram in 1978.This time again the Assam State Assembly had to follow Delhi’s dictate. But in the case of North East Frontier Tracts there was no rebellion against the Indian State nor was there a movement for a separate state. In 1954 the External Affairs Ministry took over the administration of the Tracts and named it the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). The Home Ministry took over the administration in 1965. Until 1972 when NEFA was made a Union Territory, it remained under the Governor of Assam. In 1987, NEFA was renamed as Arunachal Pradesh and became a separate state. This time the Indian State never bothered to seek the Assam government’s concurrence.
In the case of Meghalaya, the All Party Hills Leaders’ Conference (APHLC) encouraged by the creation of Nagaland demanded a hill state within Assam. There was never a movement for a separate state. But the Indian State responded by separating the Khasi/Jayantia Hills and the Garo hills of Assam and created an Autonomous state in 1970. In 1972, the Autonomous state was made into a full-fledged state of Meghalaya. In this case also the Assam government was made to follow New Delhi’s command. Assam lost its century old capital Shillong and its area was reduced to 78,438 sq km. Assam was bulldozed to one third of its size by the Central Govt. The outrageous divisions of Assam were done by the Centre taking advantage of a weak federalism.
The politics of balkanising Assam instead of accommodating the Hill tribes’ aspirations was Delhi’s divisive policy to dominate the restive region. The divisions of Assam were avoidable. The Indian State went against the recommendations of the State Reorganizations Commission of 1953. The retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Fazal Ali was the Commission’s head. The Commission submitted its report in 1955. The Commission observed that since 99% of Assam /Northeast were surrounded by foreign countries and only 1% of its boundaries are contiguous to mainland India, it recommended the unification of Manipur and Tripura with Assam to make the whole Northeast as one territorial unit. The same Commission recommended the creation of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh. The Centre reacted in a bizarre way. It started the divisions of Assam.
The Indian state tried to justify the divisions of Assam to end separatist armed insurgencies. The divisions of Assam in the name of ending/containing armed insurgencies do not hold any justification because the situation in the Northeast is far from being stable. After five decades of the divisions of Assam, the region is still volatile with the emergence of new separatist insurgent groups. On the other hand, the Indian State had used its overwhelming power, undermining the federal structure of the Constitution in dismembering Assam and also without calculating the financial resources of each of these carved out states in running their own administrations. These carved out states are not financially viable and instead became entirely dependent on Central funds. These states are simply draining out India’s economic strength. The mindless exercises in dismembering Assam are costing the Indian exchequer dearly.
The haphazard carving of new states out of Assam created bitterness along the boundaries and fuelled separate state movements. Assam’s border clashes are associated with all the carved out states. Time to time border clashes have flared up violently and many lives were lost in the last five decades of the divisions. The carved out states are again facing their own armed insurgency/separate state movements. It is now clear that the divisions of Assam did not reduce the conflict.
Now the decision of the Central Government to create a separate state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh has opened the Pandora’s Box in Assam and other parts of India. The Koch-Rajbongshis, Karbis, Dimasas and the Bodos started the demand of separate states in Assam. The Karbis, Dimasas and the Bodos are already enjoying Autonomous Councils with scheduled tribe status under the 6th schedule of the Constitution and are a privileged lot amongst the other ethnic groups/tribes of Assam. The greater Assamese nation comprises more than 25 different ethnic groups/tribes. These ethic groups/tribes coexisted for centuries, jointly fought wars against repeated Muslim/Mughal invasions since the 13th century till the annexation of Assam by the British. The coexistence of these ethic group/tribes for centuries and with a shared history and geography has created the greater Assamese nationality. The greater Assamese nationality is not complete without any of these communities which are carving for separate states out of Assam. The ethno-exclusive policies of Delhi have already created confusion, mistrust and bitterness among the ethnic groups/tribes. The statement of the Union Home Minister Shinde has added fuel to the fire and the region is now pushed towards a civil war.
The Koch-Rajbongshis, Karbis, Dimasas, and the Bodos that are carving for separate states must realize the historical coexistence of the ethnic groups/tribes and the strength lies only with unity because in the Indian Parliamentary system number matters. Small state like Nagaland or Mizoram with only one M.P. has no clout at all at the Centre. Assam with its 14 MPs. is no match for U.P. with its 80MPs. The only way to make the voice of Assam heard in Delhi is a united voice. Otherwise the voice would never reach Delhi. Moreover, the violence and bandhs which accompany these movements not only cripple economic activities and academics of student but also will scare away business investors. Blocking the national highways and railways for consecutive days by a handful of agitators claiming to be non violent protest is tantamount to taking the people of Northeast to ransom. It blocks the passage of essential foods and medicines, patients going for treatments, students and movements of military personals. This blockage is a greater form of violence because the entire people of the Northeast suffer. The Northeast is also a highly sensitive territory with China claiming Arunachal Pradesh. The state and the Centre should not tolerate such blackmailing of the people of the Northeast and threat to national security.
On the other hand, smaller states does not necessarily mean gaining utopia or better governance, more investments or better utilization of resources. The prevailing unstable conditions in Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which were carved out from U.P., Bihar and M.P. in 2000 has proved this beyond doubt. The demands for separate states should be addressed by taking all the ethnic groups/tribes and minorities inhabiting the affected areas into confidence without further division of Assam. Delhi should replace the divisive policy by an inclusive policy. The state should be empowered with a true federalism to solve its own internal problems. If any attempt is made by the Centre to create new states out of Assam or elsewhere bowing to ethnic chauvinism, violence, destruction of public property or other coercion tactics then it would lead to counter violence, anarchy and ultimately to balkanization of India in the coming years . Today there is a demand for 50 new states and tomorrow there would be a demand for 600 new states.