The hidden war at Assam Nagaland border – India against itself


Photo by Luit Chaliha

By- Pranjit Sarmah

During the last two weeks, when all newspapers chose to cover only the Anna Hazare movement, some ignored headlines placed at the corners of the front and middle pages were “More than 9 lakhs people in Assam affected by flood”, “A women with her two children drowned in flood in front of rescue workers at Dhemaji,”, “Assam Chief Minister declared to hand over disputed lands near border to Bangladesh”, “Naga insurgents are building bunkers around Assam-Nagaland border”, etc. Apart from these, other issues ignored during the period were the Mega Dam at Subansiri River and other hydroelectric projects, Brahmaputra river diversion project of China which might not only effect Assam and North-East but our neighboring country Bangladesh.

Each of these needs high attention, but there is one that has baffled the concept of a sovereign nation, – the ongoing conflicts at Merapani, Assam- Nagaland border.  It has to be agreed that Merapani has been a long disputed territory since decades. In fact one could hardly forget the incident in June 1985, when over 100 people had died in firing between Assam and Nagaland police at this place. Across the decade, this place has been a hotbed of conflict .The recent developments suggest a more dangerous picture.

It is really astonishing as to how inside a sovereign country like India, NSCN rebels could build bunkers near the Assam-Nagaland border of Merapani, Golaghat District, – that too, with an intention to forcefully occupy lands of Assam, another state of India. It is obvious that this is being done under knowledge and consent of the Nagaland government and in front of the administration of Assam government.

  • Few months ago a similar situation had arose in the border of two states which went into riot like situation with many houses of people being burnt. Negotiations between both Governments took place and it was agreed to bring back the peace. The government of Assam removed its battalion from the border, however the Nagaland government did not do so and instead is reported to have started working to convert it to one bigger battle ground by creating bunker in borders, bringing food and logistic by some secrete paths. Now people of that area are living under fear with lots of threat and few are leaving those villages. Businessmen from Assam are not even allowed to enter to those areas.

  • Whether it is due to laziness and lack of willingness of the central government to solve the insurgency problem of North-East or the stubbornness of NSCN itself, the negotiation process between Central government and NSCN which started more than a decade ago has still failed to come to one definite conclusion. The demand of Greater Nagalim of NSCN includes parts of Assam and Manipur which is creating problem to both Manipur and Assam. The Naga revolutionists are collecting Taxes from employee, businessmen of Assam-Nagaland border area for many years now, all actively in front of administration. It is really strange that at one hand the centre has adopted draconian laws like AFSPA to tame militancy, while to the NSCN the same centre give a blind eye and remain silent on their growing menace threatening other states.

  • It is doubtful if any negotiation by Assam state government will play a good role in solving this issue as it is observed that Nagaland state government is actually dominated and run by a parallel government of Naga revolutionists. In this situation the interference of central government is very necessary. About other solution it is doubtful how far Assam police will be successful against the NSCN to protect the lands of Assam as NSCN is one of the biggest rebel groups of north east with huge volume of guerilla trained commandos and sophisticated weapons. At the same time it is also doubtful if the GoI will deploy its army to combat NSCN with which it is in the process of negotiation and many observations depict that the GoI is in a compromising position with them.

  • As NSCN is under process of negotiation and under ceasefire, it is really questionable under which constitutional term they are repeatedly creating disturbance not only in Assam alone, but in Manipur too. It is questionable how they are collecting taxes from government employee, businessmen and small tea planters. Will the central government be able to come to one acceptable negotiation with NSCN is a question mark on the peace process of whole of north east.

  • The delay in the negotiation process is creating doubts in many armed groups of the region who are either looking for or already in ceasefire with government. The question raised is if the government has any willingness of good and HONEST negotiation or it is just a tactics to bring them into negotiation table and then to keep delaying the process later. It could never be a good sign if government does not take step against one organization NSCN under ceasefire that is repeatedly violating law and order situations, creating disturbance and that too in front of the administration. It will create many other problems and may lead to some typical situation in this region near future.

There is no doubt that North-East is changing, a wave of will for development, better education, peaceful life are occupying the space of insurgency. Many armed groups organizations are coming to the table of negotiation too, which is a positive sign. At this stage if the GoI shows genuine willingness and activeness in the negotiation table with these organizations, deal with their demand with honesty; the insurgency problem may see an end here. At the same time government should work from here to find out the core reasons which lead to the formation of different arm-revolutionary organization and take necessary step such that in future no one will take up arm here.

Where is a will there is a way – it is not difficult to fathom the reasons, it is none but negligence for development, central government’s failure to understand and study the region of many tribes and ethnic group, the culture and life style of its people which had led to the decades of unrest and militancy. To bring peace to this region there must be a different approach and procedure, which fits with the land and life, culture, social value and life style of people of north east. If government would have considered one research and study about this region, its people’s life style, culture, social value, history, what they want, why they are not happy, what are their differences from mainland India’s people etc and if the government would have considered some changes in the process to role this region, there would not have been the need to adopt any draconian law like AFPSA which only widened the problem far deeper.

Thus the process of negotiation should be faster, with honesty and with good wiliness from government side. It is necessary to realize that the deals made during negotiation with one arm-revolutionary group do not leave any reason to create formation of one other group,- it will only further destroy the peace of the region. At the same time, the negotiation process also must have the level of honesty needed from governments side such that the failure of negotiation with one group do not discourage few other groups which might be looking to join in the table soon.

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