Peace In North-East India An Undisputed Dispute
For mainland Indian citizens who read only the Government’s version about the North-east, the situation there is highly explosive. In general the North-East people are being identified with atavistic Afghan marauders who during heyday of British colonial rule had disturbed peace on the frontiers of erstwhile Indian subcontinent. There is no denying to the fact that the region is home to above 50 insurgent organisations (according to the report of Home Ministry, Government of India), of which United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur, Naga Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) constitute the oldest and most notorious organisations in South-Asia-Pacific regional level. The demands of insurgent organisations operating in the region range from ethnic assertion or creation of autonomous regions (within the Indian state) to creation of separate countries.
North-east insurgency might be perceived a ‘political aberration’ i.e., a general perception based on terms such as “terrorism”, “disturbance” and “law and order problem”. Insurgency is very much rooted into the soil of North-East where overlapping unrests on issues related to economic underdevelopment, ethnic identity assertion, illegal immigration, border dispute and so on were either interplaying or counter-playing. While generalising insurgency as the most predominant violent expression of the dissenting voice, the purpose of the article is to briefly highlight the weakness on the part of GOI in dealing with core issues that have been thriving ground for breeding insurgency. The article intends to focus on both subjective and objective factors that have so far acted as impediments to the peace process.
Firstly, the secessionist tendency is well connected with the historical background coupled with the sense of alienation prevailing in the popular perception about the notion of responsible government. The perceptions of being forcibly annexed, militarily occupied, culturally dominated, politically subjugated and economically underdeveloped persist beyond doubt. The perception interplayed with the feeling of negligence by the centre, administrative corruption and security tyranny.
Secondly, the feeling of being underdeveloped is perpetuated against the background of stagnant character of development process that has failed to make sudden
investment take off and corresponding equitable distribution for the growing population. In fact, the North-East is rich in natural resources and is known for its various products across the globe. However, the 60 years of economic policy following the independence has not improved the agrarian sector despite the fact that it alone constitutes the primary sources of livelihood of the people. It is indeed astonishing to note that there has not been much improvement in the agricultural facilities, i.e., the basic prerequisite for agricultural modernisation, transport facilities, scientific farming and tools and implements.
In term of its industrial and resource utilisation the region remains backward without any corresponding infrastructural development required for sustainable growth. The structural adjustment programs, despite the fact that it has tremendous impetus for the growth of notable private/public oil refineries, mining, factories and entrepreneurs, have not substantially addressed the issue of economic backwardness. On the contrary attempts to arbitrary construction of dams and hydro-electricity power projects without adhering to established norms such as Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), Environment Management Plan and Public Hearing (EMP), etc, thereby creating a sense of economic insecurity, displacement and deprivation, have generated confusion and mistrust. As a result, the process of the construction of the Tipaimukh Dam in Churchanpur district in Manipur, the Teesta Hydel Project in Sikkim, the Debang Multipurpose project (3000 mgw) in Arunachal Pradesh, etc., have been widely condemned and protested.
Thirdly, the uninterrupted infiltration of foreigners from neighbouring countries like, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal and migrants from neighbouring mainland regions have also generated a sense of insecurity. The feeling that the indigenous Tripuris in Tripura were being outnumbered and subjugated by outsiders have added to the apprehension that infiltration/ migration of outsiders would socially, culturally, politically and economically dominate the ‘indigenous population ‘. The apprehension acted as surrogates to ethno-centric claims for the defence of respective cultural, customary and traditional identities with corresponding claims for control over territory and resources.
To cite an example of the extent of the problem, there was a torch-light procession in Assam against illegal immigrants. The failure on the part of the government to address the issue of the demand for implementation of Inner Line Permit
system in the North-East and the extradition of illegal immigrants have generated a sense of insecurity, created unrest and mistrust against the Indian state.
Fourthly, the military policy of the Indian state, beginning with what Neville Maxwell had termed forward policy in early 1950s onwards, a geo-strategically calculated myopic vision of defending the established territorial integrity through military might, have failed to quell insurgency. The military policy that provides the armed forces with impunity, e.g. the controversial AFSPA 1958 has created a situation that the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre has termed “security tyranny”. The demand of the people for an end to terrorism in any form has not been adequately addressed by the Indian state. Pressures or recommendations from several international bodies, including the UN, the progressive Indians and the government instituted inquiry commissions, e.g. Justice Upendra Inquiry Commission, to repeal the AFSPA on the ground that it violates basic constitutional rights, i.e. right to life, and the series of protest for more than two decades, have been turned down by a Supreme Court ruling in 1997 and the succeeding governments.
On the contrary, the government has extended military intervention in social service sectors through implementing “Military Civic Action Programme” and other cosmetic ad hoc policies. The entire military policy in the Northeast raises several questions against the character of Indian democracy in this region. National security concern must not override the fundamental democratic rights of the people. Indian military policy in the Northeast must be reviewed for a practical peace process. Otherwise, the authoritarian military policy will continue to perpetuate what may be called dissenting movement or secessionism in the north east.
The government of India and its armed forces had entered into several rounds of ceasefire with several secessionist parties in the past and has been continuing it with NSCN (IM) and other insurgent groups such as the Kuki militants in Manipur. The situation has created temporary end of armed clash between the negotiating parties. However, it has only added to increase propaganda activities of the negotiating parties towards the general population and has also generated inter-community misunderstanding on matters related to the geographical extent of on implication of the agreements so on and so forth. Negotiation with any insurgency organisation, of course, is a leap towards in the peace process. And yet, any peace initiative that would not adequately address the fundamental issues that have paved the way to the breeding of insurgency or anti-Indian establishment feeling would remain cosmetic and apolitical in the long process. The sincerity of the Indian state in dealing with the issues, its transparency and accountability in handling the peace process are indispensable.
So in trying to bring peace and a long lasting solution in the North-East region, the government should try explore the most possible way to negotiate the armed guerrillas, though they are mostly based on different ideological factors, and to bring them for peace talks. The foremost thing is to be sincere from the government side. For now as one understands that the whole problems could only be solved through political dialogue and effective political campaign not militarisation the region. Power might come from the barrel of gun, but peace doesn’t come from the barrel of gun.
By Leichombam Kullajit