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Looking East: Insurgency in North East

Whilst India has been successful in keeping itself united for 74 years, the North East has fallen prey to instability and underdevelopment. Geographically India's insurgency heartland is inhabited by the sister states of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura, which is an estranged area connected to the Indian mainland only through a small corridor. The peripheral location, geographical isolation, and land-locked nature of the North East region have catered to great geopolitical significance in the domain of insurgency and under-development. It's an area forged by a multitude of conflicts that has undermined the functional and diverse functioning of democracy within the nation.

Historically, the northeastern tribes' connection tilts more towards South-East Asia than South Asia. The Tais and Singroupho groups such as the Aitons, Khamtis, Phakes, Ahoms, Turungs, and the Khamyangs moved to North East India from the Shan state of Yunnan and Myanmar. In the same way, Mizos, Kukis, Nagas, and the Lushais entered North East India from Burma. The territory is linguistically, ethnically, and culturally very distinct from the other states of India. Cultural and ethnic diversity per se has not stirred any conflict within this area. However, the significant challenge molding the region has been its territorial composition wherein cultural and ethnic specificities were disregarded during the process of delineating state boundaries during the 1950s; which contributed to discontent and subsequent assertion of indigenous identity. The inhabitants' allegiance to a newly formed Indian national state was lacking, bringing in a loss of a significant chunk of physical connections from the mainland's India and northeast India.

The seven sisters transformed into a land of thousand mutinies with the Nagas marking the beginning of the insurgency saga in the 1950s and, to date, has been one of the world's oldest unresolved armed conflicts. Since then, the Naga insurgency has spawned dozens of similar protests across the region that remains on the periphery of national consciousness. The issues fueling the fire have a broad spectrum of problems to come in terms. The demands of the insurgency group have been wide-ranging. Political outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (U.L.F.A.), N.S.C.N. (National Socialist Council of Nagaland: Isak-Muivah and khaplang fraction) aim at establishing independent states. Other Outfits, such as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (N.D.F.B.), demand separate identities. Fringe outfits, such as the United People's Democratic Solidarity (U.P.D.S.) and Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), fight for maximum autonomy. The central government's apathy to the population suffering from a famine triggered Mizoram's militancy spearheaded by the Mizo National Front (M.N.F.).

The only silver lining is the state of Tripura, where militancy has declined, while Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Mizoram are relatively peaceful insofar as insurgency goes. But then, the northeastern sky has always been cast with dark for decades, and even if shifting clouds do make away for a spot of silver now and then, you never actually know whether it will last forever.

The Security force operations encompassing the army, paramilitary forces, and state police remains the preferred mode of official response to counter militancy. The Central government, in regards to the policy, compensates for the security-related expenditure incurred by the states. The center has also drafted an ongoing program for the modernization of the state police forces. Interestingly, in all northeastern states, the ratio of police officers per 10,000 people is far above the national average.While military operations have only limited success, it is the constant dialogue for peace with the militant outfits that have brought some order in the northeastern region. Discussion with the M.N.F. ( Mizo National Front) remains the only model of the consummation of a successful peace procedure that terminated militancy in Mizoram in 1986. Treatises like the Mizo Peace Accord, however, have not been recreated. Other agreements such as the Shillong Accord in 1975 with the N.N.C.( Naga National Congress) in Nagaland, the 1988 consensus with the Tripura National Volunteers in Tripura, the Bodoland Autonomous Council agreement of 1993 with the Bodo militants in the Assam region have all tainted through as new factions, disgruntled with the terms of the unison, have resumed hostilities under new leaderships.

Presently, the Union government has ongoing ceasefire agreements with six militant groups in different states. Ceasefire agreements with various groups have led to a reduction in the militancy-related fatalities in their respective domains, however, the Union government has not been able to carve out a road map toward a situation of a permanent agreement. In countless cases, the process of dialogue is yet to be initiated with the outfits formally. On the other hand, militant groups have taken dominance of the protracted peace proceeds and continued with their actions, such as extortion and abduction with impunity. In Nagaland, fratricidal clashes between armed groups have remained a significant cause of concern. In Assam, even after its pursuit for peace, U.L.F.A. continues to splurge in sporadic acts of violence.Although most militant outfits have emanated within their respective states and have operated with relative calm in their homelands, the Centre has accused neighboring countries like China and Myanmar of promoting insurgency. Bhutan remains the only country that has successfully deposed many militant camps of the northeastern groups through a military operation initiated in December 2003. No records exist concerning the fatalities in militancy-related clashes during the pre-1992 phase in the northeast. The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs reported from 1992 to 2015 over 15,600 deaths have been recorded from each of these states, though the actual number is believed to be much higher. Civilians number for more than 50 percent of the total casualties.

In the oil-rich Assam region, militants have periodically targeted oil and gas pipelines for sabotage, alleging that India exploits the natural resources of the state. In Tripura, national ventures — such as the extension of the rail lines — have either been restrained or have moved at a slow pace after militants attacked the construction sites and abducted workers. Militancy has also delayed the prospect of linking the northeast's economy with the neighboring Southeast Asian countries. Tourism, which could have thrived in the scenic northeast, has suffered. Although the militants have abducted no foreign tourists, an atmosphere of fear and trepidation has prevented national and international tourists from picking the area as their terminus. The education sector, too, has been threatened by militancy. Several schools in states like Tripura's interior districts have been shut as teachers avoid the areas due to fear of militant activities. Extraction by the militant organizations on the national highways that connect the seven states with mainland India has increased the prices of essential commodities. Trucks and buses have been destroyed and burned for non-payment of "taxes."

The constellation of problems and conflicts in the northeast arena has become an obstacle towards the development of this unexplored paradise. While the government's military strategies have attained only minimal results, the shortage of progress continues further to alienate the local communities from mainland India. The area has also received little attention from either the national or the international media. With the mushrooming number of dead bodies of armed personnel and civilians, attainments by an autonomous ministry made by the Indian government for the progress of the region remain minimal. All this has haunted policymakers and nation builders on how to promote peaceful coexistence among the northeastern people through which democracy of the country can be empowered.

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Nandana Bhattacharjee (

A 3rd year student pursuing Bachelors in History Honours from Lady Shri Ram College for women (University of Delhi), my interest areas include Development , Sustainability , Governance and Public Policy.


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