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North East : India’s Forgotten Frontier
|by Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle|
India's North East comprises of seven states, fondly referred to as the Seven Sisters. More aptly these could be called as seven neglected girl children of India, for the state of law and order in this area despite 60 years of combating insurgency in many parts as Nagaland remains precarious. Overtly there may be no cause for alarm, but the underlying currents of militancy and plain bland criminalized terrorism are strong. Here is an account which should lead the reader to make his or her own judgment.
Firstly the orderly affairs in the area. Three states in the North East, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland successfully completed the process of state assembly elections. The results in Tripura were on expected lines as the Manik Sarkar led Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)- Left Front government was voted back in power with an emphatic 49 seats in a 60 member assembly for the fourth consecutive term. This led the CPI M leader Sitaram Yechury to comment that incumbency always favours his Party as it provides clean and efficient governance. This statement does reflect reality to an extent as Tripura facing militancy with a wide divide between the tribal and the non tribal population is now reasonably peaceful with development taking roots. In Nagaland the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) which was deposed a few weeks before elections by enforcing President's rule regained majority while in Meghalaya the political turbulence continued with the Congress government sworn in having to resign before the floor test in the house and a NCP led one now in office. This does not augur well for stability in the state.
Now the disorderly. The security situation in Assam and Manipur continues to be grave. The attacks against Hindi speaking people in Assam by the ULFA have now extended to Manipur which is a new trend which should be alarming. The ULFA which had suffered severe blows in the past has been able to rejuvenate at least some of its operational potential and will continue to strike with regularity in the days ahead. The bicycle bomb strategy of the ULFA is particularly dangerous. The Army is gamely fighting the terrorists even as the police machinery seems to be faltering.
All pervasiveness of militancy in Assam is evident with a report in the Asian Age quoting the Assam government denoting existence of nine militant groups, active in the state with 2,115 armed cadres as on 31 March 2008. There were conflicting signals from Assam's Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi when he indicated that as long as Bangladesh serves as the haven for militants from the North-east, the ULFA will not come forward for peace talks. He however showed willingness to facilitate the same. 'My Government is ready to facilitate trip of both political and civil society representatives from the State whoever is willing to hold talks with the proscribed outfit. They may be Opposition party leaders or peace interlocutor Mamoni Raisom Goswami. If they can bring the ULFA to the table, I will be happy to help them.' Thankfully it is apparent that the Central government has spurned these moves which only provide a loose rope for mayhem to the outlawed terror group.
Even as the government was battling the ULFA, Bodo districts also erupted in violence with the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and former Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), rivalry spilling over into the streets. North Cachar continued to be in the grip of violence severely disrupting infra structure projects in the area. Three engineers working with a road construction company P L Valecha Engineering Company on the Mahasark East-West Corridor were among five persons abducted by suspected Dima Halam Daoga (Black Widow) militants in NC Hills on 13 March.
Manipur continued to be a State of serious security concern with many fangled militancy spreading across the hills as well as the Valley region. The final nail was perhaps a bomb hurled by unidentified militants inside the Manipur Assembly complex on 7 March. This was a replay at a small scale of the Parliamentary attack in New Delhi by the Lashkar e Taiyyaba but the state government has not been able to arrest the militants who having hurled the bomb at 11.30 in the morning got away.
Close on the heels of the recent attacks on North Indians in Assam and Maharashtra, unidentified gunmen killed 15 Hindi-speaking migrants in Manipur on 17 and 18 March in Imphal East and Thoubal districts. Security forces claimed to have gunned down two militants of the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), involved in the incident, which set the government machinery active to stop migrants from leaving the state. On 24 March, PREPAK militants struck at a thabal chongba function (dance during Holi) at Heirok part-II, killing two teenage girls on the spot while another girl and a boy were seriously injured. The residents of Heirok in Thoubal district including three MLAs took out a rally on 28 March in Imphal to protest the killing which was regretted by the PREPAK later.
The inter group rivalry between the NSCN IM and K groups has now been extended to the newly formed NSCN (U) which is assuming serious over tones. This is evident with the current out break of violence which has resulted in a series of clashes and many instances of abductions in Nagaland which had subsided during the run up to the elections in the state.
The North East has no easy options for the Indian government but to undertake effective counter militancy operations, root out corruption, break the nexus between the criminals, terrorists and political groupings and give the people a clean and efficient administration. The capacity of the police needs to be built up and the army returned to the barracks. This of course is easier said than done, for engrossed in the, 'weighty' politics around the national capital; the Seven Sisters may continue to be forgotten in the corridors of power in Delhi.
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