In this essay we will discuss about:- 1. Historical Background of the North-East 2. Factors Responsible for Insurgency in the North-East 3. Government’s Response to North-East Extremism 4. North-East Insurgents and their Foreign Links 5. Key Issues 6. Counter-Terrorism — Steps being Taken/Required.

Essay Contents:

  1. Essay on the Historical Background of the North-East Region of India
  2. Essay on the Factors Responsible for Insurgency in the North-East
  3. Essay on the Government’s Response to North-East Extremism
  4. Essay on the North-East Insurgents and their Foreign Links
  5. Essay on the Key Issues Related to Insurgency in the North-East
  6. Essay on Counter-Terrorism — Steps being Taken/Required for Insurgency in the North-East

Essay # 1. Historical Background of the North-East Region of India:

Pre Independence Era:

There are more than 100 tribal groups in the entire north-east region of India. They have a rich cultural heritage with a variety of languages and customs. During the British era, they constituted an overwhelming majority of the population in most of the areas they inhabited.

Non-tribals had not penetrated these areas to any significant extent. The British gave a special administrative status to these areas. The British government did not disturb their socio-political structure and followed a deliberate policy of excluding the outsiders. Outsiders were not allowed to acquire land in the tribal areas.

At the same time, the British government also supported the Christian missionaries to move in and establish schools, hospitals and churches. The missionaries introduced remarkable changes in the north-eastern society and modern progressive ideas prevailed amongst the tribal youth. It also helped the Britishers in keeping the nationalist (pro-independence) influence out of the tribal areas. This policy resulted in their isolation from the rest of India.

There was a virtual absence of any political, cultural, social, geographical, religious or business contact of the tribals in the North-east with the rest of India. So India’s freedom struggle had very little impact on the tribals.

Thus, they never experienced the feeling of being part of a free country called India. Their main experience of outsiders was that of British officers and Christian missionaries only.

Post-Independence Era:

After Independence, the Government of India focused on people-to-people contact and gave special attention to tribal policy. The Sixth Schedule of our Constitution is exclusively for this region and it provides for self-rule, autonomy and decentralization. Thus, district and regional councils were created.

Initially, there was only one state of Assam and one Union Territory, NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) covering the whole of the north-east. Later on, NEFA was named Arunachal Pradesh and granted the status of a separate state in 1987. While NEFA was developing comfortably and in harmony with the rest of the country, problems developed in other tribal areas which were part of Assam administratively.

In the mid-fifties, Phizo raised the banner of revolt in Nagaland and, later on, it spread to Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya.

In 1960, Assamese was made the sole official language of the state. It led to an immediate and strong reaction in the tribal districts. Various political parties of the hill’s tribal population began to feel alienated from Assamese and Bengali residents of the plains. The tribals were afraid of losing their identity and being assimilated by the policy of Assamization in government jobs and other professions, like doctors, traders, etc.

All Party Hill Leaders Conference:

Representatives of hill areas merged into the All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC) in 1960 and demanded a separate state within the Indian Union. APHLC fought elections and secured 11 out of 15 seats in Assam Legislative Assembly reserved for autonomous hill districts.

There were demonstrations and a major agitation developed. In the 1962 elections, an overwhelming majority of the Assembly seats from the tribal areas were won by the advocates of a separate state, who decided to boycott the State Assembly.

In 1969, Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as ‘a state within a state’ which had complete autonomy except for law and order, High Court, Public Service Commission and Governor. Finally, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura were granted statehood in 1972.

Meanwhile, secessionist movements developed in Nagaland and Mizoram. Nagaland was granted statehood in 1963 itself, while Mizoram became a state in 1987.

Present Situation of North-East Insurgency:

The security situation in some of the north-eastern states has remained complex for a long time because of a number of militant outfits and their diverse demands. Assam, Manipur and Nagaland have continuously been a point of worry.

Lower Assam areas and KarbiAnglong regions are prone to ethnic and communal tension. The mistrust between tribals and non-tribals in Bodo areas has been growing. Garo insurgency in Meghalaya continues and Non-Manipuris are being targeted increasingly in Manipur.

Mizoram and Tripura have shown remarkable success in controlling insurgency and now they are largely peaceful for quite a long time. Government has signed ceasefire and Suspension of Operations (SoO) with most of the insurgent groups in the region.

Government has steadily pursued the policy of dialogue and negotiations with any outfit which agrees to forgo the path of violence and come forward for peace-talks within the constitutional framework of India. In general the security situation in most of the north-eastern states has shown considerable improvement during the last five years.

Essay # 2. Factors Responsible for Insurgency in the North-East:

The factors responsible for insurgency in the North-east are given below:

i. Feeling of alienation and deprivation among the tribal population

ii. Similar ethnicity across the border on Myanmar side

iii. Porosity of the border with Myanmar due to difficult terrain

iv. Change in demographic pattern due to infiltration from across the border

v. Disconnect with the other parts of India and fellow Indians

vi. Widespread corruption among the ruling elite

vii. Lack of visionary leadership among the tribal communities

viii. Lack of development and basic amenities

ix. Easy availability of arms and ammunition

x. Political support from various factions

xi. Instability in Myanmar

Many of our neighbouring countries are being used by insurgent groups for shelter and training. Naga groups and Assam-based insurgency groups operate from Myanmar, militant groups of Meghalaya and Tripura from Bangladesh. Arms are also procured from across China. Their main source of funding is extortion and arms and drugs smuggling.

Essay # 3. Government’s Response to North-East Extremism:

A composite strategy is being followed by the Government in the North East. It includes holding peace talks with those who abjure violence and dealing strictly with violent activities. Government has signed ceasefire and suspension of operations (SOO) with most of the insurgent groups (numbering 17-18) in the region. Government has steadily pursued the policy of talks/negotiations with any outfit, which agrees to forego the path of violence and come forward for peace talks within the constitutional framework of India.

The basic guiding principles of Government have been:

i. Special Schemes for development for North-East

ii. Special packages for infrastructural development of North-East region

iii. Proportionate use of force

iv. Dialogue and negotiations

v. Structural changes to give political autonomy

vi. Decentralisation and protection of tribal rights

vii. Improving road and rail connectivity in entire region

viii. Look East Policy viz-a-viz North-East region

ix. Business Summits to attract investment in North-East region

x. Exhibitions and Seminars

Some of the major developmental initiatives taken for North-East region are:

i. In October 1996, the then Prime Minister announced “New Initiatives for North Eastern Region” and stipulated that at least 10% of the Budget(s) of the Central Ministries/Department will be earmarked for the development of North Eastern States.

ii. The Government of India had decided to create the Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources for the North Eastern States and Sikkim from the year 1998-99 onwards.

iii. The Department of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) was created in 2001 and was accorded the status of a full-fledged ministry on May 2004. The ministry is mainly concerned with the creation of infrastructure for economic development of India’s North-Eastern region.

iv. Special category status since 11th Plan: In order to mobilize financial resources, a policy decision was taken to earmark at least 10% of the Plan Budget(s) of the Central ministries/departments for development of the North Eastern states. And earmark at least 10% of the gross budgetary support (GBS) for the north-eastern states.

v. In 1971, North Eastern Council was set up by an act of Parliament. It was re­structured in 2002 as the regional planning body for the North Eastern Region.

vi. Social and Infrastructure Development Fund (SIDF) – Finance Minister’s Package for NER, 2008-09.

vii. Monitoring of mandatory expenditure of 10% of Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) for the North Eastern Region by the 51 non-exempted Central Ministries/Departments.

viii. Plan Scheme of ‘Advocacy & Publicity’ and Plan Scheme of ‘Capacity Building & Technical Assistance (CB & TA)’.

ix. Asian Development Bank assisted North East State Roads Investment Programme and World Bank assisted North East Rural Livelihood Project (NERLP).

x. North East Industrial Investment and Promotion Policy, 2007

xi. Border Area Development Project (BADP)

xii. Hill Area Development Programme in the North East Region.

Essay # 4. North-East Insurgents and their Foreign Links:

The biggest foreign link of north-east insurgents are believed to be with Myanmar. India has a long international border shared by four states, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, with Myanmar. Difficult terrain and ethnic linkages of population on both sides of the border make it easy for the Indian insurgent groups / underground groups (IIGs/UGs) in the movement across the border as well as establishing camps, including training of fresh recruits, weapon procurement and their transfer to India.

Usually arms are procured from arms market in Thailand and finally brought to these four states.

The diplomatic and political initiative with the Myanmar government has yielded some results and Myanmar Government has signed a ceasefire agreement with NSCN(K) and given a deadline to METI insurgents of Manipur. But, because of their ethnic proximity and political compulsions, these groups have relocated themselves closer to the border which makes it easy for them to carry out attacks on Indian security forces.

With the cooperation of the Bangladesh Government, many IIGs (Indian insurgent groups) have been pushed out of Bangladesh. Therefore, these groups have now concentrated more in these four states.

Other North Eastern Neighbours:

Apart from Myanmar, Bangladesh has been used by north-east insurgent groups as a hide-out, especially in Chittagong hills. However, after the takeover of the Sheikh Hasina Government, it is on the decline and many members of such groups have been arrested and handed over to India.

Nepal is being used as a hideout and transit to other countries adjoining China. Kathmandu airport is the transit point. Bhutan is also used by many of the Assam based underground groups like ULFA and NDFB. There are inputs which suggest moral support of the Chinese to the north-east insurgent groups.

Essay # 5. Key Issues related to Insurgency in the North-East:

1. Feeling of Alienation/Racial Discrimination amongst Residents of North-East:

i. They feel that they are not treated at par with other citizens of India.

ii. They feel that their culture is not promoted and properly highlighted in the right perspective in the rest of the country.

iii. They also feel that because of their distinct facial features they are compared to the Chinese and other similar ethnic communities. The recent murder of a north-east student in Delhi has again highlighted this sensitive issue. The government has seized the issue and has formed a special committee headed by an MP from the North-east to see how such discrimination can be avoided.

2. Should AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act) be Repealed?

Although the Indian armed forces have been working in very arduous conditions but sometimes, due to stress, their behaviour also comes under the scanner. In the process, some innocent people may have suffered but the Army has also paid a heavy price through the loss of its soldiers and officers in guerrilla attacks.

There has been a long and continuous demand from the North-east that the special powers given to the armed forces in the Northeast and AFSPA should be withdrawn. From Sharmila Chanu was on hunger strike for over 15 years on this single issue.

It is true that, at times, security forces are accused of alleged human rights violations but with so many insurgent groups active in the whole of North East, the removal of AFSPA now is not advisable.

If the armed forces are deployed without the power of search and seizure, then their deployment is meaningless. Therefore, there is a need to continue with AFSPA but the forces must also be wary of human rights violations and must be accountable for their actions and behaviour towards the public.

Supreme Court has also commented recently that infinite AFSPA is indicative of failure of the Army and the Indian Government.

There is a need for initiating a meaningful dialogue with all the stakeholders as far as the removal of AFSPA is concerned. Only after taking the Army and the Central Armed Police Forces on board, a gradual removal of AFSPA may be considered where condition is peaceful and stable for a sufficient period of time on the lines of Manipur which had in August 2004 repealed the AFSPA from 20 square km area in capital Imphal following a series of violent protests to strike down the AFSPA.

3. Bodo Muslim Clashes of 2012:

The Bodos have been fighting for separate Bodoland since 1986 under NDFB and ABSU. This was opposed by non-Bodos including Bengali speaking Muslims who have emigrated from Bangladesh.

In July 2012, there were communal clashes between Bodos and Muslims, which claimed many lives and displaced more than four lakh people. The violence initially started from Kokrajhar and Chirag and spread to all districts of Bodoland and lower Assam. Bodo organizations upped the ante on the illegal immigration issue demanding updating of citizens verification of Muslims and their citizenship status.

The violence in 2012 followed ethnic tensions between the indigenous Bodo people and Bengali-speaking Muslims. While the Muslims state that they are descendants of East Bengali Muslims brought to Assam during the British Raj, local communities allege that the Muslim population has increased, boosted by refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan prior to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and by subsequent illegal migration from Bangladesh.

The situation was further vitiated due to circulation of certain provocative SMSs, MMS and internet based messages triggering exodus of North-East people from the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala under the fear of being attacked by Muslims.

As a counter to this, the Muslim students’ organizations came together on one platform under United Muslims Front for People’s Rights (UMFPR).

The situation was further vitiated due to circulation of certain provocative SMS, MMS and internet based messages triggering exodus of North-east people from the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala under the fear of being attacked.

4. Exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar:

Rohingya Muslims live in north of Rahine state of Myanmar and their popula­tion is about 8-9 lacs. They have not been recognised as citizens by Buddhist dominated Myanmar. They face persecution in Bangladesh and Thailand as well.

Bangladesh has refused them entry because:

(i) Bangladesh is already overpopulated

(ii) Rohingya Muslims are a burden on the economy of Bangladesh

(iii) Bangladesh does not agree to the claim that Rohingyas are of Bangladeshi origin.

(iv) Bangladesh is already sheltering more than 3 lac Rohingya Muslims.

It is now trying to push them to India.

The exodus of Rohingya Muslims started after riots between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine state of Myanmar in June 2013. Violence between Muslims and Buddhists broke out again in late Oc­tober. It resulted in at least 80 deaths, displacement of more than 20,000 people, and burning of thousands of homes.

The outburst of fighting brought the total number of displaced since the beginning of the conflict to 1,00,000. Rohingyas have also suffered enforced segregation, are not allowed to leave their settle­ments, and are the subject of a campaign of commercial boycott led by Buddhist monks with serious threats against those who trade with Muslims. The UN has described the Rohingyas as among the ‘world’s most persecuted minorities’.

Over the past two years, the number of Rohingya Muslims coming into India has increased considerably. Most of them are reportedly taking shelter in Muslim-dominated areas in the country.

According to observers, the refugees have nothing in common with the Indian Muslims apart from their religion. Their way of life is completely different and hence they do not adjust too well over here.

The rising Buddhist-Muslim tensions originating in Myanmar are causing political repercussions at the regional level, raising India’s security concerns.

It is a cause of worry for India that at least 1,500 Rohingya Muslims, escap­ing from the violence-prone Rakhine province, West Myanmar, are believed to have entered the country illegally. At least 20,000 ‘stateless’ Rohingyas, unclaimed either by Myanmar or Bangladesh, have escaped in the aftermath of one-sided riots and other outbreaks of ethnic violence that left about 1,50,000 people displaced.

It is believed that in 2013 alone, nearly 30,000-40,000 Rohingyas have infiltrated our country using the Bangladesh transit. The Bangladesh government has confirmed to New Delhi that terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have instigated Rohingyas to avenge last year’s sectarian violence in Myanmar.

The LeT is believed to be recruiting Rohingyas, offering to help them to seek revenge against the Buddhists through terrorist acts. The Union Home Ministry has decided to conduct a fresh census on the Rohingya Muslims following these reports.

LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawah created an outfit known as Difa-e-Musalman Arakan [Burma]. This outfit was assigned to tie-up with Islamic organizations in Myanmar and Bangladesh. There are several other terror groups that are involved with the Rohingyas. While the Rohingyas are receiving funds from Saudi Arabia, weapons are apparently being sourced from Thailand.

There are sizeable Rohingya populations in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Jammu and Kashmir. Rohingya refugees are often seen protesting in Delhi outside the United Nations Human Rights Commission asking for UN refugee status. Our intelligence agencies have been on the alert ever since LeT supremo Hafiz Saeed issued a statement in Lahore accusing India of assisting the Myanmar regime in its persecution of the Rohingyas.

It is believed that the terror attack in and around Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya on July 7, 2013, was targeted at international Buddhist tourists to avenge the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

With the arrest of 107 Rohingya Muslims over the past three months for illegally trying to enter West Bengal through Bangladesh, the Border Security Force (BSF) has taken up the matter with the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) and urged the BGB ‘not to push them’ into India.

Essay # 6. Counter-Terrorism — Steps being Taken/Required for Insurgency in the North-East:

Multi-pronged approach is required.

i. Communication and connectivity

ii. Infrastructure improvement

iii. Talks with insurgent groups

iv. Co-ordination between central forces and state forces resulting in a much better tactical response

v. Stringent law and fast criminal justice system for quick disposal of terrorist attack cases

vi. Zero-tolerance policy towards violence

vii. Greater cultural interaction with the rest of the country

viii. Socio-economic development that includes a holistic inclusive development

ix. Presence of government to be felt everywhere

x. Decentralization with alertness

xi. Improving administrative efficiency

xii. Pro-people governance

xiii. Setting up High Courts in Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura

xiv. Coping up with regional aspirations