A BLEEDING SHOULDER – INDIA’S NORTHEAST
The Kashmir insurgency having taken centre-stage for many years now, the insurgencies of the North-East no more occupy significant spaces of newsworthiness. Nevertheless, they are not dead as yet, lingering on preventing the region from going full steam on the road to development. This is an attempt to trace the histories of these insurgencies until 5 years ago when this study was undertaken. Nothing has changed drastically since then, with the insurgencies still existing or claiming to exist, with the formal burials yet to take place. Even the one notable development of the Government of India entering into a peace accord with NSCN (IM), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muviah) in 2015, is yet to draw any dividends because the exact terms of the accord are yet to be made public and implemented. This is the eighth episode of a 9-blog series on the various ethnic insurgencies of the North-East, essentially meant to shed some light on this trouble-prone region’s problems, which large sections of ‘mainland Indians’ remain in the dark about even after nearly seven decades of the Republic taking shape.
8 Arunachal Pradesh – A Disaster in Waiting
Arunachal Pradesh – meaning the ‘land of the rising sun’ or the ‘land of the dawn-lit mountains’ as some interpret – is the largest Northeast Indian state. Formed out of the area demarcated in 1955 as the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA) (which was occupied by the Chinese troops during the 1962 War but vacated subsequently), it shares international borders with Myanmar, Bhutan and the People’s Republic of China, with Assam and Nagaland falling to its south. The NEFA was made the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh in 1972, which was accorded statehood in 1987.
There is only one instance of homegrown militancy recorded to have taken place in the state, which dates back to early 2000. An outfit called the Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF) came into existence in the Lohit District, which was rechristened the East India Liberation Front (EILF) in 2001, only to be neutralized by the state police in short order. However it had always been facing insurgency-related problems due to the spill-over from neighbouring Assam and Nagaland. The state’s geographical contiguity with Myanmar and the ethnic similarity of some of its people with the Nagas complicate matters further.
The two south-western districts of Tirap and Changlang have traditionally bore the brunt for their proximity with Nagaland. Both factions of the NSCN were running amuck in these districts since 1990s – the Khaplang faction made the initial forays, followed by the IM faction – with extortions, while clashing with each other as is their wont. Reportedly every government employee or business person in Tirap is forced to pay 25 percent of his or her income as tax to these outfits. Many of the banks had to shut down due to such demands to their employees. In 2001 Oil India Limited wound up its operations in Changlang when the NSCN-IM demanded a payment of 6 million rupees.
The ULFA has been constantly using Arunachal as a transit route for its cadres to Myanmar, where it maintains a base in the Sagaing Division. The outfit’s 28th Battalion stationed there routinely carries out hit-and-run operations in Assam. They have set up transit camps and safe houses across the Manabhum Reserve Forest that spreads over 1500 square kilometres in Lohit district.
To flush out the insurgents in this forest, the Indian Army’s 2nd Infantry Division based at Dibrugarh in eastern Assam carried out two operations codenamed, ‘Blazing Khukri’ and ‘Blooming Orchid’, in quick succession during April-May 2007. At least two ULFA camps were destroyed and eight members of its cadre killed. The operations reportedly sanitized the area and demoralized the cadres considerably. Their success might well have contributed to the two companies of ULFA’s 28th Battalion in Sagaing entering into ceasefire agreement with the government in 2008.[The passage of the ULFA cadres through Arunachal was further disrupted in November 2007 when a column of theirs heading for Sagaing through Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh was ambushed by the NSCN-IM in Mon District of Nagaland, in retaliation for the ULFA teaming up with the latter’s arch rival, the NSCN-K. Two ULFA men were killed and two taken hostage.]
The state government in its efforts to curb the insurgency has allotted additional funds for development work in Tirap and Changlang districts, while setting up a core group to deal with law and order. It has also requested the centre to seal the entire stretch of the 440-kilometre-long border the state has with Myanmar. Notwithstanding the professed good intentions, the state administration unfortunately has a history of political sympathies and rivalry coming in the way of counter-insurgency measures. The Arunachal Pradesh Control of Organized Crimes Act (APCOCA) enacted by one government in 2002 and repealed by another the very next year is a case in point. While the Arunachal insurgency so far remains a low-intensity affair (number of fatalities in two decades just over 200), any nexus between the political class and the insurgents could only spell disaster.
[To be continued. Next: Mizoram – Heralding a New Dawn]