Northeast India

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  • Rajat Dubey asked: Do you think India has succeeded in bringing peace to the northeast in the last few years? What should be India’s future strategy?

    Pushpita Das replies: Yes, there is no doubt that today the Northeast is more peaceful than before. The violence levels in the last few years have come down considerably. In fact, the number of violent incidents has steadily come down since 2008. Till November 2011, the region as a whole witnessed 537 violent incidents as compared to 1561 incidents in 2008, 1297 in 2009, and 773 in 2010. Correspondingly, the number of security forces and civilians killed has also reduced drastically from 466 in 2008 to 61 in 2011 (till October).

    The prevalence of relative peace in the region is mainly because most insurgent groups, such as the ULFA, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB- anti-talk faction), Dima Halam Daogah- Joel (DHD-J), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), have been rendered ineffective with the arrest of their top leaders. These arrests also eventually forced these rebel groups to announce ceasefires and initiate talks with the government. In few instances, these talks have resulted in the signing of memorandum of settlements between the government and the insurgent groups.

    In the future, the government should continue to engage the insurgent groups in dialogue as well as encourage other groups to shun violence and come to the negotiating table. Simultaneously, it should take steps to address genuine grievances of various ethnic groups residing in the region so as to prevent potential ethnic clashes. In recent months, reports abound that the Maoist have been making inroads in the region by forging ties with insurgent groups. The government should be mindful of this emerging trend and enhance the capacity of the police force to effectively deal with the left wing extremism in the region. Most importantly, the government should improve governance and expedite developmental activities in the Northeast.

    Emergent Micro-National Communities: The Logic of Kuki-Chin Armed Struggle in Manipur

    The granting of scheduled tribe status to the Kuki-Chin people eroded their allegiance to clan and linguistic/dialectal identities. While they do not have any problem with a pan-ethnic identity, their primary loyalty is to their own clans and communities. Invocation of kinship ties by different groups does not necessarily translate into a common political agenda. There are at least 15 armed groups among them that have combined into two larger groups—the United People's Front (UPF) and the Kuki National Organisation (KNO)—and signed a peace agreement with the state and central governments.

    March 2012

    Political Integration of Northeast India: A Historical Analysis

    Most nation-states in Asia and Africa that gained independence from colonial rulers during the middle of the 20th century are diverse in their ethnic composition. The national governments make efforts to politically integrate their constituent units in the face of the continuing resistance of several ethnic groups. India adopted various means to integrate the more than 600 princely states and other loosely administered areas.

    March 2012

    Sandeep Madkar asked: How projects like Trans-Asian highway and railway networks would help in ending the isolation of North-East India?

    Pushpita Das replies: During the colonial period, the Northeast region was connected to the Indian mainland and rest of the world through undivided Bengal. All transportation lines at that point of time were routed through that province. Thus, the Assam, Garo, Khasi and Lushai Hills; and Tripura and Cachar, were connected with Bengal. The far eastern side of the Northeast was connected to Myanmar by a road running from Assam and through Imphal to Tamu. Partition of the Indian Subcontinent, however, disrupted the colonial pattern of transportation. It not only cut the region off from the rest of India, but also led to increased transportation costs and dislocation of traditional markets. The entire Northeast, thereafter, became landlocked.

    Faced with the twin challenges of integrating the Northeast and assuring its economic growth, India accorded priority to the construction of roads both within the region as well as across the borders. Projects like the Asian Highway and Trilateral Highways when completed will connect the Northeast with South Asian countries like Bangladesh, as well as with the Southeast Asian countries. Improved connectivity would then open up the Northeast for greater trade and investment, provide access to ports in Bangladesh and Myanmar, markets for its products, as well as enhanced people-to-people contact. This would ensure better socio-economic integration of this region with India and rest of the world; thus, bringing prosperity to the Northeast. Moreover, trans-border connectivity would also facilitate India in realizing its goal of economically linking up with East and Southeast Asia through its Look East Policy.

    Anti-Talk ULFA Faction: Why a Comeback is Unlikely

    Given the hostility of Assamese society to indiscriminate violence and the sullied image of the ULFA leaders due to their amassing of wealth through extortions, the anti-talk ULFA faction would not be able to make a determined come back.

    February 29, 2012

    Growing Maoist Activism in Assam: Sinister and Calculated Moves

    Although law enforcement agencies have been receiving timely reports about growing Maoist activities in Assam, it appears that they do not pay much attention to the issue.

    February 24, 2012

    Ashish asked: What is the impact of India’s emerging ties with Bangladesh and Myanmar on Chinese influence in north-east India?

    Namrata Goswami replies: One of the main impacts of India’s growing ties with Bangladesh is the easing of tensions with regard to demarcation of the border, especially in states like Tripura and Assam. Most importantly, states in the northeast want to increase connectivity by using the Chittagong port, which opens up a quicker access to the sea for them. India and Bangladesh have also collaborated on closing down northeast insurgent camps in Bangladesh, especially with regard to the ULFA. With Myanmar, India has developed a broad relationship of economic connectivity, trade, and political openness. Myanmar is also passing through political reform with Aung San Suu Kyi taking part in democratic elections. Democracy in Myanmar will further broaden its ability to be inclusive with regard to its ethnic minorities, who mostly live in the India-Myanmar border area. This in turn will strengthen existing India-Myanmar cooperation in fighting insurgencies in the region. That said, growing ties with Bangladesh and Myanmar, while strengthening connectivity of India’s northeast to the outside world, do not directly impact on China’s influence in the northeast, which is culturally minimal, to say the least. Most of the ethnic groups that migrated to the northeast from Yunnan in China are neither Han nor do they seek any great historical connection with the Chinese empire. Hence, given China’s limited influence, both politically and socially, India’s growing relationship with Bangladesh and Myanmar are significant by themselves and not as a counter to Chinese influence in the region.

    Vibha asked: What is the influence of China's growth on north-east India and the Indian Ocean region?

    Namrata Goswami replies: The influence of China’s growth on northeast India can be two-folds. The first is one in which the people of the northeast could get inspired by the Chinese economic growth model, especially in its south western province of Yunnan, and emulate such a globalising model. Already, the chief ministers of the region are ardent supporters of the “Look East” policy which aims to create land and rail connectivity between India’s northeast, Myanmar, and Yunnan in China. This could foster economic connectivity and bring in prosperity to the northeast. The other influence is more security related. China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh and its water diversion plans on the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet are creating a public perception in the northeast that China is a threat to India. Hence, while China’s influence with regard to economic connectivity could be positive, its territorial claim and water diversion plans are negative influences.

    Similar is the case with the Indian Ocean. China views the Indian Ocean, especially the Malacca Strait, as the lifeline for its energy supplies and exports, which is critical to maintaining its internal growth. It wants to collaborate with other Indian Ocean countries to ensure the safety of these lanes. However, China is an authoritarian regime with a closed political system. Hence, its military modernisation, acquisition of an aircraft carrier and assertive claims on the South China Sea is creating an atmosphere of militarisation of international waters. The Chinese influence is thus highly securitised.

    Hans Raj Singh asked: What is the basic reason of insurgency in northeast India? How the problem can be tackled efficiently?

    Namrata Goswami replies: There are four basic reasons for insurgencies in the Northeast. First, there was a historical absence of pre-British and British colonial polices to integrate the hill areas of then Assam to the rest of British India. Hence, the absence of historical linkages has created a space for later day feelings of cultural and political differences amongst ethnic communities with the rest of India. Second, most of the ethnic communities view ‘the use of force’ as more effective than non-violent dissent in getting New Delhi's attention which is physically so far away. Third, the continuous lack of economic opportunities creates incentives for unemployed youths to join armed movements where they earn a salary. Fourth, existence of external help from Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar has perpetuated the insurgencies.

    Problem can be tackled by use of efficient policing since absence of law enforcement has led to increase in armed violence. Effective policing should be supported by good governance, civil and political rights. The use of dialogue and negotiations is the only solution to these armed conflicts.

    India’s Internal Security: The Year That Was, The Year That May Be

    India’s internal security situation in 2011 was relatively better than in previous years. To ensure that 2012 also turns out to be a quiet and secure year, New Delhi not only has to consolidate the gains made in 2011 but also undertake new initiatives to address these gaps.

    December 13, 2011

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