Militancy in India's Northeast

Posted in India | 16-May-06 | Author: Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray

India's northeast is a geopolitically strategic region. It comprises eight states -- Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Sikkim -- and is spread over a 262,179 square kilometer (101,201 square miles) area. The eight states contain a total population of 39 million. India's northeast connects with five countries -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China and Nepal -- by a 4,500 kilometer (2,796 miles) international border; the region, however, connects to India only through a narrow and tenuous land corridor measuring merely 22 kilometers (14 miles).

A fact that further jeopardizes mainland India's links with the region is the thriving militancy in most of the northeast states. The demands of the different militant groups range from autonomy within the provisions of the Indian constitution to outright secession. Such militant movements started early with India's independence in 1947. At one point, more than 120 militant groups operated in India's northeast. In recent years, the Indian government has had some success in achieving stability in the region, using tactics from negotiations to military operations to root out militants. Nevertheless, the region remains a potential tinderbox.

Militants in India's northeast once enjoyed vast popular support since they, in their formative years, voiced genuine grievances of the people such as poor governance, alienation, lack of development and an apathetic attitude from the central government in New Delhi; in recent years, however, this influence has been reduced. Nevertheless, in most of the states in the northeast, anti-government militants retain significant nuisance value and often indulge in successful strikes against government interests.

Militancy: An Early Beginning

Nagaland, then part of the larger state of Assam, was the first to experience militancy. Long before the British left India, Nagas considered themselves to be independent and petitioned the British to declare them as an independent country. After being snubbed by both the British and the new regime in New Delhi, Nagas, under the leadership of the Naga National Council (N.N.C.), headed by A.Z. Phizo, declared independence. In his declaration, Phizo argued that in a plebiscite held in Nagaland in May 1951, more than 99 percent of voters favored independence. The veracity of the plebiscite remains debatable.

Subsequently, the N.N.C. split into different factions and its breakaway faction, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (N.S.C.N.) also broke into two factions; those factions were the Isak-Muivah faction (N.S.C.N.-I.M.) and the Khaplang faction (N.S.C.N.-K.). These organizations have continued separate violent struggles for Nagaland's independence.

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