Drivers of Insurgency in North East States of India

There are several drivers of various conflicts and insurgency in north east region, for example- political mobilization by insurgents, porous international border in north east, availability of arms, tough geography, lack of administrative reach and other socio-economic reasons. They have been discussed in detail here:

Political Mobilization by Insurgents

Most insurgent groups in North East garner popular support for their violent activities citing social/ political reasons that are important to the population in question. The political mobilization is considered to be the first vital phase of any armed movement. Moreover, any insurgency is hard to be destroyed once it is successful in acquiring the popular social support. The insurgent groups construct a social imaginary based on real or perceived political or ethnic or cultural subjugation by other communities. By doing so, they vindicate the need for violent assertion of their concerns. The insurgent leaders also showcase their armed cadres, weapons and financial power in the affected regions which attracts the unemployed youth to join them. The most basic premise of such political mobilization would be that the state administration has failed in providing the basic amenities to the population and decent alternative livelihoods to the youths.

  • The agenda for political mobilization for NSCN (IM) is the Naga Territorial unification and sovereignty based on its own narrative of independence of Nagas before the Naga Territories were occupied by the British.
  • Similarly, ULFA claims Assamese exploitation by the colonial rule of New Delhi and cites that Assamese will get due recognition only when Assam becomes a separate Swadhin Asom, though there are really few takes of this idea in Assam.
  • Similarly, in Manipur, the contention that bought political mobilization was the argument that the accession of Manipur in Union of India was a forced merger by India on a gunpoint and Manipur was to be an independent state after British left India.

Each of the insurgent groups claims that once they become free of India, they would improve the overall economic and social conditions of their target populations. Based on these political narratives, youths from these areas are motivated to join the armed movements.

It is true that most of the rural India suffers from economic backwardness. This problem is more glaring in North East and LWE affected areas that are constantly prone to violence. In north east, the backwardness coupled with lack of infrastructure makes the states heavily dependent on centre for their political survival.

Porous International Border and Availability of Arms

The 4500 kilometre long International Border of India in this region is porous and has resulted in easy flow of arms, illegal immigrations, drugs to India. Due the porous border, the insurgents can easily flee to neighbouring countries such as Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh and also establish their underground insurgent bases. Moreover, the youth of north east is vulnerable to drug addiction due to the flourishing drug trade in the so called Golden Triangle. Certain insurgent groups such as UNLF, NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) have been found to be involved in Drug trade along with the Karens and the Kachins in Myanmar.

Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent

Golden Triangle includes Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. It is Asia’s one of two main opium-producing areas. Another one is Afghanistan’s Golden Crescent. Most of the world’s heroin came from the Golden Triangle until the early 21st century when Afghanistan became the world’s largest producer.

Thus, Feasibility factor in north east allows the insurgents to use violent means for political ends. The Feasibility hypothesis says that where rebellion is materially feasible, it will occur. The easy availability of arms to insurgents enables them to sustain their movements. All the prominent insurgent groups in North East possess AK series of rifles, advanced assault rifles and other weapons and explosives.

Tough Geography

North East India is connected to the Indian mainland by a narrow stretch of land called Siliguri Corridor (aka Chicken’s neck) which is only few kilometres wide. The isolation, geographic fragmentation, and the problems associated with being viewed as peripheral to India’s imagination of itself are dominant drivers of alienation in the Northeast.

Geography and terrain of north east has proved to be vital for continuation of insurgent movements. Without supportive terrain, lightly armed, highly mobile insurgent cadres cannot sustain the superiority of the Indian Army. The Northeast terrain is hilly and not easily accessible because of incessant rain during the months of April to July, an insurgent group once established, takes years to be detected and countered by the state. Due to supportive terrain, the groups are able to surprise the Military by tactics of guerrilla warfare and hit and run. The NSCN (IM) functions in the hills of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. They also use the hill tracts of Nagaland spilling over into the hill tracts of Myanmar. The terrain is densely forested and weather conditions are extreme. Similarly, the ULFA takes advantage of less connectivity of districts and thickly forested areas in the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh-Bhutan border.

Issue of Governance & AFSPA

Some of the past and present policies and issues related to Governance have also contributed in the aggravation of the conflict situation in North East India. The seven sisters plus Sikkim are populated by nearly 40 million inhabitants who vary in language, race, tribe, caste, religion, and regional heritage. When all of them are clubbed under the “North East” tag, it tends to represents a “one shoe fits all” approach for this extremely diverse region. The creation of sixth schedule has firstly created multiple powers of centre, secondly more and more regions demanding such autonomous council. This implies that somewhere the government policy has failed to bring in a genuine process of democratization or autonomy in the region.

The lack of adequate political measures is also reflected in the imposition of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act). This act was passed on 18 August, 1958, as a short-term measure to allow deployment of the army to counter an armed separatist movement in the Naga Hills. Now this act is in place for the last five decades and was extended to all the seven states of the Northeast region.

This act was a part of the bundle of provisions, passed by the central government, to retain control over the Naga areas. In all these years, AFSPA has become a powerful measure for the central and the state government to act against actors challenging the political and territorial integrity of India. It was this act via which the Indian army was for the first time after independence deployed for an internal conflict.

The major issues with AFSPA are as follows:

  1. This act has escalated the conflict by bringing it on a military level.
  2. There are regular allegations of violation of human rights by the Indian Amy.
  3. AFSPA has tended to create apathy to Indian army’s endeavours in north east. The supporters of a political solution have also turned away. One of the fact finding commissions in 2004 reported that AFSPA has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and highhandedness.

Other Drivers

Ethnic / Factional Violence

Violence is endemic to the Northeast though in some states such as Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram, it has been handled more effectively.  The heavy presence of Indian army also makes them prone to future violence. All north eastern states except the Arunachal Pradesh have been inflicted with ethnic violence at one time of another in recent history.

Cultural Differences

The tribes of the Northeast are mostly of Mongoloid stock and they view themselves as different from the Aryan and Dravidian races of India.

Pressure on Land

This is a combination of various factors such as increasing population, lack of state land reforms, oral traditions of land ownership, jhum cultivation, migrant population, intensive cultivation etc.  State has been unable to efficiently settle these land related insecurities. Thus, pressure on land has created tribal and ethnic “security dilemmas” in the North East India.

Ethnic Security Dilemmas

North East India is home to multi-ethnic and multi-tribal societies. Conflict arises when one ethnic group harbours armed members and other leads to rival arming.

Political Corruption

The political culture of most north east states is fraught with corruption, lack of representation in power structures at the centre, and nexus between politicians and insurgent groups. The result of this is an insecure state structure and insecure public. Further, some of the laws such as Inner Line Permit and Restricted Area Permit inhibit access of outsiders into the region. The result of such laws is a “siege mentality” among the public. Moreover, the extortion networks are being run by the insurgent groups whereby, every person needs to pay some part of his / her income to insurgents.

Low quality of Education

North East India states have one of the highest literacy rate in India. Yet, the quality of education is lacking which results in dearth of well qualified people to run the affairs of these hill states.

Under development

North East has underdeveloped Transportation and communication. The national highways are broken and need repair. In monsoon, North East almost becomes inaccessible.

Perceived Feelings of Neglect

People of North East India have a perceived feeling of neglect by New Delhi due to their peripheral situation and cultural differences.

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