Government of India’s Response to North Eastern Insurgencies

The government response to insurgencies in the Northeast India has four parameters viz. structural changes in administration, development activities, dialogue and negotiations and use of force.

Structural Changes in Administration

This includes Greater Statehood and Autonomous Administrative Areas.

Greater Statehood

The government of India has given considerable attention to reduce the conflicts by conferring greater statehoods in the north east. The gradual administrative reorganisation of the region with the formation of the States of Nagaland (1963), Meghalaya (1972), conferring first, status of union territory (1972) and subsequently Statehood (1987) to Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram and elevation of Manipur and Tripura from union Territories to States in 1972 attest to the considerable attention given to reduce conflicts in the region through increased empowerment. Statehood was also granted to Nagaland in 1963 followed by the North Eastern Areas (Re-Organization) Act of 1971 which granted statehood to Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura and Union Territory status to Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. In 1987, the Mizo armed conflict was also resolved by granting statehood to Mizoram through the Mizo Peace Accord of 1986.

Autonomous Administrative Areas and sixth schedule

The most prominent and important structural change in the administration is establishment of constitutionally backed 6th schedule areas in the North East. However, establishing 6th schedule areas itself is marred with various problems. You may read here more about that.

Special Treatment to Nagaland

In our country, two states viz. Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland are different from other states on account of their special treatment by the Constitution via Article 370 and Article 371-A respectively. Article 371-A states that no Act of Parliament in respect of religious or social practices of the Nagas, Naga customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice and ownership and transfer of land and resources will apply to Nagaland unless passed by the State Assembly.

Development Activities

Ministry of DONER

The Government of India had set up the Department of Development of North Eastern Region in September, 2001 and upgraded it to a Ministry in May, 2004 underscoring the its complete commitment to ensure development with equity for the NER to unleash the potential of its human and natural resources. This ministry is unique in the sense that its activities are regional and advocate the region which comprises the seven sisters of North East and Sikkim. Important activities of this ministry include:

  • Non Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR): The broad objective of the Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) is to ensure speedy development of infrastructure in the North Eastern Region and Sikkim by increasing the flow of budgetary financing for specific viable infrastructure projects/schemes in the region.
  • North Eastern Council (NEC): It was established via the North Eastern Council Act, 1971 to act as advisory body in respect of balanced socio-economic development of the North Eastern Areas consisting of the present States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The NEC started functioning in the year 1972. The act was amended in 2002 to make Sikkim its part.
  • Look East Policy : Another structural change that has been envisioned through the ‘Look East’ policy is economic development and trade routes to South East Asia via land and sea to bring about prosperity to the Northeastern states. This policy is pertinent to insurgency in North East because it would be persuading people to reject violent means projected by the armed groups and embrace peace and development into their lives.

Counter Insurgency (COIN) in North East

Use of Force

In 2011, the government of India had identified 79 armed insurgent groups active in six of the seven ‘Sister States’ of North East. Half of them are splinter groups while others range from small ethnic militias to well equipped rebel armies. Many of these groups have been involved in formal as well as informal talks with the Government. Their aspirations, demands and activities vary greatly. More than half of the groups are in Manipur. The states of Nagaland, Assam and Tripura also have long-established armed groups. There are groups in Mizoram as well as Arunachal Pradesh, where insurgency is at lower levels since the Mizo peace accords of 1987.

Here are important observations and issues with Militarisation and counter-insurgency in North East:

  • The first notable thing is that only a handful of the 79 armed groups have been formally called “terrorist organizations”. These terrorist organizations are generally those which have a political programme of greater autonomy or independence. Many of the smaller groups are tolerated mainly because of their opposition to the independence seeking groups.
  • The history of counter-insurgency in North East is as old as insurgencies themselves. India’s oldest paramilitary force Assam Rifles was set up to conduct counter-insurgency operations in the north-eastern region and other areas, where deemed necessary, under the control of the Army.
  • North East India is highly militarised since the Second World War. More troops were stationed permanently after the Indo-China war in the early 1960s. The counter insurgency operations were at their peak in 1970s and again in 1990s when more and more troops and paramilitary forces were deployed to the region to contain the insurgencies and remained there permanently. Large battalions have also been established to police the borders with China, Burma and Bangladesh.
  • However, the Government of India has proportionately used Indian Army in its Counter Insurgency (COIN) strategies. Indiscriminate use of forces has been avoided mainly because groups such as ULFA, the NSCN (IM), the UNLF and the PLA project a certain degree of social support and any disproportionate use of force can be counter-productive.
  • Assam has witnessed the gradual change in its overall counter-insurgency strategy due to the measured military responses by the army after the 1990s.
  • In the recent years, the attitude of the locals has also changed but still Indian army is routinely accused of human rights violations. There has been a social apathy against counter-insurgency operations and militarization of society. Due to the public resistance to armed operations, an all out operations against the armed outfits has never been used in north east.
Dialogue and Negotiations

The dialogue and negotiations have always been a serious alternative option for the Indian state’s response to the armed conflicts in the Northeast.

In the Naga conflict, the dialogue started as early as 1947 with the Akbar Hydari agreement, the civil society interactions of the 1950s, the Naga Peace Mission of 1964, the Shillong Accord of 1975 and the now ongoing peace negotiations with the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K).

In the ULFA case, the jailed ULFA leaders have been released followed by “unconditional talks” with the outfit falling within the framework of negotiations. In 2011, ULFA submitted to the Centre its charter of demands which sought amendment in the Constitution for finding “meaningful” ways to protect the rights and identity of the indigenous people of Assam. ULFA’s other demands include discussion on grounds for its struggle, status report on missing ULFA leaders and cadres (numbering around 50) and other socio-economic issues.

In 2011, a tripartite agreement for Suspension of Operations (SoO) was signed among the Centre, the Assam government and ULFA. According to the pact, both the ULFA and the security forces will not carry out operations against each other. According to this pact, the members of the rebel group, around 600 in number, will be put in special camps which will be called “nabanirman kendras.” However, ULFA has denied surrendering arms and ammunitions.

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