Insurgency in North East India: Backgrounder
North Eastern states are connected to the rest of India by the Siliguri Corridor, a 23 kilometres wide strip of land. The states of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura have been plagued by separatist tendencies and insurgencies right since independence. Several armed as well as unarmed outfits with complex links with external state and non-state actors, illicit economies and electoral politics have been active in these regions. While some of them demand greater autonomy within the framework of Indian Constitution, others insist on complete independence from India. Here is a brief overview of these.
A group called National Liberation Council of Taniland (NLCT) is active at the Assam-Arunachal Border. This group demands a Tani Land for Tani tribes in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Tani refers to a group of tribes including Mishing, Miri, Adi, Nyishi etc.
Throughout the history of Independent India, the Separatist movements have been an integral part of the Assam politics. There are 30 insurgent groups but most of them are just nameplate organizations that engage in sporadic activities such as extortion and pressure groups. There are three groups currently active viz. United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO) etc.
ULFA was formed in 1979 to establish a sovereign state of Assam through armed struggle. NDBF was formed in 1989 as the Bodo Security Force. Its demand was to establish an autonomous region for Bodos. KLNLF is operating in the Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts of Assam. This group was formed in 2004 and it is fighting for self rule for Karbi People. It has close connections with ULFA. The Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) is seeking to carve out a separate Kamtapur State that would comprise six districts in West Bengal and four districts of West Bengal.
Manipur was once the most insurgency affected state. There past groups include United National Liberation Front of Manipur (UNLF); People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Another group Kanglai Kana Yan Lup (KYKL) has been active in recent times. Manipur has also been affected due to factional fights in NSCN groups in Nagaland. Due to this, the Kuki tribals have created their Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and its armed Wing, Kuki National Army (KNA). Skirmishes between Nagas and Kukis are common in that region.
Nagaland is the epicentre of insurgency in north east. The Nagas unilaterally declared themselves independent on 14 August 1947 and since then peace has been elusive to this state. The first insurgent group was Naga National Council led by AZ Phizo, who infused the Naga Nationalism among Naga youth. Currently, NSCN(IM) and NSCN(K) are two groups active in the state. Both are currently in ceasefire truce with Central Government.
The key reason behind Tripura insurgency is the conflict arisen due to illegal Bangladeshi infiltration in the state. The immigrants have outnumbered the native tribal population and created troubles for them. There are two groups active in the state viz. National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF). The Core objective of ATTF is expulsion of all Bengali-speaking immigrant settlers who entered Tripura after 1956 and restore land to tribals under ‘Tripura Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act’, 1960.
Meghalaya was created from Assam in 1971 to meet the demands of Khasi, Garo and other tribes. However, this state has been cradle of conflict between Indian Nationalism and the newly infused Garo and Khasi nationalisms. The situation has been further accentuated by factional fights among other groups. In Meghalaya, the first militant group was Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC), formed in 1992 to protect Meghalaya’s indigenous population from rise of non-tribal immigration. However, this group soon split into Garo dominated Achik Matgrik Liberation Army (AMLA), and the joint Systeng-Khasi alliance of Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC). HNLC wanted to set up Meghalaya into an exclusive Khasi region. Currently, the most active outfit in Meghalaya is Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) which was formed in 2009. Its demand is a ‘sovereign Garoland’ in the Western areas of Meghalaya.
Mizo insurgency ended with 1986 Mizo Accord, which is most successful agreement so far in North East India. Some demands for autonomy are still raised by Hmars, chakmas and Brus people. In 1995, the Hmar People’s Convention-Democracy was created for an independent Hmar State.
The above overview makes it clear that the problems of North East have been a complex combination of conflict in nationalism, bargaining for autonomy, tribal matters, issues of illegal immigration and various socio-economic problems. The secessionist/separatist movements could be attributed to several reasons for example, Central Government’s neglect of the area, feeling of alienation among the tribals, changes in the demographic pattern caused by the influx of people from Bangladesh, Myanmar; assistance to rebel groups by neighbours, availability of sanctuaries in the bordering countries etc.