June 25, 2001
New Delhi, June 25, 2001: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.K. Sinha,
Governor of Assam, commenting on the cease-fire extension with the Naga
militants, said, "Initially I thought it was a mistake." He
went on to add, that the NSCN (IM)’s threats to pull out of the cease
fire in case it was not extended to other areas were "more brinkmanship,
than anything else."
Gen. Sinha was speaking at a seminar on "Addressing
Conflicts in India’s Northeast" organised by the Institute for
Conflict Management. The Institute is headed by Mr. K.P.S. Gill, former
DGP, Punjab, and constitutes a major forum for research, data and analysis
on terrorism and low intensity warfare in South Asia. The Seminar was
convened at the India International Centre.
Presenting a paper at same forum, a senior journalist
from Manipur, Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor of the Imphal Free Press, said,
the reasons for the current violence in his State have more to do with
the ‘official arrogance’, and the ‘gap’ that the arrogance has left
between an official vision and the ground reality.
General Sinha also stated emphatically, "Assam
is a mother-Sate" as opposed to the conventional notion of it being
merely a one of the "Seven Sisters" of the Northeast; it was
the core State and, "If there is insurgency in Assam, it affects
the whole of the Northeast". He described the militants’ projection
that Assam was historically not a part of India and that it was only
under British rule that it became so as as "a canard". The
Governor opined that it was such distortions that contributed to the
initial popularity of militant outfits.
Gen. Sinha observed that consistent years of neglect
of Assam led to the twin phases of the student movement and the insurgency,
which he likened to a "stepchild in a family feeling neglected
for a period of time and wanting to break away".
Speaking on the ceasefire with the NSCN (IM), Mr. Phanjoubam
observed further that "As everybody now knows, the issue is not
cease-fire, but territory." While emphasising on the failure to
understand the temperament of the Manipuirs, he reiterated that "a
good section of the Central leadership still does not seem to have got
the message as they still insist on acting tough, instead of being concerned
that such an orientation can only harden the people’s attitude."
In the context of the complexities regarding the cease-fire,
he opined "Altering boundaries of States within India may be as
easy as getting the ratification of a simple majority of the Parliament,
but what we are witnessing here has nothing to do with what the statute
book says, but what is in the hearts and soul of the people."
Speaking at the same forum, Lt. Gen (Retd.) S.K. Pillai,
former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and DG Infantry, stated that when
the state becomes "a willing on unwilling collusive partner with
terrorist and secessionist groups, it begets a stable anarchy."
It is this condition of "stable anarchy" that currently prevails
in many areas of India’s Northeast.
Gen. Pillai also noted that "Autonomy is all too
often considered a panacea for ethnic conflict, particularly by a "soft
state". Nothing different patterns of autonomy in the other countries,
he observed that "autonomy is not necessarily a solution. It may
be part of the problem. "The emphasised moreover, that if autonomy
is viewed mainly in ethnic terms, this shifts are focus of attention
from the "real issues of isolation and socio-economic producers".
General Pillai also noted that grants of "autonomy" in the
past have often hurried because of political pressures. A function of
governance, he noted is to provide the intelligence flow and a holistic
picture so that the political decision is not mistimed. The recent events
in Manipur, he noted, were a case of the failure of this aspect of governance.
RD Pradhan, the then Home Secretary has given a remarkable
account of how the Assam Accord was signed in a hurry because it had
to be announced on 15 August 1985. Both the parties (AASU & GOI)
knew that parts of the Accord were not implementable yet it was signed
because the aim of the AASU was to get political power. An amusing footnote
to this was that when Rajiv Gandhi did not approve of the phrasing of
a draft clause, the Home Secretary’s response was "Sir, I have
worked enough in the UN to know that bad English always makes for good
negotiations. So please leave the English alone."
Gen. Pillai also underlined the destabilising impact
of migrations from neighbouring States and countries, and pointed out
that ethnic demands are consequences of such demographic destabilisation.
General Pillai also noted the need for instutionalized arrangement for
the psychological integration of the Northeast with the national mainstream.
The development of human and economic infrastructure, he reiterated,
was essential for such future integration and the resolution of issues.
Quoting Yash Ghai, Gen. Pillai, concluded "Autonomy
should be chosen not because of some notion of preserving sovereignty
but in order to enable different groups to have together to define a
common public space".
Noted columnist, author and filmmaker, Sanjoy Hazarika,
drew attention to the crisis of migration in the region. He cautioned
against the rising rhetoric on this issue, however, with the words,
"Most of us are the children of migrants, or migrants ourselves….
The problem arises when we speak of boundaries and homelands. He noted
that, since the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, more than six million
Hindus had migrated out of that country and into India, according to
Bangladeshi sources. At least the same number of Muslims will also have
migrated into India. This has resulted in enormous demographic destabilization.
"The issue of migration," he said, "is extremely sensitive,
indeed explosive, in the Northeast… There is almost no problem in the
region that, in its cosmic aspects, can be alienated from land and from
the movement of populations. He identified the ‘religious factor’ as
the crucial element in the assessment of the movement of populations
in the Northeast. "The faultlines are not over the immigrants themsleves,"
he noted, "but over the dispossession of land…. This is the chorus
across the Northeast: the fear of dispossession dominates the entire
discourse. Mati (land) is identity for the people of the Northeast."
Mr. S.K. Agnihothri, Secretary, National Foundation
for Communal Harmony, Ministry of Home Affairs, noted that the problems
in the Northeast, and especially Assam, were based on a failure or "withering
away" of the state. He said there was too much emphasis on issues
such as work permits, "but work permits are essentially for a floating
population of workers who do not constitute a threat to the region.
It is migrants who acquire and are attached to the land, and who intermarry
with the locals, who are the real problem."
Mr. K.P.S. Gill, President, Institute for Conflict
Management, noted, "Decision making in Delhi has more often than
not been wrong with regard to this region, and has led time and again
to enormous problems there. These processes will have to change, and
to take into consideration the ground realities and opinions of the
people from the Northeast, if the problems of this troubled region are
to be resolved."
Press Release June 26
Press Release June 27