North East is known across the country for all the wrong reasons.
The common man, if your ask him, may not even be able to mention
the names of some of the states in the region – yet, the ‘Northeast’
has become synonymous in the popular mind, with violence and militancy.
There are, of course, any number of militant outfits spread over
the region, and I think almost all the letters of the alphabet
have been exhausted in the abbreviations of the names of various
militant outfits there. This is, consequently, the appropriate
time to review the situation in North East.
association with North East dates back to my first posting to
Guwahati, on becoming an officer in the Army at the age of 18,
as a second Lieutenant in 1944. Thereafter, starting from the
outbreak of insurgency in Nagaland in 1956, I have served four
tenures in different ranks at different points of time, and gained
some experience of insurgency at the ground level. Over the last
four years as Governor of Assam, I have been actively involved
in grappling with the insurgency in this major State.
presentation is based on this experience, and is divided into
four parts. The first, focuses on low intensity conflicts in their
historical perspectives. The second deals with the peculiar factors
obtaining in the North East, which are conducive to the outbreak
of low intensity conflicts. The third part refers to the broad
conflict situation in the States of the North East other than
Assam. And the last part develops in some detail the insurgency
New Way of Warfare
we look at low intensity conflict in its historical perspective,
it is evident that the nature and the scope of warfare have undergone
radical changes. Gone are the days when the fate of the nation
could be decided in a one-day battle fought on a frontage of 3000
to 4000 yards, with the results accepted by the people in a spirit
of resignation to their fate. This is what happened repeatedly
at Panipat and the surrounding areas, where decisive battles of
India’s history were fought; and this is what happened in Europe,
as in the Battle of Hastings or the Battle of Waterloo.
the emergence of nation-states in Europe in the 17th
century, there was an attitudinal change among the people. Wars
were not only the prerogative of professional armies, rulers and
leaders, but some thing in which the people had stakes and interests.
With the French Revolution, large conscript armies joined in battles,
as the concept of a ‘nation at war’ emerged. And with the Twentieth
Century, yet another buzzword was on the scene, and that was the
idea of ‘total wars’. The Twentieth Century was the bloodiest,
with more people killed as the result of war in this century alone
than in all the previous wars in the history of mankind. Warfare
had acquired new dimensions and was now executed across a global
canvas, with the use of air power and weapons of mass destruction.
20th Century witnessed two world wars, two nuclear holocausts,
a high-tech war, quite a few limited wars and any number of "peoples’
wars" – some of which could also be called low intensity
conflicts. There are various types of low intensity conflict,
including insurgency, terrorism and proxy wars. Insurgency visualizes
active support and sympathy of the people for the chosen cause,
with idealism dominating the course of operations. Terrorism,
on the other hand, is another manifestation of low intensity conflict,
and seeks to target the people, often coercing them against their
wishes to take part in military activities; here, the idealism
of insurgency gets drowned out under a syndrome of criminal activity
under the guise of ‘revolution’. There is a very thin line dividing
the terrorist from the criminal. Tactics change a little. Instead
of just threatening security forces, the terrorists attack soft
targets – women and children and helpless citizens. The third
type of low intensity conflict is proxy war, in which a hostile
State exports terrorism across international borders, and where
there is support, whether large scale or small, from the indigenous
people in the areas into which terrorism is being exported. India
has had a share of experience with all these types of low intensity
matter what their type of, these conflicts have emerged in areas
where roots of nationalism have perhaps not found enough strength,
and in areas that are economically under-developed. You do not
have low intensity conflicts today in Western Europe or Northern
America, though Ireland and the Basque region in Spain are exceptions.
tactics adopted in low intensity conflicts are of the hit-and-run
variety – often referred to as guerrilla warfare or irregular
war. These tactics, in themselves, are nothing new and have had
a place in military history for a long-long time. But, using this
tactic is not the same thing as developing a whole new concept
of warfare. Indeed, the concept of insurgency was pioneered in
India by Shivaji in his campaigns against the Mughals. And what
is that concept? It was constructed around an ideal and a charismatic
leader, in this case, the idea of Hind Swaraj – the independence
of the indigenous people – and the leadership of Shivaji. Starting
with Malwa tribesmen, Shivaji organized a military force – one
that was much weaker than the forces of the occupying power –
but one that could exploit its audacity, knowledge of the terrain
and ability to hit and vanish, thus wearing down the occupying
forces. Through this process, they carved out a sanctuary for
themselves, a sort of ‘liberated area,’ where they developed their
conventional military strength. In the final stage, after his
coronation, Shivaji executed a 600-mile advance with conventional
military forces, forcing the surrender of the Qutb-Shahis at Hyderabad
and from the western coast across the Deccan province.
centuries later, this was the tactic and strategy adopted by Mao
Tse-tung and Ho Chi Minh. In both these cases, in the final stages
of conventional confrontation, Mao Tse-tung threw out the Chinese
national armies from the mainland, and Ho Chi Minh’s forces inflicted
a humiliating defeat on the regular forces of the French Army
nuclear weapons threatening to destroy the entire planet, and
the scale of damage of conventional wars, with the attendant risks
of nuclear escalation, going beyond the ‘tolerance limits’ of
most states, low intensity conflict has emerged as an easier and
less dangerous option. That is why, in the over 50 years since
the Second World War, so many low intensity conflicts have erupted
in different parts of the world – well over 200, according to
are unique factors in India’s North East that are conducive to
outbreak of low intensity conflicts. India is a multi-ethnic,
multi-linguistic and multi-religious country – perhaps the most
varied in the world – and the North East is the most diverse region
of this most diverse country. Geographical barriers and an inhospitable
climate have rendered the North East, from the very dawn of history,
a remote and isolated region. Comparatively, it has been characterised
by very low levels of interaction with people outside the region.
And, while India is a very ancient nation, politically its development
as a ‘nation state’ started only with independence, nourished
by the memories of the freedom struggle. The people of India,
under the leadership of the Mahatma Gandhi, went through a crucial
formative experience that promoted nationalism during this phase
– and the fabric of nationalism is still extremely fragile in
many parts of the country. As far as the North East is concerned,
this fragility is even greater, because the region remained substantially
unaffected by the freedom struggle. This is an important contributory
factor to the scenario that exists in the Northeast today.
it is interesting that, despite its remoteness and geographical
isolation, Indian civilisation has penetrated deep into the region,
and particularly into its valley areas. India has been a ‘civilisation-state’
for thousands of years – though it became a nation-state only
in the 20th Century – and the people living in the Brahmaputra
Valley shared this common civilisation, culture and history with
the rest of the country. Even today in the city of Guwahati, there
is a place called Vashisht where once upon a time the ashram
of the great sage stood. In the days of the Mahabharat,
Lord Krishna’s consort was Rukmini from Assam. And much later
in the medieval period, the contribution of Mahapurush Sriman
Shankar Dev in strengthening civilisational and cultural bonds
while the people of the valley, the Assamese people, were integrated
and assimilated culturally, civilisationally and historically
with the rest of the country, the same could not be said about
the tribes living in jungles and the hills. These tribes led a
life of their own, and the harsh geographical conditions severely
circumscribed even the interaction between one tribe and another.
The tribes thus evolved a way of life governed by their own tribal
customs and laws, unaffected by the winds of change blowing across
the outside world, and, of course, remaining unassimilated with
the national mainstream.
the British came, they, in their own way and for their own reasons,
tried to preserve the separate identity of these tribes, creating
a system of ‘innerline’ restrictions according to which outsiders
could gain access to these areas only with special permission.
The normal laws of the country and the normal administrative patterns
did not apply to the tribal areas beyond the ‘innerlines.’
independence came, the gap of centuries between the outlook, thinking
and ways of life of the tribals and the rest of the country, was
sought to be covered, and attempts were made to integrate the
tribals with the ‘national mainstream.’ With the tribes’ consciousness
of their own separate identity, their pride in their own traditions,
an upheaval in the process was inevitable. It is interesting,
however, that the differences between these tribes – not-withstanding
some theories of a pan-Mongoloid movement that have been proposed
– have equally prevented a united tribal front of all the tribes
of the North East. The reason is simple: their past has been different,
consequently, their aspirations for the present and the future
are different, and each tribe has its own agenda.
Partition & Development
has also affected the pattern of development in the North East
and the Partition caused havoc both in the geography and the economy
of the North East. To begin with, the entire land mass of the
North East is now connected to the rest of India by a tenuous
22 kilometre link along the Shiliguri Corridor; more than 99 per
cent of the borders of the North East abut other countries: China,
Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Some of these countries have not
been too friendly and, across a porous international border, have
been only too willing to assist militant activity in India. Others,
while not anti-India in their approach, have not been in a position
to prevent anti-Indian activity from their soil.
Partition, the North East lost its access to the sea through the
entry port at Chittagong. The region was land-locked, and transportation
costs along new and circuitous routes – with the traditional routes
through East Pakistan (Bangladesh) cut off –multiplied. To take
an example, in the old days the distance from Agartala to Calcutta
was only 400 kilometres. After Partition, that road distance increased
four times to 1600 kilometres, because the route went all the
way around Bangladesh, through the Shiliguri corridor, to Calcutta.
This impacted very adversely on the economy of the region. The
Brahmaputra, which was a waterway of commerce, was substantially
abandoned because its lower reaches were now in a foreign country.
the cumulative impact of this and other factors is that, while
the per capita income of Assam (which virtually comprehended the
entire region at that time) before 1947 was well above the national
average, today it has fallen far below. The North East has been
transformed into an economically backward region, which it was
not prior to 1947.
and manor destabilising element has been the factor of demographic
intrusion. This, of course, had been going on long before independence,
but in the post-’47 era, it acquired an international as well
as a grave security dimension. It is this influx of population
from across the border that was primarily responsible for insurgency
in at least two states – Tripura and Assam.
combination of these factors – diversity, history, geography,
economy and demography – have thus created fertile ground for
the outbreak of insurgency in the Northeast.
Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, there is no strong indigenous
insurgency at present, though there is a certain problem due to
the ‘spillover’ of insurgency from adjacent or neighbouring States.
There are, consequently, certain law and order problems, but the
patterns and levels of violence of the larger militant movements
in the region are non-existent in these three States. Mizoram
requires a special reference in this context, as there was a time
when violence of a very acute nature had erupted in the State.
It is the only area in India where, after 1947, security forces
had used air power in an offensive against militants. Today, however,
Mizoram is a success story where, as the result of a political
settlement with the insurgents led by Laldenga in the 1980s, peace
was restored, and Laldenga was installed as Chief Minister in
that State. Today, Mizoram remains the most peaceful of the Northeastern
Nagas have a long history of wanting a separate State of their
own. Even in the British days, they had voiced the demand for
a sovereign Nagaland comprising Naga areas in the Indian North
East and Burma (now Myanmar).
Nagas were one of the tribes that had a greater exposure to the
outside world than any of the others in the North East. In the
Second World War, Japanese forces came up to Kohima and Imphal.
The Nagas – I remember because I took part in the Second World
War – were actively supporting the Allies, and British officers
in those days looked up to them with a sense of gratitude. When
Partition was approaching, the Nagas wanted a State of their own
as a reward for having helped the British during the war. Some
British administrators had even come up with a proposal for a
separate Christian State of the tribes in the North East and North
Burma, which could be a member of the British Commonwealth of
Nations, but the idea remained stillborn. The Nagas were brought
to accept the Independence of India after and to be a part of
the Union through what is known as the Hydari Agreement – after
Sir Akbar Hydari, the then Governor of Assam – under which a 10-year
period was stipulated for review. Some autonomy was given to the
Nagas, but they were not satisfied and the first shots of insurgency
were fired in the Naga Hills in 1956.
a charismatic leader, through a struggle over decades, was able
to unite the Naga people, cutting across the 14 constituent tribes,
after he raised the standard of revolt with weapons of Second
World War vintage – both Japanese and Allied – which were left
behind or given to him during the war. Soon enough, he started
getting generous support from what was then East Pakistan and
from China. A strong militant movement was built up, and I recall
that during operations in those areas at that time, one did get
a feeling that we had a full-fledged insurgency on our hands.
were many efforts to pacify the Nagas, and through concessions
in 1963, the State of Nagaland was created. This State was for
a population of barely 500,000 – less than the population of many
of the colonies of New Delhi – and yet all the trappings that
go with full Statehood, a Legislature, Cabinet, Chief Minister
and later even Governor, went with this new status. But, this
failed to satisfy the Nagas, and they continued with their operations.
Later, the Shillong Agreement of 1975 provided further concessions,
but failed again to satisfy the more radical elements among the
Naga leadership, which fractured into a number of splinter groups
at this stage.
cease-fire agreement of 1997 between the Centre and the National
Socialist Council of Nagalim – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), brought
relative peace to Nagaland after nearly half a century of violence,
and the people at large have, over the past years, developed a
vested interest in the peace. But there are two major militant
groups, the NSCN-IM, which has a bigger military punch with about
4,000 weapons, and the NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K), which is not as
strong but has about 1,000 weapons at its disposal.
year 2001 saw important developments in the State, with the Centre
establishing formal cease-fire agreements with both the NSCN-IM
and the NSCN-K. This was a major move forward, particularly in
view of the fact that the NSCN-IM had long insisted on being recognised
as the ‘sole representative’ of the Naga people, and had a sustained
internecine conflict with the Khaplang group, and was not expected
to take too kindly to this arrangement. Nevertheless, this did
not create any additional controversy or tension – the source
of escalated tension came from a different quarter: the extension
of the cease-fire "without territorial limits.’
felt there was a mistake on the part of the Government of India
at the initial stage, to have agreed to geographical limits for
a cease-fire. A cease-fire is between two contesting parties –
you cannot have one in one place and not in another. You do not
say that I am at war with you in this room and that I am at peace
with you in the other room. But the cease-fire of 1997 was defined
in terms of the territories of the State of Nagaland.
Nagas have, of course, been committed to the idea of a ‘Greater
Nagaland’ and wanted the cease-fire to be extended to all Naga
inhabited areas, with their attitudes becoming increasingly adamant
on this point in 2001. There was a lot of brinkmanship, with a
threat to scrap the cease-fire agreement altogether, and to resume
‘hostilities’, if this demand was not conceded.
think this was more brinkmanship then anything else – though these
are just my personal views. The people in Nagaland want peace,
and the militant groups now realise this, and realise equally
that if hostilities are resumed, they would lack popular support.
Furthermore, there are also reports that all is not well within
the IM group. The Secretary Muivah – a Tangkhul Naga – is all-powerful,
and the Semas have long been feeling sidelined. A resumption of
hostilities could well cause a another split within the group.
That is why you see how quickly the IM group did a climb down
at the last moment, accepting a cease-fire that would be operative
not, as they had demanded, in all Naga areas, but "without
is a world of difference between these two formulations. When
you talk of cease-fire without geographical boundaries, it means
there is cease-fire in Delhi, in Bombay, anywhere, between the
two groups – as a result, using the extension of cease-fire to
buttress claims for territorial expansion is no longer an option.
Unfortunately, this fact was not viewed or projected in this light,
with the result that in the newspapers, and statements of various
leaders, there was a constant reference to the cease-fire being
extended to ‘Naga inhabited areas,’ and the claim that the government
had implicitly ‘conceded’ Naga claims to these areas. But cease-fire
‘without geographical limits’ is not the same thing as cease-fire
being extended to ‘Naga inhabited areas’.
for the future, I personally believe that the longer peace reigns
in Nagaland, even without a political settlement, and the dialogue
continues, the better are the chances of peace becoming something
permanent in the State, as of a political settlement achieved.
was a Princely State, and the Manipuris are an emotional people,
proud of their past history. Two-thirds of the population are
Meiteis, who are Vaishnavite Hindus, and one–third is tribal,
including the Nagas, the Kukis and some others. In this tribal
population, the majority is constituted by the Nagas.
Manipuris have nursed a sense of grievance for a long time. The
population of Manipur was double that of Nagaland, and its resources
were far greater. Yet, the Government of India made Nagaland a
full-fledged State in 1963, while Manipur remained a Union Territory
even years later. It was only in 1972, after a long agitation,
that Manipur also became a State.
grievance is that the Nagas were recognised as Scheduled Tribes,
and received the benefits that go with this status. The Meiteis,
however, were denied this recognition, and felt deprived of the
related advantages. These sentiments were aggravated by what was
mistakenly called the ‘extension of cease-fire to the Naga inhabited
areas of Manipur’, which aroused fears that the districts of Tamenglong,
Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel would become part of a Greater Nagaland,
and a truncated Manipur State would be left behind.
needs to be placed against backdrop of Naga militancy in Manipur.
The NSCN-IM, the most powerful and well-organised militant group
in the North East, is led by T. Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga from Ukhrul
in Manipur, and maintains a significant presence and activities
in the State. So far as the Meiteis are concerned, they have their
own militant outfits, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the
People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) with about
1,000 odd weapons. For a long time, there were clashes between
the Kukis and Nagas, and till a couple of years ago, this was
a very common occurrence. Fortunately, these have now been suppressed,
and one no longer hears about the Kuki-Naga conflict. However,
clashes between the security forces and the other militant outfits
in Manipur – NSCN-IM, PREPAK or PLA – are recurrent. There has
also been tremendous political instability in Manipur for the
past few years, too much floor crossing, and too many links between
militants and political leaders. Unfortunately, no organisation
has been created to conduct co-ordinated operations at Manipur,
and the various security forces work almost at a tangent. It is
no wonder that Manipur is one of the States that are suffering
the most as a result of militancy in the North East today.
was also a Princely State, and acceded to India after Partition.
According to the 1931 Census, 95 per cent of the population of
Tripura was tribal. After Partition, there was a continuous influx
of refugees from East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) totally changing
the demographic pattern, with the proportion of tribals today
reduced to 28 per cent. Democracy is a game of numbers, and the
tribals find that the indigenous people have lost political power
in their own lands. They have also lost their land, as it is increasingly
encroached upon by the migrants.
result is that the Tripura tribals have taken up arms and resorted
to violence that is primarily directed against the Bengali population
that has come into Tripura. They have the All Tripura Tiger Force
(ATTF) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) with
their camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These
groups have occasionally targeted the security forces as well.
tribal areas of Tripura were accorded Hill Council status as prescribed
under the Sixth Schedule, but efforts are required to make a success
of these institutions.
is an area of special interest for me by virtue of my appointment
as Governor, as also by virtue of a very long association. You
often hear people referring to the seven sisters, in terms of
the seven States, of the North East. I think this terminology
is most misleading. Assam cannot be called just one of the seven
sisters. Assam is the mother-State. The others are progenies of
Assam. Assam is the core State of the North East. Geographically,
it is the region’s heartland. It is the only State, which has
boundaries with all the six States. And Assam has a population
now of 260 million, which is more than double the population of
all other six put together.
State’s economic resources, in terms of industry turnover, are
to the tune of Rs. 30 billion a year, of oil, Rs 25 billion a
year – figures that have no parallel in the other States.
if there is insurgency in Assam, it affects the whole North East.
Strategically, if something happens in lower Assam, adjacent to
the Shiliguri corridor, the entire landmass of the North East
would be cut off from the rest of India.
the other States, it is often said that the tribal people ask
for secession from India because they were not ‘assimilated in
the mainstream’. But how could this happen in Assam, where cultural
and civilisational links with the rest of India have been so strong
through the centuries? Of course, the militants spread a canard
that Assam was never part of India; that it was only when the
British came to the region that Assam was brought into India,
and hence, the Assamese must re-assert their separate identity
and become an independent nation. But this only shows up their
ignorance, rather than any significant understanding of history.
had strong civilisational links to the rest of India even in the
days of the epics, and through the historical era. Assam was a
vassal state, Kamrup of Samudra Gupta, of the Gupta dynasty. The
iron pillar inscription of Allahabad mentions Kamrup as a vassal
frontier kingdom. During the rule of the Varman rulers in Assam,
Bhaskar Varman in particular, the Kamrup kingdom was extended
to include the whole of what are, today, Bangladesh, West Bengal
and modern Bihar. Huen Tsang, the Chinese traveller, records that
Eastern and the Western kings, Harshvardhan in Kanauj and Bhaskar
Varman at Guwahati, had the closest of links, exchanging visits
and cultural activities. These are only a few examples of the
deep linkages between Assam and the rest of India through the
ancient period. In the medieval period, however, this link was
broken when all the other provinces came under Islamic rule, while
Assam retained its independence, repulsing as many as 17 invasions.
the modern period, Assam participated in India’s First War of
Independence in 1857, and in the freedom struggle led by Mahatma
Gandhi. The claim that Assam has never been a part of India is,
consequently, totally wrong and factually incorrect.
there is no denying the fact that an insurgency erupted in Assam,
and that people were carried away by the secessionist propaganda.
On analysis, I find that this happened largely because of a feeling
of popular neglect and discrimination, and not because of ethnic,
cultural or historical differences. This is the crucial difference
between the insurgency in Assam and insurgencies in the tribal
sense of neglect and discrimination was built up over a long period.
When the British came into Assam, they brought with them the western
educated Bengali, who established a domination in all the intellectual
profession: lawyers, doctors, clerks, teachers and so on, introducing
Bengali as the State language and medium of instruction. There
were anti-Bengali riots, and ultimately the Assamese language
got a place in Assam in the 19th Century. Then came the tea industry,
with a new set of distortions. The owners were all British companies,
so all the dividends went back to Britain. The middlemen were
the Marwaris, and they repatriated their profits to Rajasthan.
The labour was mostly from Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, and
family remittances of labour went to those States. There was nothing
in the tea industry for Assam and the Assamese people.
the advent of the 20th Century, communalism raised its head in
Indian politics. The Muslim League was formed at Dhaka, and even
before the cry for Pakistan went up, there was a demand for what
was called ‘Bange-Islam’: under which Bengal, with a predominantly
Muslim population, would engulf the region completely. Then, in
1905, Curzon’s Partition of Bengal on communal lines sealed Assam’s
fate – it had long been a separate province, but lost its identity
as it was tagged to East Bengal under this scheme. But historical
memories were stronger, and no one wanted to become part of this
the 1932 Census Report on Assam, written by a British officer,
Census Superintendent S C Mullan, pointed out the dangers of the
uncontrolled influx of population from then North Bengal, which,
he warned, would one day result in the Assamese people being restricted
only to the upper Assam districts. Then came the Muslim League
Ministry at Shillong, about which the then Viceroy of India, Lord
Wavell, wrote that, under the pretext of grow more food, the Muslim
League ministry was trying to grow more Muslims.
Grouping Plan introduced by the Cabinet Mission in 1946 then grouped
Assam with Bengal. This was accepted by Jinnah, and initially
by Congress high command, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabh
Bhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. But the Assam Congress
stalwart, Gopinath Bordoloi, raised the standard of revolt, and
secured Mahatma Gandhi’s support. The Grouping Plan, as a result,
was scrapped. This historical sequence is important, because its
memory lingered on in the popular consciousness of the people
post-independence period created its own history of grievances.
Cooch Behar, for instance, was historically and culturally very
close to Assam, but at the time of the merger of States, became
part of West Bengal. Princely States like Manipur and Tripura
became Union Territory, a pattern, which was not followed anywhere
else in the country, where all States were either made a part
of a grouping of States or merged with others.
course of developmental projects was also discouraging. Assam
was prone to floods, and lacked sufficient irrigation facilities.
Given its enormous potential, it should have received the highest
priority for hydroelectric projects. None was put up in Assam.
There were no new public sector undertakings in Assam, and when
it came to establishing the first oil refinery after independence,
it was located at Barauni in Bihar. The reason given was security
and the deteriorating relations with China. But the sentiment
among the people of Assam was that, if the oil wells of Assam
are secure, if oil pipelines going out of Assam are secure, how
is it that an oil refinery would be ‘insecure’?
bifurcation of States, compounded problems. Mega-States like Uttar
Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have only now been divided into
more manageable units. But undivided Assam was progressively cut
up into a number of small States.
Chinese aggression created new injuries. When the Chinese advanced
right up to Tezpur, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru,
in an emotional outburst in his radio broadcast said, my heart
goes out to the people of Assam. He may not have meant it, but
this was interpreted as a farewell call – look after yourselves
we can do nothing for you. This, in some sense, was a repeat of
what had happened in 1947, when Nehru had said that, by accepting
the Grouping Plan, Assam must make some ‘sacrifice’ for India’s
were the cumulative factors, and they needed a straw, which was
provided by the demographic invasion of Assam. While Bordoloi
was trying to protect the interests of Assam, a new leadership
emerged at Delhi, the ‘Assam Syndicate,’ comprising of Deb Kant
Baruah [of "India is Indira, Indira is India" fame],
Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Moinul Haque Choudhari [one time private
secretary of Mohammed Ali Jinnah]. Their outlook and thinking
was different, and Baruah articulated the principle that the support
of ‘Ali Quli’ had to be retained – Ali standing for the migrants
of Bangladeshi origin, and Quli for the tea garden labour.
at that time, had a very distinguished Governor in B K Nehru,
a cousin of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and an eminent Congress
leader B P Chaliha as Chief Minister, both of whom drew attention
to the dangers of the flood of migrants. Unfortunately, their
views were overlooked. In 1978, the Chief Election Commissioner,
S L Shakdher, in a meeting at Ootacamond, told the Chief Electoral
Officers that, very soon, the Assamese people would be a small
minority in their own State. Large numbers of foreigners had settled
there, and their names had been included in the voters’ list.
At about this time, over seventy thousand illegal names were identified
in the voters’ list in Assam.
years of neglect and discrimination then sparked off two movements:
A students movement through the All Assam Students Union (AASU)
and the militant movement by the United Liberation Front of Asom
(ULFA). But these movements were the responses of a stepchild
in a family feeling neglected, and not of a person who was totally
alienated, ethnically, culturally and historically. This must
be understood if we are to work out a strategy to deal with the
quickly, the succeeding years led to the Assam Accord. 1985-1990
was the period when the first Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government
came to power and it was also the period when the ULFA had a free
run of the State of Assam. It was the ULFA’s writ that ran, rather
than that of the State government. ULFA managed to collect billions
of rupees. 130 murders were committed by ULFA during the period,
and hardly any action taken. ULFA, to give it credit, tried to
project the image of a Robin Hood and by and large was accepted
by the people as such because of the various gestures it was making.
But things came to a head and in 1990, and the State government
had to be dismissed after the Dum Duma incident, when seven tea
gardens were asked to give a ransom of Rs 10 million each. The
army was brought in, elections were subsequently held, and the
Congress came back to power. The Hiteshwar Saikia regime initially
tried to find a political solution to the insurgency, and all
the arrested militants were released, but violence continued unabated.
The army was brought in once again, and was the broad story till
1996, when the AGP was voted back to power for the second time
on a manifesto that included three points:
of Assam will be given the right of self-determination.
laws’ – the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces (Special
Powers) Act would be repealed.
will be sent back to barracks.
of these three stipulations could eventually be met, and that
was the beginning of the rift between the AGP and the ULFA.
violence mounted, a Chief Secretary, a Director General of Police
and two other senior IAS and IPS officer just ran away from Assam
– deserted – something that had never happened before. The Chief
Minister himself escaped an attempt on his life: An Inspector
General of police and an Army Brigadier were shot in the Guwahati
streets. At the Kamakhya temple, two Colonels were shot. There
were explosions in Guwahati and on the Brahmaputra. Hundreds of
people were killed. There was ethnic violence between Bodos and
Adivasis in which some 700 persons lost their lives and two hundred
thousand people were confined to refugee or ‘relief’ camps. Culverts
were blown off and the land link between Assam and the rest of
India was severed for a few days. Now that was the scenario. In
1997, in another landmark event of that time, Sanjoy Ghosh, a
highly popular social worker, who had won the hearts of the people
of Majuli, was kidnapped and assassinated by the ULFA.
was at this time that I received a bolt from the blue, when the
then Prime Minister, I K Gujral, asked me to take charge as Governor
of Assam – a move, he said, was supported by both the Government
and the Opposition at Delhi.
feeling in Assam at that time was, here is a General coming, so
there will be President’s rule or military rule in Assam. It was,
however, my very considered decision to work with a popular government
in power and, as far as was possible, not to allow President’s
rule in Assam. Introduction of President’s rule creates a direct
confrontation between Delhi and the State, and any solution found
under such circumstances would only be temporary, since the people
would have a feeling that it was imposed upon them.
second major decision and it was a very difficult decision, related
to the CBI’s request to prosecute the Chief Minister who was involved
in a scam. I went through the documents, and was convinced that
prima facie evidence was absent, and chose to reject the
recommendations of the CBI. I knew this would cause a furore,
but I was prepared to face it. Of course, another consideration
that weighed with me was that political instability was the last
thing Assam needed at that time – but this was not the reason
for rejecting the CBI’s recommendation. As it happened, the matter
was contested in the High Court for two years, after which the
Court not only upheld my decision in a speaking order, but supported
the argument I had given. The matter went up to the Supreme Court,
where the CBI eventually stated that it accepted the Governor’s
order. This decision was important because it had a direct bearing
on the conduct of counter-insurgency operations.
army was widely deployed and my biggest asset was that, having
been in the army for nearly 40 years, most of the officers there
had worked under me and knew me. I could not possibly expect a
more loyal and enthusiastic response than I received in Assam.
three-pronged strategy was adopted against the insurgents. The
first prong was the containment of violence; the second involved
psychological initiatives; and the third sought to catalyse economic
far as containment of violence was concerned, a Unified Command
Structure was functioning. Unfortunately, there have been far
too many personal conflicts and turf wars with the result that
various elements of the security forces, the army and the police,
tend to work more as competing rather than complementary forces.
We couldn’t have the kind of unity of command that General Sir
Gerald Templer established in Malaya, but Unified Command was
the closest we could achieve, and it worked. There were hiccups,
but these were resolved. The result was that we were able to kill
more then one thousand militants in encounters, we recovered three
thousand weapons and a large amount of cash; and over three thousand
three hundred militants surrendered in batches.
were backbreaking statistics for any militant organisation, but
still the ULFA has survived. This is primarily because of its
sanctuaries in Bhutan. Nevertheless, they have been greatly marginalised.
first of psychological initiatives took shape within a few weeks
after my arrival at Guwahati. There was a seminar of the Indian
Council of Historical Research, which I was invited to inaugurate.
Top historians from all over the country were present, and in
my opening address, I underlined the fact that historians had
neglected Assam, but that history had not neglected it. This point
was amplified with examples, pointing out that, while textbooks
wrote of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Gangetic Valley Civilisation,
etc., you hardly read anything about Brahmaputra Valley Civilisation.
Rana Pratap and Shivaji are national military heroes, but there
was a military hero of Assam in the same mould – Lachit Barphukan;
his name is not known outside Assam. The thrust was that the people
of Assam should be made to feel proud of their past, and the rest
of India should feel proud of Assam. History would be used as
a weapon to fight militancy. They had talked in terms of Assam
never being a part of India, and the response would be to prove
precisely how wrong they were.
do this, I selected three individuals whose contribution was great,
but was not known outside Assam. One was Shreeman Shankar Dev,
a great religious reformer, who sought to rid the Hindu society
of the evils of caste system and to create an egalitarian society
in Assam, evidence of which is still visible all over. Today,
politics in India is riddled with caste. But in Assam, no one
speaks of caste in the political discourse. This was Shreeman
Shankar Dev’s contribution. I installed a painting of Shreeman
Shankar Dev, and had the Chief Minister of Assam sworn in under
that picture, telling him that he was the first in Assam to take
the oath under a picture of the Assamese reformer, though I hoped
he would not be the last.
second inspirational figure I had identified was Lachit Barphukan.
An annual Lachit Barphukan memorial lecture was introduced at
the University, and a Lachit Barphukan Gold Medal was introduced
for the best cadet in the National Defence Academy at Pune, where
his statue was installed as well.
third Assamese hero who was projected was Gopinath Bordoloi. To
create greater recognition to his enormous contribution to Assam
and to India, we worked to have a posthumous award of Bharat Ratna
conferred on him; the Guwahati Airport was named after him; and
a life-size bronze statue of Bordoloi now stands in Parliament.
In all these cases, the thrust was to project their contributions
that went far beyond the geographical limits of Assam. Had it
not been for Bordoloi, all of Assam would have gone to East Pakistan,
Calcutta would have been a port in Bangladesh, and Delhi would
probably have been a frontier State
was also this question of an anti-army sentiment among the people.
This was another aspect that was taken up, not because I was from
the army, but also because the Army represented the rest of India,
it represented Delhi – it was the result of the strong feelings
against Delhi that the Army was being used as a whipping horse.
Small incidents were blown out of proportion, and the media was
constantly raising bogeys: ‘This is military rule. When is the
army going back? When will the Unified Command be abolished?’
And so on.
Army was consequently encouraged to conduct people-friendly operations.
Here I was reminded of what Mahatma Gandhi had said when I was
a young Captain in 1946, and we knew that Independence was coming.
He had pointed out that we are a colonial Army, and not very popular
with the people. After all, in the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, General
Dyer may have given the orders, but the act was executed by the
Indian Army. Mahatma Gandhi understood this, and his very words
were pregnant with meaning. He said, till now they have been used
to fire indiscriminately against us; now, they must learn to plough
the fields, dig wells, clean latrines and do other constructive
work if they want the hatred of the people of India to be converted
into love for them.
the Partition holocaust came, the Army was the only effective
instrument in the States of North India. The war in Kashmir, the
war in Junagadh and the conflict in Hyderabad redeemed the reputation
of the Army, which was transformed from a colonial Army into a
national Army overnight. There was tremendous patriotic fervour
all over the country, and the Army had become the most popular
instrument of the state.
here in Assam, when I came as Governor, Gandhiji’s words rang
in my ears. The Army responded splendidly, and a range of activities
was launched. Hundreds of thousands of patients were treated in
medical relief camps; the Army helped renovate schools and temples;
it ran training centres for computers, vehicle mechanics, and
other skills; it helped provide water at the Kamakhya temple,
and assisted in conservation efforts in wildlife sanctuaries.
Gradually, there was an attitudinal shift among the people, and
this became our greatest asset.
third prong of our counter-terrorism response strategy was economic
development. Within one year, we managed to install over one hundred
thousand shallow tube wells and, for the first time, Assam was
self-sufficient in rice. One of the greatest agricultural scientists
in the world, who was the father of green revolution in India,
Dr. M S Swaminathan, came to Guwahati and said that a mini Green
Revolution had taken place in Assam.
cumulative impact of these strategies was a clear change in the
ground situation in Assam. There are, of course, still some incidents
of violence – but incidents of violence occur even in Delhi –
this does not mean that Assam is in the grips of militancy. As
long as the sanctuaries in Bhutan remain intact, this nuisance
conclusion, some points need to be reiterated. Insurgency flourishes
when the people have a feeling of separate identity on the basis
of ethnicity, culture or history. This is compounded by a sense
of neglect, exploitation and discrimination, and immensely aggravated
by bad governance, corruption and economic backwardness. All these
factors exist in the North East. The key to the situation, clearly,
is to provide good, corruption-free governance, and economic development.
has been rightly said that when people in Delhi think of the Northeast,
they think of the distance, and that translates itself into a
mental gap. When the people of the Northeast think of Delhi, they
think in terms of different levels of development, and this translates
into an emotional gap. Let us hope that these gaps can be bridged,
and that, with changes in attitudes, the Northeast will take the
high road to peace and prosperity.
||This paper is based on the inaugural address
delivered by HE Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S. K. Sinha, Governor of
Assam, at the seminar on "Addressing Conflicts in India's
North East" organised by the Institute for Conflict Management,
June 25-27, 2001, New Delhi.
||HE Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S. K. Sinha is the Governor
of Assam. A former Vice-chief of Army Staff, he also served
as India's Ambassador to Nepal. He has written several books
on defence related issues including the autobiographical A