Sunday, October 10, 2004

India: North East - Asia's longest running insurgency

[Each of the seven states in the region today has some insurgency or the other keeping the state busy, often dominating and setting the agenda in the respective geographical area. At last count there are at least 15 major groups in the region that have been banned by the Centre. If you take the smaller groups, the number is closer to 40. A majority of these outfits were formed in the 1980s or early 1990s but each of them is an off-shoot of earlier such attempts to rebel against the Indian nation state. Except the Naga insurgency, most of the outfits in the north-east have been born out of neglect heaped upon by New Delhi on these distant states since Independence.]


North East, not best
A N George

India’s north-east, which now officially includes the eighth state of Sikkim, has the dubious distinction of being home to Asia’s longest running insurgency.

The Nagas, under the AZ Phizo launched an insurrection against the newly-formed Indian nation way back in 1956.

Since then the Naga insurgency has spawned dozens of similar protests across the region that still remains on the periphery of national consciousness.

Each of the seven states in the region today has some insurgency or the other keeping the state busy, often dominating and setting the agenda in the respective geographical area.

At last count there are at least 15 major groups in the region that have been banned by the Centre. If you take the smaller groups, the number is closer to 40.

Over the last decade, at least 11,000 people, including security forces, civilians and militants, have been killed in insurgency-related violence in the four major states of Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland.

A majority of these outfits were formed in the 1980s or early 1990s but each of them is an off-shoot of earlier such attempts to rebel against the Indian nation state. Except the Naga insurgency, most of the outfits in the north-east have been born out of neglect heaped upon by New Delhi on these distant states since Independence.

There are others who regard these insurgencies as nothing but money-making enterprises. Says a senior army official, not willing to be named:

“Insurgency is the biggest business in the North-East. Most of these groups exist only to make money through extortions and kidnappings. Ideology has taken a backseat here.”

Assam

(a) United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA):

Formed in 1979. Wants an independent Assam. Strength: Over 3,000 armed cadres. Leaders: Arabinda Rajkhowa: Chairman and Paresh Baruah: Commander-in-chief. Both based in Bangladesh.

(b) National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB):

Formed in 1986. Began as Bodo Security Force. Leader: Ranjan Diamary alias DR Nabla. Wants Sovereign Bodo nation. Has offered a six-month ceasefire on Friday.

Manipur

(a) People’s Liberation Army (PLA):

Founded in 1980. Strength: about 1000 armed cadres. Leader: N Binod. Operates in Imphal Valley. Friendly with ULFA.

(b) United National Liberation Front (UNLF):

Oldest militant group in the region. Formed in 1966. Took up arms in 1990. Strength: 2,000 armed cadres. Leader: RK Meghen alias Sana Yaima. Wants to de-merge Manipur from Indian Union.

(c) People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK).
(d) Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP).
(e) Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup (KYKL).
(f) Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF).
(g) Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF).

Nagaland

(a) Two factions of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

The dominant and stronger faction is led by Issac Chisi Swu and Th. Muivah and is therefore known as NSCN(IM). In a ceasefire mode with New Delhi since August 1997. Strength: About 3,000 cadres. The other faction is led by SS Khaplang and has a strength of about 1000 cadres. Both demand a sovereign Naga nation.

Tripura

(a) All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF): Leader: Ranjit Debbarma. Strength: 1000 cadres.
(b) National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) Leader: Nayanbasi Jamatiya. Strength: 1500 cadres.

Tripura, which was a princely state before Independence, has witnessed a steady decline of indigenous population giving rise to militancy among the tribals.

Tripura has nearly 10 lakh indigenous tribals who live in abject poverty in the hilly and often inaccessible areas of the state. The two banned militant groups — All Tripura Tigers Force (ATTF) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) — have bases in Bangladesh across the porous international border.

Other states

Among the other states in the north east, Meghalaya has two active insurgent groups:

(a) Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).
(b) Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC), while Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram are relatively free of this menace. But security experts warn that trouble is round the corner in Arunachal Pradesh where the NSCN(IM) is making inroads in some of its districts.

Mizoram is perhaps the only state in the region which can claim to have left behind its insurgency days.

Indeed, the Mizo National Front (MNF) which was underground for 20 years, signed a landmark pact in 1986, came overground and is now running the state government for the second time since then.

Mid Day - Mumbai 10/10/2004