Center’s underestimation of North East problems

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By: Oken Jeet Sandham

The recent gruesome massacres of 31 non-tribal persons mostly Bengalis in Tripura in a single day by the militants belonging to All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) has once again reminded how non tribal communities and other non-locals are still so vulnerable in this most volatile State of North East India. The two militant organizations struggling for a �Sovereign Tripura� have been targeting the innocent and defenseless Bengalis in the State for quite time. Such frequent onslaughts to the Bengalis by the armed tribal militants in the interior areas of the State have really created a sense of panic and anxiety to the Government that always blames the Center for lack of attention to the problem. Chief Minister Manik Sarkar has already sounded the Center a week ahead of the chilling attacks on the defenseless non-tribal communities of the increasing rampaging by the militants in the State.

The other day, Sarkar, while addressing a public rally organized by the State Unit of the CPI (M) at the Judges Field at Guwahati, urged the Centre to declare the insurgency problem in the North East as �national problem� as in Jammu and Kashmir. He also asked all the North Eastern Chief Ministers to work jointly for the development of the region for solving problems like insurgency as no State alone could solve the problem of insurgency single-handedly. Sarkar feels that the Center must ensure that joint efforts are made by all the north eastern States to contain the problem.

But Sarkar�s demand to declare region�s insurgency problem as a �national problem� is in fact the repetitions of the past. Several Chief Ministers of the region have on several occasions prompted the Centre of the impending dangers of the growing insurgent activities in the region unless immediate remedial measures were not taken up.

Even a delegation of the North East MPs Forum headed by its Chairman PR Kyndiah apprised the Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani in the capital recently of the gory picture of the North East.

Sadly, such unspeakable act of mowing down defenseless non-locals in Tripura is not new thing in the North East. It had happened in Assam and Meghalaya too. Militants in Meghalaya massacred 12 civilians on August 13 last year just on the eve of the Indian Independence Day to disturb the celebration. In the fag end of 2000, 70 Hindi-speaking traders were massacred by militants in Assam.

The non-Bodo villagers on the Indo-Bhutan border have witnessed such horrifying features of gruesome massacres time to time. In October last year, 21 non-Bodo villagers were mercilessly massacred in Datgiri-Hatisar. Most of the victims killed by suspected National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) were migrant laborers.
In the past too, militants armed with sophisticated weapons in Assam raided houses located in isolated villages in midnight and had 31 men herded under the pretext of questioning. Twenty one of them died in the firing when the rest survived with bullet injuries.

Even few weeks ago, Hmar militants massacred innocent Dimasa people in North Cashar Hills district of Assam and the situation gradually turned out to be blowing out of proportion following retaliation by Dimasa communities. Even now, numbers of Hmar people are taking refuge in neighboring Manipur and Mizoram States following attacks by Dimasa people. Regrettably, the Centre still seems to be unperturbed with so much of inexplicable crimes perpetrated to the hundreds of innocent people in the region. Besides it is not very keen to understand the red alerts sounded by various North East Chief Ministers of the present and the past in the wake of insurgents� wreaking havocs in the region, although talks are on with the major Naga militant organizations—NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K). While meeting the Deputy Prime Minister in Delhi, the North East MPs Forum even complained of illegal activities indulged in by the NSCN (IM) cadres in the region taking advantage of the ceasefire. The Forum also alleged that sooner or later the entire peace process is bound to prove counter-productive since no ground rule are being observed and none of the core issues are addressed.

Interestingly, when such massacres happened anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir, a battalion of Central leaders including even Prime Minister would be rushed in within hours. The Government of India would try to go to any extent to pacify the agitated citizens of the State (Jammu and Kashmir).

The Government of India may try to justify of Pakistan angle in every militant-related incident in the Kashmir valley but if one looks about the nature of militant activities and crimes in the north eastern region of India, it is more dangerous than that of Kashmir. Because the people in these seven States of the region have close affinity and emotional attachment and the insurgency movement in these areas (States in the region) has almost similar causes. And like militants in Kashmir, these North East militants have also bases in three neighboring countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar—and launching anti-India activities. The notorious ISI of Pakistan like in Kashmir is also indulging in various anti-India cards in North East.

If the amount of serious attention given to the Jammu and Kashmir problem has also been given to the problems of the north eastern region, the level of insecure situation we have been facing today wouldn�t have been there. The insurgent organizations in the entire north eastern region have been closely monitoring every move of the Government of India towards its peace dialogues with the Naga rebel leaders. Their sincerity and credibility towards the peace process will certainly have a direct impact to other insurgent outfits in the region.

Time has come now for the Government of India to change its mindset in its approach towards North East and start paying a serious attention to the burning and highly sensitive issues of the region before it is too late. At the same time, all the States in the region should collectively work out a strategy in consultation with the Centre to solve their common problem.

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