Assam-Nagaland Interim Border Agreement should be scrapped
By Oken Jeet Sandham
One of the most humiliating chapters in the history of Nagaland since Statehood would be, perhaps, its inability to conduct elections on its own soil at Ladaigrah under Longlen District, bordering Assam, due to Assam Police’s deliberate threat and refusal to vacate a Nagaland school building wherein the polling was supposed to take place.
Everyone including the media in Nagaland were stunned when they saw the news along with a picture showing the Assam Police blocking the road preventing Nagaland polling officials from proceeding toward Ladaigarh to conduct polls for the Ladaigarh Polling Station No. 1 under 49 Tamlu A/C. Later in the day, it was declared that the polling at Ladaigarh could not be conducted due to Assam Police’s blocking of road leading to Ladaigarh and thus it (polling) had been adjourned.
In the past also, the Assam police did the same thing. But the previous elections, somehow a makeshift polling station was arranged nearby and allowed the voters to exercise their franchise. But this time, the situation was altogether different that not only murdering the rights of the voters to exercise their franchise but also not allowing the Nagaland polling officials from proceeding towards their polling station at Ladaigarh. But the saddest part was the state government’s inability to make any arrangement for the voters to exercise their franchise. If the Assam police refused Nagaland polling officials from proceeding to Ladaigarh, the Nagaland government could have airlifted those polling officials to conduct the polls there. But they did not.
It is unfortunate that when the state of Nagaland was created in the early 60s, the drawing of the new state boundary was not properly carried out. And once the new state was carved out from the existing state, the boundary had to be drawn and the necessary border machineries should be put into place. These unresolved border issues have really taken quite a toll on the lives of people on both sides.
It is only understandable that such border skirmishes would take place from time to time but they should not be misinterpreted as threatening to the aged old relationship between the two neighboring people. The people of the two states should not, at any cost, allow this issue lingering.
Most of the incidents including the Ladaigrah episode that have been taking place in the Assam-Nagaland border areas were something to do with longstanding unresolved inter-state border issues. Many issues were to do with paddy fields, farmlands, forests, etc. as per the past records. There were allegations from Nagaland border side that some people from across the border descended on their ancestral paddy fields, farmlands and even forcibly grabbed their lands with the help of Assam armed police as well as neutral forces. On the other side, there were also allegations that the Nagas from across the border encroached Assam’s lands or killed wild animals. And sometimes, clashes took place on either side while stepping into either side. Sometimes, such issues became hot debates even during assembly sessions of both the states. Yet, they were also resolved through series of dialogues at various levels.
Regrettably, large numbers of non-locals have been systematically occupying the long stretch of Assam border over the years and their numbers keep increasing leaps and bounds. And the people of Assam have little knowledge of what these non-locals have been doing on the state’s border areas.
To ease the border problem between the two states, the Assam-Nagaland Interim Border Agreement as early as 1972 was made. This Agreement was meant to lessen border tension, while trying to find long lasting solution to the border issue.
The problem is this Interim Border Agreement was not implemented in toto. Rather it became a tool for the Assam government to strengthen their state forces along the border, while Nagaland relegated to a helpless position as they had to oblige to the terms of the agreement. According to information, Assam has 44 Assam armed police posts set up all along the Assam-Nagaland border in violation of the Interim Agreement; whereas there is reportedly 1 Nagaland armed police post all along the border. In other words, Nagaland was sincere if not over-sincere.
As per the Agreement, the Disputed Area Belt (DAB) should be placed under the neutral forces. Interestingly, such forces are placed again under the command of an IG of Assam police. And also Nagaland government temporarily allowed the Assam forest department for the management of the border reserved forests in the DAB. But due to the mismanagement by the Assam forest department, people from both sides started settling in the disputed reserved forest areas. Subsequently both the Assam and Nagaland governments had given recognition to those settlers.
Today, the problem is more complicated because the people living in the border areas of Assam are mostly non-locals but the Nagaland side becomes helpless as they do not know to whom they will talk. We have seen that some non-locals started talking the language of locals to restore aged old relationship between the Nagas and the Assamese. This interesting development might have confused some leaders in Nagaland. We started seeing some statements made by some responsible Naga Ministers saying they would not talk to “Adivasis” for resolving Assam-Nagaland border raw. But they failed to realize that by uttering this way, you would be paying attention to them instead of focusing on the right persons. It looks like you have been asked to talk to these people to resolve border raw with Assam. Let us be wiser and focus on the real issue plaguing both the states.
This so-called Assam-Nagaland Interim Border Agreement 1972 is a blunder and it has become a bond of contention between the people of the two neighboring states. The first step to find solution to the chronic border issue is this “Assam-Nagaland Interim Border Agreement” should be scrapped.
At the same time, both the states should immediately engage in serious business to frame new Border Agreement. Only then should they constitute an Assam-Nagaland Border Committee wherein persons with high social standing from both the states should be appointed as Members for a period of 5 years and their term can be extended on periodic basis. Their main job is to check the border irregularities and also examine the process of implementation of the Agreement.
It is still afresh in our memories about the infamous interstate clashes at Merapani in 1985 over border issue. No one thought the relationship would return as good as before. But the aged old relationship had fast returned. Because both sides can’t afford remaining un-neighborly as they will remain as neighbors till this beautiful God given earth exists.
The construction of “Foothill Road” on Nagaland border is very important for the development of the state. But this should not be misinterpreted as solution to the Assam-Nagaland border issue. The failure to find solution to the Assam-Nagaland border issue is not due to not constructing “Foothill Road.” Nevertheless, you can construct hundreds of new roads. It is your prerogative. But the Assam-Nagaland border raw can only be resolved provided both parties are sincere.