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Dynamics Of Armed Groups In North-East

The history of the North East region, particularly the modern histories of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and to some extent Tripura, will never be complete without a reference to the armed movements, which have dominated the politics of these provinces for decades. As with any aspect of a movement, which has a direct impact on the lives of the common people and governance, the armed movement in the North East region of India too has undergone different phases, taking on different forms and identities as the political situation demands.

The need to keep up with the political changes sweeping across the region and the world as a whole has become all that more important now, given the fact that a conventional war with the Government of India is not within the realm of reality. The lesson from the LTTE is more than enough for anyone to see the futility of gross misadventure and over confidence in one’s invincibility or fire power. The importance of gaining a certain degree of social legitimacy has been on the priority lists of all armed outfits and this becomes apparent whenever they talk about taking the people along with the movement.

The nature of the conflict also necessitates the co-operation of the people and it is when this ‘˜co-operation’ we are talking, about is reduced to ‘˜coerced co-operation,’ that we see a shift in the politics of the Government as well as the armed outfits. It is at such juncture that armed groups usually resort to the politics of setting off one community against the other and we have more than enough examples to understand this. In fact almost all the ethnic tension and ethnic clashes that the North East has witnessed down the years can be attributed to some of the armed outfits, waging a war against the Government of India.

The politics behind any ethnic clash is complex but at the same time simple enough to read and understand for it is the perfect formula for any of the armed groups to strengthen their hold on a group of people by coming out with the grand and destructive politics of conjuring up an enemy in the form of another community or another group of people or other ethnic group/s. This works well for the armed outfit/s because this is one of the most effective ways for them to regain lost ground when they started taking the co-operation of the people for granted and in the process turn the understanding of this term on its head. Study any ethnic clash in the North East and the hands of one armed group or the other behind such clash is unmistakable.

With Delhi and the respective State Governments all too willing to fall in line with such well scripted plots, what we see is a region deeply divided along ethnic lines and affiliations. This serves the purpose of the Government as well as the armed groups. The armed movement has also given a whole new dimension to the profile of a criminal in the region. There are no highwaymen, no robbers, no gangs etc, but the region is flooded with numerous sons of the soil, who loot, extort, abduct for money, kill and maim and blow up a bomb or two, all under the guise of being a part of the armed movement.

The other ugly and disastrous result of any armed movement is the vertical split of a said group who then start gunning for each other. In fact the biggest hurdle to the peace process between the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India, may come from its rival, the Khaplang group of the NSCN. The killings, purportedly master minded and carried out by the present leadership of the IM group amongst the Nagas, especially in Eastern Nagaland, after the 1975 Shillong Accord with the then NNC, continues to haunt the collective memory of many Nagas.

In more recent times, who can forget the years of killings and clashes between the KYKL and the UNLF, following a vertical split in the UNLF. The two sides were then known as UNLF (M) and UNLF (O), M standing for Meghen and O for Oken, before the KYKL was formed in the latter part of the 90s. Fortunately the bloodletting has stopped, thanks to the intervention and active participation by numerous civil society organizations.

We have concentrated mainly on Nagaland and Manipur, because insurgency first started in Nagaland under AZ Phizo and Manipur today is at the top of the armed movement list. The Mizo insurrection led by the late Laldenga under the name of the Mizo National Front, found an acceptable solution in the Mizo Accord, which was inked sometime in the mid 80s and this is one of the few successful accords signed by Rajiv Gandhi, when he was the Prime Minister. Assam somewhat later came to the scene, with the main issue being the unhindered infiltration from Bangladesh and ably aided by the then Congress Government to build up a vote bank.

The Nellie massacre gave a whole new dimension to the Assam issue and before long, we saw how a movement launched by a students’ organization, the All Assam Students’ Union, propelled it to the seat of power under PK Mahanta unseating the late Hiteswar Saikia. The seeds of the ULFA were sown during the anti-foreigner agitation and it took the Paresh Baruahs, Rajkhowas, Burgagohains, Anup Chetias and others to sign a bond with blood and gradually the foreigners’ issue was replaced by the call for sovereignty. It has been a long and significant journey for all the leaders of the armed outfits today and the change in the present scenario is another manifestation of the dynamics involved in all armed uprisings.

On January 24, major newspapers published in the North East carried two very significant stories. One was the demand by the pro-talks group of ULFA that Paresh Baruah be expelled and the other was the reception accorded to Isak Chisi Swu and Th. Muivah at Delhi. As for Manipur, the most significant development is the arrest of the Chairman of the UNLF, RK Meghen, but the impact of his arrest on the armed movement is yet to make a splash. Maybe it will not, for a movement is not only about an individual.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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