The Idea of Northeast (India)
- Part 2 -

Partha Jyoti Borah *

Contemporary development

A political solution for a long cherished peace is always given a lethargic treatment as talks with the rebel groups are often regarded as not auguring at all with concept of the nation. Split among those groups as seen in the case of Naga and Bodo movement is an ad hoc policy applied by the government. Their demand of right to self determination, no doubt, bears semblance with demand of sovereignty.

(Indian) Constitutional framework which often becomes the hindrance of peace talks is not stone engraved sanctorum that can't be surpassed for its (India's) own people. The government often resorts to some sort of managerial (bureaucratic) settlement like the Sixth Schedule which leaves more questions than answers. The implementation of Sixth Schedule in the Bodo dominated area of Northern Assam led to the ethnic polarization within the mixed population of the region.

The special provision of Sixth Schedule does not guarantee financial autonomy and also does not ensure right to resources. It is ineffective in impeding migration from the mainland India and inclusion of other existing ethnic tribe in its domain. As a result the small ethnic groups see themselves in the wrong side of the national space which generates mistrust among the communities. It is a conflicting reality of the "pristine Indian Constitution" which pledges devolution of power to the grass-root.

The "Ethno-nationalist" movement in the culturally dynamic Northeastern region finds its root the threat to identity. Because of the uneven representation in the democratic process [worst in the contemporary bargain (coalition) democracy], these people hardly finds a place in the decision-making. Just to crush the spirit self determination (read sovereignty) resorting military means, classical divisive formula among the armed groups, Sixth Schedule etc are hyper centric mechanism.

Many model of federal structure of Assam and of the Northeast were proposed by the civil society group of the region (However, not as an alternative to the sovereignty). For example the Plain Tribal Council of Assam in 1967 submitted a proposal for demanding federal recognition of Assam to the central government who was vehemently denied.

Absolute right over its resources, rapid industrialization of the region with native and ethnic people as its prime stakeholders, opening up of the eastern front for extensive border trade etc are some of the many ways which can be implemented. Real estate development and opening up of MNC malls in some few square kilometer of urban centres displacing the local population to more ghettoized area or dumping natural water reservoir are not the benchmark of economic development.

The region shares 98 percent of its border with Bhutan, China, Burma and Bangladesh. Remaining 2 percent connects the region with the mainland India through a narrow passage called Siliguri corridor. Border trade with these countries of the region with less of interference from the central government will ensure economic facelift of the region. Pretentious armed trafficking and drug trafficking along the borders are combatable and should not pose as hindrance to the much awaited border trade.

Rest apart, for the people of Northeast a clear-cut definition of 'native' and 'ethnic population' has to be ascertained of course with the consensus of the people. The comparatively developed dominant group will have to leave its hegemonic notion and pave the way for the edification of mutual trust among the communities.

Extrinsic process of the formation of 'nation-sate' has to be stopped with immediate effect. Be it the Bengali speaking people of Bangladesh or the Hindi speaking people of mainland India, they are often seen as the grave threat to identity.

Not acknowledging identity politics (movement) of the region is self-defeating for the world's largest democracy.


1. Sixth Schedule: The tribal Areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram are specified in the table appended to the Sixth Schedule of the constitution, which has undergone several amendments. After the creation of state of Nagaland, the table includes 9 areas in four parts
I. a. The North Cachar Hill District b. The Karbi Anglong District
II. a. The Kahsi Hills District b. The Jayantia Hills District c. The Garo Hills District (All in state of Meghalaya)
IIA Tripura Tribal Area District
III. a. The Chakma District b. The Mara District c. The Lai District

In 2003, The Bodoland Territorial Council was also incorporated in Sixth Schedule)

These Tribals areas are to be administered as autonomous district but outside the executive authority of the state concern. Provision is made to create District Council and Regional Council for exercise of certain judicial and legislative function. The councils are primarily representative bodies and they have got the power of law making in certain specified fields such as management of a forest other than reserved forest, inheritance of property, marriage and social customs, and the Governor (Nominal Head of a Province) may also confer upon the councils the power to try certain suits and offences. Thses councils also have the power to assess and collect land revenue and to impose certain specific taxes. The laws made by the councils shall have no effect unless assented by the Governor. (Introduction to the Constitution of India by DD Basu)

2. Mizo National Front: The Mizo National Famine Front, which was originally formed to help ease the immense sufferings of the people during the severe Mautam Famine in Mizoram, was converted into Mizo National Front (MNF) on October 22, 1961. The ways in which the authority of the day handled the famine left the people disillusioned. The wave of secessionist and armed insurrection was running high among the Mizos. The secessionist movement held on for about two decades. This chapter of insurgency finally came to a close with the signing of the Mizoram Peace Accord on June 30, 1986 between the underground government of the Mizo National Front and the Government of India. Under the terms of the peace accord, Mizoram was granted statehood in February 1987. Laldenga became Chief Minister, but soon lost power due to defections in the party. (Excerpts from

3. Udalguri Riot: The Clash started on October 3, 2008 at Udalguri, a place in a Six Scheduled autonomous district. According to government figure the riot rendered almost 2 lakh people homeless and killed 21. The nefarious activities of the politician to harness the vote banks and some unlawful activities of some student groups in the name of deporting illegal immigrants and its violent reactionary measures by some minority bodies had spontaneously built a plausible plot for the riot. (The Northeast Voice, December, 2008)

4. ULFA: United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was formed on April 1979 to lead an armed struggle for an independent homeland. In the same year, All Assam Student Union (AASU) lunched the Assam Movement to drive out illegal immigrants mostly from Bangladesh leaving in the state. ULFA's top leadership namely Paresh Barua and Arobindo Rajkhowa are reportedly living in Bangladesh for past several years. In 2005, group comprised of people from the civil society was formed by the ULFA to establish a congenial atmosphere through talks with the Indian government. Several rounds of futile talks were held between the group and the government.


* Partha Jyoti Borah ( Editor, The Northeast Voice) contributes to regularly. The writer can be contacted at parthaborah(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in
This article was webcasted on June 30, 2009.

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