Protective Thinking: How India Restrain Northeast Extremist Political Outfits

Pakinrichapbo *

It is of no surprise that since attaining its complete independence in 1947, India has been doing quite well by staying several steps ahead when it comes to dealing and containing the varied demands (some demanding independence, while some demand statehood based on their linguistic and common tribal affinities) of extremist political outfits in the north-east.

These ethnic groups with limited political experience in national and international politics have decided to pursue their political aspiration equipped with a purely tribal outlook that makes them easy prey for India with thousands of years of experience in politics of all levels. Let me illustrate the difference between the two outlooks (i.e. tribal and Indian) and the factors inherent in them to show the manner in which the Union Government of India (GoI) confines various armed (extremist) political groups in the Northeast.

Tribal Outlook

A tribal way can be roughly defined as policies, whose fundamental ideologies originate from tribal traditional thinking system, that are adopted and implemented by the ethnic political outfits in achieving their political aspiration. The numerous ethnic groups inhabiting the hills and valleys in the northeast region were given distinct tribal recognition by the Colonial British power for administrative purposes.

This further assisted these politically backward indigenous people to further engage in communal hatred based on their separate tribal identities. Such separate recognition in many ways capitulate the numerous tribes from having a common affinity to construct their "own distinct identity."

The different political tactics, policies followed and implemented by the extremist political outfits based in the Northeast region have not affected India's integrity. The success rate of India's central govt in containing the entire extremist political outfit shows that in politics at any level, only the best strategist and practical ones wins over the ones with limited strategy primarily based on its distinct history and tribal identity attached with their lands. The irony, however, is that these extremist political outfits refuse to admit and acknowledge their opponent success rate in effectively containing them.

When political agendas remain unfulfilled, these political outfits get involved in state politics by setting up their own respective candidates for state elections that create more negative outcomes in all matters concerning the welfare of its society. In some cases, it is reported that tribal politicians and high ranking government officials, both at central and state level, are covertly funding the extremist political outfits based on clan and tribe affinities.

In many ways, these political outfits are tribal outfit aiming to protect each respective tribal interests hamper any chances of building a strong alliance among the tribal outfits. The scars of past ethnic aggression and conflicts also remain as a constant shadow in the inter-tribe relationship.

The tragedy is that it seems all too clear that the old thinking system will continue for another 30-40 years, which is really discouraging given the fact that many of the tribal people have received education from top universities and has not yet realized the importance of making compromises in sensitive issues to facilitate establishing communal harmony. Nor have they questioned the sectarian policies that breed more tribal tensions. The younger generation is hell-bent on preserving its tribal purity and following the same blinkered habits of their predecessor in disrespecting other tribes.

India's Outlook

In contemporary world politics, India is one among the powerful countries with high internal disturbances, mostly political in nature, beginning with the Kashmir issues, China's claim of Arunachal Pradesh as a part of south Tibet, the presence of a high number of extremist political outfits in its north-eastern states demanding regional autonomy and self-determination. Yet, with such internal issues, India has presented itself and made herself as one of the growing powers in world politics.

Amazingly, however, not even one ruling government of any powerful country in the world has openly declared its support for the struggles of any of these extremist political outfits based in northeast India. Why is this so? This is simply because India has very astutely contained the extremist political outfits, most notably through the mechanisms set up in the Indian Constitution.

The Indian Constitution puts the North-eastern tribal communities under Scheduled Tribe category that in turn performed miracles for the government of India as different ethnic groups, mostly based on linguistic identity, began to engage in a bitter rivalry over lands, resources, and access to government employment and patronages. Even though their struggles are similar in nature and when supporting each other could have put themselves in an advantageous position in dealing with the central government, the temptations of receiving special political, economic/financial, and employment assistance from the government, however, seem to exceed their demand for self-determination, independence.

It is only in the initial stages of the political movement launched by varied tribal communities in the northeast region that the GoI chose to use its military strength in suppressing those movements. After the initial stages, factionalism and ethnic conflicts followed, and the GoI (following the footsteps of its colonial predecessors) simply stood aside and watched the drama unfold by different ethnic communities.

India did wonders again by intelligently dealing with the numerous extremist political outfits, where some outfits were given more attention than their counterparts. India also successfully placed all the demands of self-determination and political autonomy under its internal disturbance category where other countries cannot interfere in its internal affairs.

Another masterstroke of India is that it gave free hands to the extremist political outfits in the north-eastern region to function within the states' territories as they wished, not caring about the ill-effects of parallel governments in the states that ultimately led to the creation of more factions with no authority to control and regulate their activities. These developments were all foreseen and, thus, the GoI systematically choose these tactics knowing fully-well the nefarious consequences they were to unleash.

Another factor that prompted the tribal communities to start political movements is the unequal representatives in parliament and states assemblies based on the population size. Being classified as minorities, these tribal groups feared of being overrun by larger communities in their own lands. Hence, they saw a creation of a separate autonomous state within the framework of Indian constitution as the only option left for them. Regardless, in both matters of independence and statehood demand, the GoI in connivance with larger communities with larger representatives in states' assembly has so far managed to contain the entire political outfits of the region.

I certainly think it necessary for the GoI and other major regional political parties including all the minorities groups to rethink and have serious debates on unequal representatives in Parliament and state assembly in order to solve the tribal political issues as well as the injustice suffered by India's minority communities.

Unequal representatives in parliament as well as in the states' assemblies in the northeast have often enabled larger communities with more representatives to dominate and passed biased legislation without taking the smaller tribal groups into account. With unequal representatives in the parliament and state assemblies, the constitutional provisions of securing social, political, and economic justice to all the people of India will remain a textbook promise. For the oppressor will remain oppressor.

The Stand of Those not Involved with Extremist Political Outfits

Those individuals, as well as those employed with central and state government, not part of extremist political outfits and its agendas, often have secret inclination toward those outfits based on tribe identities since he or she is recognised under "scheduled tribe category" and thinks nothing other than preserving and promoting his/her tribe language and influence in state politics and in government machineries. Such attitudes among the majority of the tribal population continue to ignite ethnic/tribal tensions from time to time.

A Cure for Ethnic Tensions

The concept of "my people," based on blood relation and dialect, needs to be given up, for whether we like each other or not, we are perennial neighbours living side by side and sharing one common aspiration. Another horrible practice is boasting in one's own land. This has to go, the majority of tribal people have an unrestrained habit of boasting in their own land and this practice adds more injuries while passing each other's territory. Tribal people have lost more lives fighting each other than in having encounters with central military forces.

The spirit of humanism has to step into our mental psyche. The only way forward for the tribes is to give up the deadly practice of playing the numbers game, as practiced in Indian politics. Such numbers game will only add more sorrows. The creation of an effective alliance between the numerous tribal communities of the north-east is the only way forward now to achieve any political goals.


The extremist political outfits along with their tribal communities must make peace with each other and initiate a new progressive approach toward each other's aspirations, failing which the same cycle of domination by larger and biased communities will continue at the state level and the GoI shall continue to control all the political outfits through well-planned strategy and shrewd tactics.

Lastly, the political outfits also need to rethink if they are really improving or creating more chaos and destruction in the lives of those they claim to represent as pursue their political agendas.

* Pakinrichapbo wrote this article for
The writer is an Advocate from Samziuram Village, Peren: Nagaland and can be contacted at pakinchawang(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on May 01, 2018.

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