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E-Pao! Opinions - Insurgency In The North East: The Roots Of Violence

INSURGENCY IN THE NORTH EAST: THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE
By: Arijit Mazumdar *



The North-East continues to be racked by violence with no signs of the situation improving. The wave of deadly attacks in Assam and Nagaland in October, where over 50 people were killed and close to 150 injured, proves that insurgency is still strong in the region. The Government of India and the respective state governments of Assam and Nagaland have condemned the attacks.

Although, any decent human being will feel repulsed by these attacks on innocent civilians, we must still allow ourselves to look at the insurgency in the region from a holistic point of view, rather than through the lenses of the recent attacks. It is too simplistic, as some commentators have done, to dismiss insurgency in the region as merely a tool of certain insurgent leaders and demagogues to pursue their selfish ends.

There are certain valid reasons why the north-east in particular has been wreaked by insurgency. There are five major factors that have promoted insurgency in the region - immigration, economic underdevelopment, poorly developed transport and communications links, the negligence of the central government, and corruption among local politicians and elites.

It is widely accepted that continuing immigration from Bangladesh, encouraged by politicians eager fill their vote banks, have caused a demographic and social shift in the region. This has ultimately proved harmful to the indigenous people of the northeast who have been swamped in certain areas by these new immigrants. Already scarce jobs and resources will be further stretched as the competition for them increases. Educated, unemployed youths sometimes have no option but to take up the gun after becoming frustrated with the sad state of affairs.

The other factor that fuels the insurgency is economic underdevelopment. Even today, after half a century of Indian independence, the central government has not developed large-scale industries in the region. The tea industry and the oil refineries in Assam are the only industries worth mentioning. Even these industries have catered more to the needs of the people outside the northeast than within it. There is a consequent lack of economic and industrial development and thus prosperity and jobs are hard to come by.

Poorly developed communications and transport links are additional factors that have given rise to insurgency. Political isolation has resulted because of this. The region as a whole is "walled off" from the rest of India. People outside the region seem to have little idea as to what is going on in the northeast. Residents of the northeast believe themselves to be a distinct group who are shunned by the central government and the rest of the people of India. Political isolation gives rise to feelings of frustration and neglect. One must also not forget that some people in the northeast feel that the region was never a part and should not be a part of India.

These in turn give rise to feelings of intense ethnic nationalism, where some people desire to take the matters into their own hands. They perceive, rightly or wrongly, that they will be able to do a better job at administering themselves than the central government. The desire to be masters of their own destiny and not live on the pittance of others leads some to take up insurgency.

The central government has been historically unsympathetic to the troubles of the region. While turning a blind eye to the pressing problem of immigration, it has used the military to brutally put down even legitimate demands in the region. Its idea of solving the north east insurgency is by a piece by piece approach, i.e. initiate peace talks with each insurgent groups and sign peace agreements.

The flaw in this method is that these negotiated peace deals rarely address the larger issues involved which have given rise to insurgency in the first place. There are so many groups in the region that initiating talks with all those who have grievances will take an eternity, quite apart from the fact that the average time taken to negotiate a peace deal can span almost a decade. Unless the central government addresses the larger issues involved, insurgency will remain.

Finally, we must not discount the role of local politicians in adding fuel to the insurgency. Some of the politicians in the region have developed a vested interest in the insurgency. Sometimes they incite one group against the other and thus ensure that the violence remains endemic. There have been numerous accusations against politicians encouraging particular groups and also receiving money from them. To them insurgency has become a business out of which they maintain their livelihood.

Many of them get elected because they are able to secure support from some groups. They complement the central government when it comes to mismanaging the affairs of the region. They are far removed from the ordinary people of the region and remain cocooned in their plush air-conditioned offices while their state burns outside. Local politicians have not placed a premium on development and their use of security forces to put down protests has driven many to taking up arms.

Therefore, we need to keep all these factors in mind. Insurgency is not a single-issue phenomenon. In the north east, insurgency is not about selfish individuals and groups indulging in violence to fill their coffers. It is about people taking up arms because the government - central and state - has failed them completely. It is about getting their honor and dignity back and it is about trying to right the wrongs that have been perpetrated against them. While not discounting that some people have selfish motives, insurgency cannot be explained away only on this basis.


* Arijit Mazumdar, currently pursuing PhD in Political Science at Miami University, Ohio, USA writes for the first time to e-pao.net.
The writer can be contacted at mazumda@muohio.edu
This article was written on 28th October 2004.



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