Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India's North East
Publication Year: 2009
This book maps the evolution of India's North-East into a constituent region of the republic and analyzes the perpetual crisis in the region since Independence. It highlights how linguistic and leadership issues have long been the seed of contention in the region and how factors like ethnicity, ideology, and religion further aggravate the conflicts. It also throws light on the major insurgencies, internal displacements, protest movements, and the regional drug and weapons trade in the region. Finally, it suggests a policy framework to combat the crises.
The book includes a large body of original data, documentation and field interviews with major players, as well as stakeholders. It is an important reference resource for students of politics and international relations, especially for those involved in studies of ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: India's North East: Frontier to Region
- Chapter 2: Ethnicity, Ideology and Religion
- Chapter 3: Land, Language and Leadership
- Chapter 4: Insurgency, Ethnic Cleansing and Forced Migration
- Chapter 5: The Foreign Hand
- Chapter 6: Guns, Drugs and Contraband
- Chapter 7: Elections, Pressure Groups and Civil Society
- Chapter 8: The Crisis of Development
- Chapter 9: The Road Ahead
Copyright © Subir Bhaumik, 2009
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in 2009 by
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Troubled Periphery: crisis of India's North East/Subir Bhaumik.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. India, Northeastern—Social conditions. 2. India, Northeastern—Ethnic relations. 3. India, Northeastern—Religion. 4. India, Northeastern—Politics and government. 5. Social conflict—India, Northeastern. 6. Ethnic conflict—India, Northeastern. 7. Social change—India, Northeastern. 8. Religion—Social aspects—India, Northeastern. 9. Land use—Social aspects—India, Northeastern. 10. Political leadership—India, Northeastern. I. Title.
HN690.N55B48 306.0954′1—dc22 2009 2009038702
ISBN: 978-81-321-0237-3 (HB)
The SAGE Team: Rekha Natarajan, Meena Chakravorty and Trinankur Banerjee
Photo credit: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee
[Page v]To my father Amarendra Bhowmick and my little daughter Anwesha, a daughter of the North East[Page vi]
List of Tables[Page viii]
- 8.1 Ratio of Gross Transfers from the Centre to Aggregate Disbursement of the North Eastern States 233
- 8.2 Devolution and Transfer of Resources from the Centre to the North East, 1990–91 to 1998–99 234
- 8.3 Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) and Per Capita Central Assistance for North Eastern States 242
- 8.4 Gross Fiscal Deficits of North Eastern States and Some Selected Mainland States, 1998–99 to 2000–01 243
- 8.5 State Revenue Sources as a Percentage of Net State Domestic Product, 1999–2000 243
- 8.6 Per Capita State Revenue as a Percentage of Per Capita Net State Domestic Product, 1999–2000 244
- 8.7 Total Central Assistance (Grants, Shared Taxes, Loans and Advances) as a Percentage of States’ Total Receipts, 1999–2000 246
- 8.8 Annual Average Growth Rates of Total Receipts and Total Expenditure from 1995–96 to 1999–2000 246
- 8.9 Interest Payment and Loan Repayment as a Percentage of Total Expenditure 247 [Page ix]
- 8.10 Credit–Deposit Ratio in the North Eastern States, March 1999 251
- 8.11 Stipulated Percentage Rise in the North Eastern States’ Own Tax Revenues 251
- 8.12 United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Budget, 2001–2002 255
List of Abbreviations[Page x]
AAGSP All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad AASAA All Adivasi Students Association of Assam AAPSU All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union AASU All Assam Students Union ABSU All Bodo Students Union ACMA Adivasi Cobra Militants of Assam AFSPA Armed Forces Special Powers Act AGP Asom Gana Parishad AJYCP Assam Jatiyotabadi Yuba Chatro Parishad AMSU All Manipur Students Union AMUCO All Manipur United Clubs Organization APHLC All Party Hill Leaders Conference ASDC Autonomous State Demands Committee ATF Assam Tiger Force ATPLO All Tripura Peoples Liberation Organization ATTF All-Tripura Tiger Force AUDF Assam United Democratic Front BCP Burmese Communist Party BIDS Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies BJP Bharatiya Janata Party BLTF Bodoland Liberation Tigers Force BNLF Bru National Liberation Front BPAC Bodo Peoples Action Committee [Page xi] BPPF Bodo Peoples Progressive Front BSF Border Security Force BVF Bodo Volunteer Force CHT Chittagong Hill Tracts CIA Central Intelligence ‘Agency’ CII Confederation of Indian Industry CLAHRO Civil Liberties and Human Rights Organization CNF Chin National Front COFR Committee on Fiscal Reform CMIE Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy CPI Communist Party of India DAB Democratic Alliance of Burma DAN Democratic Alliance of Nagaland DGFI Directorate General of Forces Intelligence DHD Dima Halan Daogah DONER Department of Development of North Eastern Region FCI Food Corporation of India GMP Gana Mukti Parishad HSPDP Hill States Peoples Demands Party HUJAI Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami IDPs Internally Displaced Persons IIFT Indian Institute of Foreign Trade ILAA Islamic Liberation Army of Assam IMDT Illegal Migrants Act INCB International Narcotics Control Bureau INPT Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura IPF Idgah Protection Force IPFT Indigenous People's Front of Tripura ISI Inter-Services Intelligence ISS Islamic Sevak Sangh IURPI Islamic United Reformation Protest of India KCP Kangleipak Communist Party KIA Kachin Independence Army KLO Kamtapur Liberation Organisation KSU Khasi Students Union KYKL Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup LOC Letters of Credit MASS Manab Adhikar Sangram Samity [Page xii] MLA Muslim Liberation Army MNF Mizo National Front MNFF Mizo National Famine Front MPA Meghalaya Progressive Alliance MPLF Manipur Peoples Liberation Front MSCA Muslim Security Council of Assam MSF Médecins Sans Frontières MSF Muslim Security Force MTF Muslim Tiger Force MULFA Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam MULTA Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam MVF Muslim Volunteer Force MZP Mizo Zirlai Pawl NCAER National Council of Applied Economic Research NCB Narcotics Control Bureau NDF National Democratic Front NDFB National Democratic Front of Bodoland NEEPCO North Eastern Electric Power Corporation NEFA North-East Frontier Agency NESO North East Students Organizations NLFT National Liberation Front of Tripura NNC Naga National Council NNO Naga Nationalist Organization NPMHR Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights NSCN National Socialist Council of Nagaland NSDP Net State Domestic Product NUPA National Unity Party of Arakans NVDA National Volunteers Defense Army PCG Peoples Consultative Group PCJSS Parbattya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samity PLA People's Liberation Army PREPAK Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak PSP Praja Socialist Party PULF People's United Liberation Front R&AW Research and Analysis Wing RGM Revolutionary Government of Manipur RGN Revolutionary Government of Nagaland RMC Revolutionary Muslim Commandos [Page xiii] RPF The Revolutionary Peoples Front RSS Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh SATP The South Asia Terrorism Portal SJSS Sanmilito Jonoghostiye Sangram Samity SMG Sub-machine Gun SOO Suspension of Operations SRC State Reorganization Commission SSB Special Services Bureau SSG Special Services Group TBCU Tripura Baptist Christian Union TNV Tribal National Volunteers TSF Tribal Students Federation TUJS Tripura Upajati Juba Samity ULFA United Liberation Front of Assam ULMA United Liberation Militia of Assam UMF United Minorities “Front” UMLFA United Muslim Liberation Front of Assam UMNO United Mizo National Organization UNLF United National Liberation Front UPDS United Peoples Democratic Solidarity UPVA United Peoples Volunteers Army UWSA United Wa State Army VHP Viswa Hindu Parishad YMA Young Mizo Association
The North East has been seen as the problem child since the very inception of the Indian republic. It has also been South Asia's most enduring theatre of separatist guerrilla war, a region where armed action has usually been the first, rather than the last, option of political protest. But none of these guerrilla campaigns have led to secession – like East Pakistan breaking off to become Bangladesh in 1971 or East Timor shedding off Indonesian yoke in 1999. Nor have these conflicts been as intensely violent as the separatist movements in Indian Kashmir and Punjab. Sixty years after the British departed from South Asia, none of the separatist movements in the North East appear anywhere near their proclaimed goal of liberation from the Indian rule. Nor does the separatist violence in the region threaten to spin out of control.
That raises a key question that historian David Ludden once tried to raise while summing up the deliberation of a three-day seminar at Delhi's elite Jawaharlal Nehru University – whether the North East challenges the separation of the colonial from the national. Or whether it raises the possibility of reorganization of space by opening up India's boundaries. Opinion is divided. Historian Aditya Mukherji, in his keynote address at a Guwahati seminar (29–30 March 2009), challenged Ludden and his likes by insisting that the Indian nation evolved out of a national movement against imperialism and did not seek to impose, like in the West, the master narrative of the majority on the smaller minorities in the process of nation building. Mukherji [Page xv]insisted that the Indian democracy is unique and not coercive and can accommodate the aspirations of almost any minority group. In the same seminar, Professor Javed Alam, chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, carried the argument forward by saying that a new phase of democratic assertion involving smaller minorities and hitherto-marginalized groups in the new century is now opening up new vistas of Indian democracy.
But scholars from the North East contested these ‘mainland’ scholars by saying that their experience in the North East was different. They point to the endless festering conflicts, which have spread to new areas of the region, leading to sustained deployment of the Indian army and federal paramilitary forces on ‘internal security duties’, that, in turn, has militarized rather than democratized the social and political space in the North East. These troops are deployed often against well-armed and relatively well-trained insurgents adept at the use of the hill terrain and often willing to use modern urban terror tactics for the shock effect.
It must be said that the military deployment has aimed at neutralizing the strike power of the insurgents to force them to the table, rather than seeking their complete destruction. So the rebel groups have also not been forced to launch an all-out do-or-die secessionist campaign, as the Awami League was compelled to do in East Pakistan in 1971. The space for accommodation, resource transfer and power-sharing that the Indian state offered to recalcitrant groups has helped India control the insurgencies and often co-opt their leadership. Now some would call co-option a democratic exercise. That's where the debate goes to a point of no resolution. What many see as a bonafide and well-meant state effort to win over the rebel leadership to join the mainstream is seen by many others, specially in the North East, as a malafide and devious co-option process, a buying of loyalties by use of force, monetary inducements and promise of office rather than securing it by voluntary and fair means.
Interestingly, the insurgencies have only multiplied in Northeast India. Whenever a rebel group has signed an accord with the Indian government in a particular state, the void has been quickly filled by other groups, reviving the familiar allegations of betrayal, neglect and alienation. The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) in 2006 counted 109 rebel groups in northeast India—only the state of Arunachal Pradesh was found to be without one, though Naga rebel groups were [Page xvi]active in the state. Interestingly, only a few of these are officially banned. Of the 40 rebel groups in Manipur, only six were banned under India's Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. And of the 34 in the neighbouring state of Assam, only two were banned. A good number of these groups are described as ‘inactive’ but some such groups have been revived from time to time. Since post-colonial India has been ever willing to create new states or autonomous units to fulfil the aspirations of the battling ethnicities, the quest for an ‘ethnic homeland’ and insurgent radicalism as a means to achieve it has become the familiar political grammar of the region. So insurgencies never peter out in the North East, even though insurgents do.
Phizo faded away to make way for a Muivah in the Naga rebel space, but soon there was a Khaplang to challenge Muivah. If Dasarath Dev walked straight into the Indian parliament from the Communist tribal guerrilla bases in Tripura, elected in absentia, there was a Bijoy Hrangkhawl to take his place in the jungle, alleging Communist betrayal of the tribal cause. And when Hrangkhawl called it a day after ten years of blood-letting, there was a Ranjit Debbarma and a Biswamohan Debbarma, ready to take his place. Even in Mizoram, where no Mizo rebel leader took to the jungles after the 1986 accord, smaller ethnic groups like the Brus and the Hmars have taken to armed struggle in the last two decades, looking for their own acre of green grass.
Throughout the last six decades, the same drama has been repeated, state after state. As successive Indian governments tried to nationalize the political space in the North East by pushing ahead with mainstreaming efforts, the struggling ethnicities of the region continued to challenge the ‘nation-building processes’, stretching the limits of constitutional politics. But these ethnic groups also fought amongst themselves, often as viciously as they fought India, drawing daggers over scarce resources and conflicting visions of homelands. In such a situation, the crisis also provided opportunity to the Indian state to use the four principles of realpolitik statecraft propounded by the great Kautilya, the man who helped Chandragupta build India's first trans-regional empire just after Alexander's invasion. Sham (Reconciliation), Dam (Monetary Inducement), Danda (Force) and Bhed (Split)—the four principles of Kautilyan statecraft—have all been used in varying mix to control and contain the violent movements in the North East.
[Page xvii]But unlike in many other post-colonial states like military-ruled Pakistan and Burma, the Indian government have not displayed an over-reliance on force. After the initial military operation in the North East had taken the sting out of a rebel movement, an ‘Operation Bajrang’ or an ‘Operation Rhino’ has been quickly followed up by offers of negotiations and liberal doses of federal largesse, all aimed at co-option. If nothing worked, intelligence agencies have quickly moved in to divide the rebel groups. But with draconian laws like the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act always available to security forces for handling a breakdown of public order, the architechure of militarization remained in place. Covert intelligence operations and extra judicial killings have only made the scenario more murky, bloody and devious, specially in Assam and Manipur.
So when the Naga National Council (NNC) split in 1968, the Indian security forces were quick to use the Revolutionary Government of Nagaland (RGN) against it. Then when the NNC leaders signed the 1975 Shillong Accord, they were used against the nascent National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Now both factions of NSCN accuse each other of being used by ‘Indian agencies’. In neighbouring Assam, the SULFA (Surrendered ULFA) was created, not as alternate political platform to the ULFA, but as a tactical counter-insurgency plank, as a force multiplier for the Indian security machine. Engineering desertion and using the surrendered militants against their former colleagues have remained a favourite tactic for authorities in the North East.
Between 2002–2005, the Tripura police and the military intelligence managed to win over some rebels who had not yet surrendered and used them for a series of attacks on rebel bases just inside Bangladesh across the border with Tripura. The ‘Trojan Horse’ model thus used proved to be a great success in the counter-insurgency operations than getting rebels to surrender first and then be used against their former colleagues.
But for an entire generation of post-colonial Indians, the little wars of the North East remained a distant thunder, a collection of conflicts not worth the bother. Until someone's brother was kidnapped by the rebels, while working in a tea estate or in an oil platform. Or until someone's relative got shot in an encounter with them, while leading a military patrol through the leech-infested jungles of the [Page xviii]region. Despite the ‘prairie fires’ spreading in the North East, the sole encounter of most Indians with this frontier region remained the tribal dancers atop colourful tableaux on Republic Day parades in Delhi. The national media reinforced the ‘girl-guitar-gun’ stereotype of the region's rebellious youth, while politicians and bureaucrats pandered to preconceived notions and formulate adhocist policies that would never work.
The border war with China, however, changed that. As the Chinese army appeared on the outskirts of Tezpur, the distant oilfields and tea gardens of Assam, so crucial to India's economy, seemed all but lost. Then came the two wars with Pakistan, and Bangladesh was born. In a historic move, the North East itself was reorganized into several new states, mostly carved out of Assam. While these momentous developments drew more attention towards the North East, the powerful anti-foreigner agitation in Assam forced the rest of the country to sit up and take notice of the crisis of identity in the region. What began as Assam's cry in the wilderness quickly became the concern of the whole country. Illegal migration from over-populated neighbouring countries came to be seen as a threat to national security. And since then, the North East has never again been the same. It just became more complex.
The anti-foreigner agitation unleashed both anti-Centre and anti-migrant forces. The ULFA grew out of the anti-foreigner movement against the ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’, people of East Bengali origin who have been settling in Assam since the late nineteenth century. Slowly, the ULFA's anti-migrant stance gave way to determined separatism and it started blaming ‘economic exploitation by Delhi’ as being responsible for Assam's woes. But in the face of a fierce counter-insurgency offensive by the Indian army, it started targetting migrants again—this time not people of East Bengali origin but Hindi-speaking settlers from India's heartland ‘cow belt’ states.
In the first quarter century after independence, while the rest of the country remained oblivious to the tumult in the North East, the region and its people saw only one face of India. The young Naga, Mizo or Manipuri knew little about Mahatma Gandhi or Subhas Chandra Bose and failed to see ‘the separation of the colonial from the national’. Indian independence did not matter for him or her. What these young men and women saw, year after year, was the Indian soldier, the man in the uniform, gun in hand, out to punish [Page xix]the enemies of India. He saw the jackboots and grew suspicious when the occasional olive branch followed. When rats destroyed the crops in the Mizo hills, leaving the tribesmen to starve, the Mizo youth took the Naga's path of armed rebellion. Far-off Delhi seemed to have no interest in the region and, like in 1962 when Nehru left Assam to ‘its fate’, the North East could be abandoned in the time of a major crisis.
In my generation, the situation began to change slowly, though the conflicts did not end. More and more students from the North East started joining colleges and universities in ‘mainland’ India, many joining all-India services or corporate bodies after that. The media and the government started paying more attention to the North East, and even a separate federal ministry was created for developing the region. Now federal government employees get liberal leave travel allowances, including two-way airfare for visiting the North East, an effort to promote tourism in the picturesque region. As market economy struck deep roots across India, Tata salt and Maruti cars reached far-off Lunglei, Moreh and even Noklak. For a generation in the North East who grew up to hate India, the big nation-state was now proving its worth as a common market and a land of opportunity. Something that even excites the managers of the European Union.
Boys and girls from the North East won medals for India, many fought India's wars in places like Kargil, a very large number picked up Indian degrees and made a career in the heartland states or even abroad. The success of North Eastern girls in the country's hospitality industry provoked a Times of India columnist to warn spaconnoisuers to go for ‘a professional doctor rather than a Linda from the North East’. But a Shahrukh Khan was quick to critique the ‘mainland bias’ against the North Eastern Lindas in his great film ‘Chak de India.’
More significantly, the civil society of heartland India began to take much more interest in the North East, closely interacting with like-minded groups in the region, to promote peace and human rights. Suddenly, a Nandita Haksar was donning the lawyer's robe to drag the Indian army to court for excesses against Naga villagers around Oinam, mobilizing hundreds of villagers to testify against errant troops. A Gobinda Mukhoty was helping the nascent Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) file a habeas corpus petition [Page xx]seeking redressal for the military atrocities at Namthilok. Scores of human rights activists in Calcutta, Delhi or Chandigarh were fasting to protest the controversial death of a Thangjam Manorama or in support of the eternally fasting Irom Sharmila, the Meitei girl who says she will refuse food until the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act is revoked. Jaiprakash Narain and some other Gandhians had led the way by working for the Naga Peace Mission but now the concern for the North East was spreading to the grassroots in the mainland. The fledgling Indian human rights movement, a product of the Emergency, kept reminding the guardians of the Indian state of their obligations to a region they said was theirs.
How could the government deny the people of North East the democracy and the economic progress other Indians were enjoying? What moral right did Delhi have to impose draconian laws in the region and govern the North East through retired generals, police and intelligence officials? How could political problems be solved only by military means? Was India perpetrating internal colonization and promoting ‘development of under-development’? These were questions that a whole new generation of Indian intellectuals, human rights activists, journalists and simple do-gooders continued to raise in courtroom battles, in the media space, even on the streets of Delhi, Calcutta or other Indian cities. Whereas their fathers had seen and judged India only by its soldiers, a Luithui Luingam or a Sebastian Hongray were soon to meet the footsoldiers of Indian democracy, men and women their own age with a vision of India quite different from the generation that had experienced Partition and had come to see all movements for self-determination as one great conspiracy to break up India.
In a matter of a few years, the Indian military commanders were furiously complaining that their troops were being forced to fight in the North East with one hand tied behind their back. Indeed, this was not a war against a foreign enemy. When fighting one's own ‘misguided brothers and sisters’, the rules of combat were expected to be different. Human rights violations continued to occur but resistance to them began to build up in the North East with support from elsewhere in the country, so much so that an Indian army chief, Shankar Roychoudhury, drafted human rights guidelines for his troops and declared that a ‘brutalized army [is] no good as a fighting machine’.
[Page xxi]Human rights and the media space became a new battle ground as both the troops and the rebels sought to win the hearts and minds of the population. It would, however, be wrong to over-emphasize the success of the human rights movement in the North East. Like the insurgents, the human rights movement has been torn by factional feuds at the national and the regional levels. But thanks to their efforts, more and more people in the Indian heartland came to hear of the brutalities at Namthilok and Oinam, Heirangothong and Mokukchung. Many young journalists of my generation also shook off the ‘pro-establishment’ bias of our predecessors and headed for remote locations to report without fear and favour. We crossed borders to meet rebel leaders, because if they were our misguided brothers, (as politicians and military leaders would often say) they had a right to be heard by our own people. One could argue that this only helped internalise the rebellions and paved the way for co-option. But it also created the ambience for a rights regime in a far frontier region where there was none for the first three decades after 1947. Facing pressure from below, the authorities began to relent and the truth about the North East began to emerge.
The yearning for peace and opportunity began to spread to the grassroots. Peace-making in the region still remains a largely bureaucratic exercise involving shady spymasters and political wheeler-dealers, marked by a total lack of transparency. Insurgent leaders, when they finally decide to make peace with India, are often as secretive as the spymasters because the final settlements invariably amount to such a huge climbdown from their initial positions that the rebel chieftains do not want to be seen as being party to sellouts and surrenders. Nevertheless, the consensus for peace is beginning to spread. Peace without honour may not hold, but both the nation-state and the rebels are beginning to feel the pressure from below to make peace. And increasingly the push for peace is led not by big political figures like a Jayprakash Narain or a Michael Scott but by commoners—intensely committed men and women like brave ladies of the Naga Mothers Association who trekked hundred of kilometres to reach the rebel bases in Burma for kickstarting the peace process in Nagaland.
In the last few years, the North East and the heartland have come to know each other better. Many myths and misconceptions continue to persist, but as India's democracy, regardless of its many aberrations, [Page xxii]matures and the space for diversity and dissent increases, the unfortunate stereotypes associated with the North East are beginning to peter off slowly. The concept of one national mainstream is coming to be seen as an anathema in spite of the huge security hangover caused by terror strikes like the November 2008 assault on Bombay. Even Shahrukh Khan did not miss the pointlessness of mainstreaming in his banter sequence on the Manipur girls’ ‘failure’ to learn Punjabi in ‘Chak De India’. The existence of one big stream, presumably the ‘Ganga Maiya’ (Mother Ganges), is perhaps not good enough for India to grow around it. We need the Brahmaputras as much as we need the Godavaris and the Cauveris to evolve into a civilization state that is our destiny. The country cannot evolve on the misplaced notion of a national mainstream conceived around ‘Hindu, Hindi and Hindustan’. The saffrons may win some elections because the seculars are a disorganized, squabbling, discredited and leaderless lot, but even the Hindutva forces must stretch both ways to accomodate a new vision of India or else they will fail to tackle the crisis of the North East and other trouble spots like Kashmir and will fell apart.
India remains a cauldron of many nationalities, races, religions, languages and sub-cultures. The multiplicity of identity was a fact of our pre-colonial existence and will determine our post-colonial lives. In the North East, language, ethnicity and religion will provide the roots of identity, sometimes conflicting, sometimes mutually supporting. So a larger national identity should have more to do with civilization and multi-culturalism, tolerance and diversity, than with the base and the primordial. For the North East, the real threat is the growing criminalization of the movements for self-determination and the conflicting perceptions of ethnicity-driven homelands that pit tribes and races against each other. ‘Freedom fighters’ are being replaced by ‘warlords’. They in turn may become drug lords because of the region's uncomfortable proximity to Burma, where even former communists have turned to peddling drugs and weapons. Money from organized extortion may have given the insurgents in northeast India a secure financial base to pursue their separatist agenda, but it has also corrupted the movements. And groups who have violently pursued the agenda of ethnic homelands and attempted ethnic cleansing have threatened to turn the region into a Bosnia or a Lebanon, increasing the levels of militarization and adding to the democracy-deficit that North East has always suffered from.
[Page xxiii]Despite these gloomy forebodings, some, like the visionary B.G. Verghese, see great opportunities for the region in the changing geo-politics of Asia. India's ‘Look East’ thrust in foreign policy may help the North East by way of better transport linkages with the neighbourhood and greater market access for products made in the region. But the government's Vision 2020 document admits that the region needs huge improvement in infrastructure to become sufficiently attractive for big-time investors, domestic or foreign. Petroleum products made in the Numaligarh Refinery in Assam are now being exported to Bangladesh by less expensive river transport, but Assam's crude output has sharply dwindled in recent years and at least a part of Numaligarh's future requirement may have to be imported via Haldia port in West Bengal.
Environmentalists and indigenous leaders have also opposed the huge Indian investments in the region's hydel power resources, saying that it may prove to be dangerous in a sensitive geo-seismic region. As India tries to open out the North East to possible big-time investments, particularly in hydel power, a new kind of conflict, emanating from contradicting perceptions of resources-sharing may replace the old style insurgencies. It all depends on how the leaders of the locality, province and nation shape up to the challenges of the future and make the most of the opportunities.
This book is an attempt to understand the crisis of India's North East. I have drawn primarily on my own experience and primary documentation gained during nearly three decades of journalism in the region and in countries around it. I not only managed rare access to both the undergrounds and officialdom, but also had the benefit of covering the most important events at very close quarters. The book may benefit from the rare insights I gained. During these eventful decades, when many profound changes unfolded in the North East, I had the benefit of witnessing them first hand, which then helped me look beyond the immediate. I wish to thank countless friends and sources in the region for their help, including many who wish to remain anonymous. A special word of gratitude for my friend, Ashis Biswas, who went through the script to weed out errors. Jaideep Saikia, my younger brother, contested many of my observations from his own experience as a former security advisor with the Assam and the Indian government, until I could hold my own. That exercise proved rather useful.
[Page xxiv]My friend, the late B.B. Nandi, also shared many great secrets about the Indian intelligence operations in and around the region and gave me some rare insights developed over a long and superb career in domestic and foreign intelligence. Armchair academics may not always appreciate the value of the likes of Saikia and Nandi—or for that matter, E.N. Rammohan, former DG, Border Security Force who also shared many unknown facets of the complex world of domestic and border policing—but I know for sure that they are much closer to the reality, which is what I want to bring home to readers. But some academics, who also have great experience as activists, like Ranabir Sammadar of the Calcutta Research Group, have always been an inspiration. As have been some of my great teachers—I owe to Jayantanuja Bandopadhyay my grounding in international relations, to B.K. Roy Barman my sense of North East and to Anthony Smith my understanding of ethnicity which proved so useful in understanding the North East. I am indebted to my countless friends in the North East—both in the underground and in the government and civil society movements—whose knowledge and perspective helped enrich my understanding of a complex region. For want of space, they all cannot be named.
I must also thank Sugata Ghosh and Rekha Natarajan at SAGE for agreeing to do my book. It is neither the usual format of an academic work nor the pseudo-fiction that ‘trade publishers’ generally like on North East. And therefore this could well fall between two stools, but I am grateful to SAGE for taking the risk.
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About the Author[Page 307]
Subir Bhaumik is the East India Correspondent of the BBC World Service for the last 15 years. He has reported on North East India and the countries around it for three decades since his previous assignments with Press Trust of India, Ananda Bazar Patrika and Reuters News Agency. As a journalist he has broken some of the biggest stories in North East India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan.
He was Queen Elizabeth House Fellow in Oxford University (1989–90), during which he completed has first book Insurgent Crossfire (published by Lancers in 1996). He has been a Fellow at Frankfurt University and done projects with prestigious institutions like the East-West Center, Washington. He has presented nearly 40 papers in seminars at home and abroad and written more than 25 articles for volumes edited by leading scholars (some published by SAGE India) like Partha Chatterjee, Ranabir Sammadar, Robert Wirshing, Sanjib Baruah, Samir Das and Jaideep Saikia. He is also a popular TV anchor, a corporate risk analyst and a media trainer. He is the Working President of the Guwahati-based North East Policy Alternatives and a Founder-member of the independent think tank, the Calcutta Research Group.