How did Modi do it? The push for peace and the slow death of insurgency in North East

modi-222The many measures taken by the Modi Government has led to militancy in the North East dying a natural death. But how did he make inroads?

One of the biggest achievements of the Narendra Modi government has been the handling of North East. The peace accord with the NSCN (IM) was aimed at long lasting peace and was also a step forward in removing contentious problems on the Naga issue.

Now, in a major development, the Last Bodo militant group left Myanmar and surrendered to Indian authorities. The surrender by the National Democratic Front of Boroland (S), which is a close ally of the Paresh Baruah led ULFA is being hailed as a masterstroke by security agencies.

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Assam massacre- Go beyond Myanmar

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The incident in which over 70 tribals were brutally murdered at the hands of the NFDB(S) is still fresh in everyone’s mind. As the army intensifies its operations and India claims that it is getting support from Myanmar and Bhutan, the fact of the matter is that this operation is harder than one would have thought.
Militants hide out difficult to penetrate: The NFDB(S) has found a safe hiding spot in the very dense forests in Myanmar’s Kachin state and the Saigang division which is bordering the North Eastern states of India. This is an area which is completely under the control of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) which has been accused of training the ULFA. This particular area is considered to be a no man’s land and is completely out of the control of Myanmar. The country has not managed to gain control over these areas which has made it a safe haven for the NFDB (S).
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Jamaat, NFDB(S) plot killing of Bodo leaders

50 Bodo leaders are on the hitlist of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh according to an investigation report of the National Investigating Agency. The bombs were being prepared and transported to Assam from the Burdhwan terror factory.

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With the NIA taking up the case pertaining to the killing of the advasis in Assam at the hands of the NFDB( S) this angle of the JMB becomes extremely interesting.
An officer with the NIA probing the case told oneindia that it appears to be a major plot on part of the JMB and the NFDB ( S) to intensify operations and cause instability in the region.
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An all out offensive in Assam

A major crackdown to gun down all the militants of the NDFB (S) has commenced with the state and centre coordinating with each other. The forces have identified around 75 members of the militant group that mercilessly killed over 65 people including 23 women and 18 children.
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Why Peshawar attack drew more outrage than Assam?

bodo-No Kailash Sathyarthi saying take me hostage and spare the kids. -No Malala condemning the killing of children -No hashtags like the ones we had seen during the Peshawar attack -Headlines which state outrage in Assam and not outrage in India. -No candle light marches outside the India Gate -No SMS campaigns on television seeking support for the victims
All this despite the death count in Assam shooting up to 60 of which 23 were women and 18 very innocent children whose lives were cut off even before they could even understand what this world is about.

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Major attack in Assam

In a major attack nearly 34 persons have been killed following an attack by the NDFB(S) militants at Kokrajhar and Sonitpur. The militants attacked the Adivasis in four different locations and the police say that the death toll is likely to rise.
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Dispensations at Delhi, Dispur have turned blind eye to illegal migration

Assam is not an issue that one can ignore. In the wake of the horrific riots and the large exodus that followed one could safely conclude that the government ought to act on this issue as it has become a ticking bomb. What started off as an ethnic clash has been given a communal colour and the issue spread across the country like wild fire.
Jaideep Saikia, noted terrorism and conflict analyst who has authored the book, Terror Sans Frontiers says in this interview with rediff.com that The communal explanation—that is being touted in certain circles amid the recent violence that has erupted in Assam’s BTAD—is flawed. He points out that dispensations in both New Delhi and Dispur have turned a blind eye to the problem of illegal migration.

Sir, is the current strife in Assam ethnic or communal?

It is quite clearly conflict over land, between communities. Indeed, land stands right at the heart of almost all conflict in North East India. Perched cheek-by-jowl, tribal communities of differing hues have—on punctuated occasions—wrested for rights over land. Immigrant Bengalis have fought the ethnic tribals in Tripura; Kukis have battled Nagas in Manipur and immigrant Muslims have clashed with the Bodos in Assam, as have the latter with the Santhal community of the state. Even a perfunctory assessment of the inconsistencies in the region cannot substantiate the convenient explanation about such conflicts being sired by religious considerations—even when the Muslim community is involved. The communal explanation—that is being touted in certain circles amid the recent violence that has erupted in Assam’s BTAD—is flawed.

The government has claimed that illegal immigration into Assam has stopped long ago. If this is the case why has the violence erupted to such an extent today?

Illegal migration is continuing. Dispensations in both New Delhi and Dispur have turned a blind eye to the problem of illegal migration, perhaps because of political expedience. But, the violence in BTAD is not a result of fresh migration from Bangladesh, but because a stray incident involving different communities triggered off long-standing animosities, primarily over land.

What according to you fueled the violence and did agencies such as ISI and DGFI play a role in fueling the tension?

The lynching of four former Bodo Liberation Tigers cadres in Joypur near Kokrajhar on the night of 21 July 2012 seems to have been the immediate provocation. Pakistani surrogates—according to reports—played a role in fuelling the tension. But this was after the riots broke out. This was reportedly done by sending SMSs and MMSs all over India, thereby triggering an exodus of North Easterners from places such as Bangalore and Hyderabad. But the hand of interest groups inside India cannot be discounted.
Does DGFI continue to encourage the illegal influx and if yes how have they gained?

Lebensraum in the east has been a well grounded agenda for anti-India forces. However, one aspect that must be comprehended is that almost all migration from Bangladesh is economic. It is the poorest of the poor that migrate to India. The reason ranges from economic deprivation in the erstwhile East Pakistan to better opportunities in India. It would also be of import to note that global warming and the rising Bay of Bengal will flood 1/4th of Bangladesh. Inhabitants of the lost land will enter India and the influx would have increased manifold.

What roles have the governments of both BJP and Congress played in tackling illegal migration?

Unfortunately neither BJP (when in office) nor Congress did much to rein in the situation. As aforesaid, political expedience seems to be the driver for all political formations. In all fairness it must be said that BJP has at least been raising the issue of illegal migration and NRC update etc, especially after the violence in BTAD. But, even Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi made a statement on 30th of August that the NRC updation—perhaps the only way to resolve the illegal migration issue—would be completed within the next three years. Now, this new-found concern cutting across party lines is heartening. One only hopes that a correct follow-through would take place.

The focus has primarily been on Kashmir. But you have written in detail about the threat the nation faces through these forces in Assam. Has the government and our agencies woken up to this threat or does Assam continue to be a ticking bomb?

The bomb is ticking. The government has to take active remedial measures, and without delay. The recent realisation by North Block mandarins that Pakistani surrogates were involved in the recent crisis is a starter.

Tell us more about the nexus between Islamic militancy and the demographic challenges in the North East?

I make a distinction between ISLAMIC and ISLAMIST, the latter being a classification that is erroneously seeking to utilise Islam as a means to further terror: I am quite clear that Islam does not promote terror. Indeed, I have caveated this aspect right in the beginning of my book Terror Sans Frontiers: Islamist Militancy in North East India that I penned almost a decade ago. The fact that the age-old search for lebensraum in the east would witness an Islamist spill-over from Bangladesh was clear to me way back in 2002. 9/11 had happened and it was a matter of time before the Islamists sought newer pastures—especially after Op Enduring Freedom and the partial detalibanisation of Afghanistan. Bangladesh and the lower Assam districts provide both a gateway to the rest of India for operations and an after-action pull back area. But, it must be said that unlike other states in India the Islamists were not engaging the establishment in the North East. They did not want to attract attention. As I wrote in my book, the Islamists are silent, not by the absence of activity but by the presence of non-activity. But, it seems that the demise of ethnic militancy in the region has activated them, albeit in a manner that we are presently witnessing. Moreover, the loyalties of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh continue to be informed from across the border. The assamisation process that certain scholars talk about is not taking place despite the fact that such migrants are taking on Assamese sounding names such as Raju and Mamoni. Also, almost all social formations in the region have their own militias. The vanguards for the Islamists are being provided by the illegal migrants. The increased presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh is witnessing the growth of Islamist militant groups in the region and even the MHA has recently drawn up a list of such groups.

As you have mentioned the MHA has recently come out with a list of Muslim Fundamentalist Organisations active in Assam and Manipur. There seems to be distinct similarities between the list you had appended in your book Terror Sans Frontiers almost a decade ago and the MHA list of today. Comments.

I haven’t the faintest idea from where MHA culled the list from. I am certain that the Ministry has better sources than I.

Sir, you say that the issue is about terrorism and not religion. Could you elaborate on this point? Also is there a danger that religion could become the focus in the days to come?

Terrorism is, first and foremost, a tactic that involves the threat and use of violence in order to achieve a political goal. The goal may be formulated in ideological or religious terms, but it invariably retains a political component. Simply put, if there is no political motivation behind a terrorist attack, it can be said that terrorism is not involved. I have spelt this out in my eighth book, Terrorism: Patterns of Internationalization. I am of the opinion that religion is being used by a new interest group to harness puritans among the faithful for diabolic action. The people who task the puritans are no religious zealots, but ones with a clear political agenda. The agenda is to bleed India with a thousand cuts. I hope and pray that this agenda in the land of Srimanta Sankardeva and Azan Pir can be frustrated.

Which are the strongest militant groups in the North East today?

NSCN (IM), UNLF and PLA (Manipur) continue to be the strongest militant organisations.

A regime change in Bangladesh is expected and Khaleda Zia is likely to return to power. How would that change the equations in the North East?

BNP is generally considered to be the anti-thesis of Awami League which is considered to be somewhat pro-India. The bright side is that Sheikh Hasina has already delivered to India on the issue of ULFA and NDFB to a considerable extent, and it is only a matter of speculation about how the fortunes of the North East would change were Khaleda Zia to return to power. Islamism—the barrack politics of Bangladesh that sired BNP needs the cloak of Islam to retain power—would certainly receive a fillip and the crackdown on the remaining North East militants—billeted in Bangladesh—would witness demise.

How do you think this issue could be resolved?

Correct diplomatic pressure by New Delhi on Dhaka, even if it borders on coercion. Especially as it is perfectly capable of it.

Assam has local issues

Pic: IBNLive

Assam has been on the boil due to clashes at Kokrajhar district. 1000s of people have fled and many others rendered homeless. The rioting that took place was between the Bodo tribes people and the Muslim settlers.

Former Home Secretary, G K Pillai who is from the Assam cadre tells rediff.com that the issue of infiltration cannot be blamed over here. I don’t think that is the problem over here. What I had found is that infiltration has come down a great deal in Assam and this is more of a local issue.

There is no international angle to it and it is an issue that has to be resolved by the local leaders of Assam. I would suggest that the local leaders sit across the table discuss the problems and sort out the issue before it could get any worse. These are old problems which have been faced and it has flared up this time very badly. I would say that handling of the issue was a bit slack, but be rest assured that the problem will come down if a proper plan is chalked out and leaders sit across the table and talk.

There has been talk that the issue could be due to the Bangladesh immigrants. But in my reading that is not the case. The issue of this immigration is more or less saturated. The Bangladesh immigrants in Assam has come down a great deal and they have been moving to other states and settling down. Hence I don’t really think this is the problem over here.

An officer in the Intelligence Bureau says that it is a social conflict. It would wrong to completely discount the Bangladesh migrant factor in this incident. The issue however not be regarding the newer migrants as there are settlers in Assam since a long time and this could be a clash between the old timers.

These are local issues and there has to be better collection of intelligence by the local officers says another official. It has exposed the inability to concentrate on intelligence collection on social issues which are of local nature. After all so many arms r ammunition were found at the scene of the violence. It is a clear indication that the weapons were hidden over a long period of time and some were even brought in for the violence. To this extent the intelligence has failed badly. According to the reports in the intelligence this is a incident which has been sparked off by completely a non economic issue and hence there is a need for local leaders to sit down and find a solution with a proper plan.

In Assam there has been a lot of animosity between the Bodos and the Bengali Muslim settlers most of who are from Bangladesh. Many of these settlers have been here since 1971 and officers feel that it is the old issue which has cropped yet again. The major issue being land grabbing, sources also point out.