Extremists complicate the situation
Assam is on the boil now following a fast-developing sequence of events. Armed Nagas raided and burnt several villages, killing two, on Assam-Nagaland border near Urimghat in the Golaghat district of Assam. This was on August 12. Angry villagers stoned the motorcade of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, when he tried to visit the area on August 18. He was unhurt but the police lathi-charged and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
This added fuel to the fire. On August 20, some twenty thousand villagers, mostly tribals, marched on Golaghat town with their traditional bows and arrows and spears. They surrounded the Deputy Commissioner’s office. The situation was turning ugly. The police opened fire, killing two and injuring eighteen. Curfew was imposed and the Army called out. It staged a flag march. This has now led to the demand for Gogoi’s resignation. Golaghat and its surrounding areas are, to quote officials, ‘tense but under control’.
The All Assam Tea Tribe Students’ Association, whose influence was hitherto limited only to the tea garden labourers of upper Assam, suddenly emerged as a major player and gave a call for an Assam Bandh on August 21 to protest the Naga violence. Its call was supported by the AGP and the BJP. In recent times, the Congress and its labour wing the INTUC have been totally marginalized among the tea garden workers who constituted one of the major vote-banks of the Congress. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has, with the full backing of the garden owners, practically driven out the INTUC and now controls the tea labourers.
Gogoi has hinted that the Assamese villagers and Naga tribals apart, there is the involvement of a ‘third’ force in the violence. He did not name anyone, but according to political observers, the CM was hinting either at Left extremists or at an all-India ‘non-political’ organization which has a strong clout on the present establishment in Delhi. This organization has lately made a great headway among the Assam tribals or adivasis. Meanwhile. Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju has airdashed from Delhi on a fact-finding and peace-brokering mission.
To go a little back into history, armed Nagas raiding Assam villages in the border areas of Golaghat or Sivasagar is nothing new. Such raids have continued year after year. This scribe once had a personal experience of visiting villages that bore the brunt of a Naga attack and seeing for himself the misery of the helpless people there. That was way back in January, 1979. A major incident took place in June, 2007 in Sivasagar district. The Nagas attacked three villages, killing two. But stray incidents have continued to happen intermittently.
Assam has a border dispute with every neighbouring state – Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal. But armed clashes with other states did not happen, except for Nagaland. When the Naga Hills district of Assam was made a separate state in December, 1963, its boundary was defined according to the 1925 notification. But the Nagas never accepted the boundary. They have, cutting across party lines, been demanding that all Naga-inhabited areas in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal be brought under a single administrative unit, which they call ‘Nagalim’. The Nagaland Assembly has passed unanimous resolutions to this effect several times. Naga claims on Assam include the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills districts and parts of Golaghat and Sivasagar districts.
During the last four decades, the raids have been attributed to the armed rebels belonging to the Isaak-Muivah faction of the NSCN. Both the I-M and the Khaplang factions of the NSCN are maintaining a ceasefire with the security forces. The rebels have been kept in two ‘designated camps’ in Nagaland while the Centre is carrying on peace talks with both the factions for the last twenty years. But rebels sometimes get out of the camps and raid border villages. The border problem remains unresolved.
To settle the dispute, the Centre set up two Commissions – the Sundaram Commission in 1971 and the Shastri Commission in 1985. But their labours came to nought as Assam and Nagaland did not accept their recommendations. A case was then filed before the Supreme Court seeking its intervention.
The apex court ordered that as an interim arrangement the CRPF would be given charge of maintaining peace in the border between the two States. The civil police of Assam and Nagaland would not operate in the borders. Since then the CRPF has been there. But the Assamese allege that the CRPF assumes a passive role when the Nagas come charging. The case is still pending before the apex court.
So, the dispute has remained a festering sore souring relations between the Nagas and the Assamese all these years and decades. The lingering tension often, as now, bursts into bouts of violence. But invariably, it is the Assamese who are at the receiving end.