Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: Smouldering Seven

Smouldering Seven - The Pioneer

Wilson John ()
31 August 1997

Title: Smouldering Seven
Author: Wilson John
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 31, 1997

Assam can never be a digestible part of India now or in the future - All
Assam Tribes and Races Federation, 1945.

There can be no greater irony than the fact that during the special session
of Parliament called by the Meghalaya-born Speaker Purno Sangma, not a
minute was spared for the troubled seven states or "seven sisters" which
are always so disdainfully dismissed, in the media and elsewhere, as in the

Perhaps it is a subject which cannot be couched conveniently in the kind of
rhetoric veteran politicians have mastered over the years to score
political points and grab headlines. It is a troublesome, bristling problem
and there are no easy solutions.

If only the politicians - it costs the Exchequer Rs 7,000 a minute to keep
them working - can hear the loud warning bells echoing in the valleys of
Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland...

If only they could see the rising hill of brutally hacked corpses, the
planeloads of coffins of officers and men of security forces being quietly
airlifted to faraway villages and towns...

If only the bureaucrats ensconsed in the cushioned offices on Raisina Hill
could sift through the mounting stack of intelligence reports on their
tables to see the writing on the wall...

The situation in the North-East is rapidly getting out of control
especially in the four states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland.
Terrorist groups run parallel governments which are more powerful and
popular than the elected governments. Insurgency has become a way of life.
Or a means of livelihood. Secessionism is proudly flaunted.

Says a senior police officer posted in Itanagar, in Arunachal Pradesh. "I
was in Tezpur on August 15. the day the nation was celebrating the
country's golden independence anniversary. Insurgency groups had declared
a bandh and it was definitely a big success. Not a soul was in sight. There
were no vehicles on the roads barring Army and police trucks. It was a
black day there. I was shocked. How can any government allow such an
anti-national gesture when there were festivities everywhere else?"

The officer does not mince words to say that the terrorists (though they
would all like to be called insurgents) control almost every aspect of life
in the region.

"The transport system is at their mercy. They block the national highway
at will and force the administration to cancel trains and flights. The rule
of law? It is dead here. Bandhs are as frequent as rains in the area," he
says matter-of-factly.

There is yet another, far more dangerous warning though. The security
forces are tired and weary fighting an endless war against their own
countrymen, a war against an antagonistic state administration, a war
against an impotent government at the Centre - a hopeless war where they
have been branded enemies by their own countrymen.

An Army Major, now posted in Delhi after frequent assignments in insurgency
areas in the north-eastern border, says: "I don't know how to answer my
jawans when they ask: How long can we fight our own people?"

The Army's operations in the insurgency-prone states in the region are
stymied by many factors. One, the unified command works more in theory
than practice. Two, there is no reliable intelligence network. Three, the
local population has no sympathy for the forces. And lastly, language is a
stumbling block. Says an officer, "We have to rely on limited sources of
information, we spend days and weeks to locate the militants' hideouts.
After we catch them in surprise raids, we find that they are soon out,
walking free because of a telephone call from Guwahati."

Another officer who served in the region" candidly admits, "We are here
because we are bound by duty. But none of us are willing to put in that
extra bit which wins a war. That is the reality, whether you like it or not."

The reason for the growing disenchantment among Army officers and jawans is
not far to see. The hostility of local residents and human rights
activists for the armed forces has forced a deep wedge between the
so-called protectors and those they have to protect. People see soldiers
as the Centre's brute hand that suppresses their rightful aspirations. They
cite horrifying instances of murder, rape, assault and loot to push home
their point. For instance, Operation Bluebird, in 1987 in Oinam, Manipur,
is one of the worst cases of human rights violations by the Army. Human
rights activists have demanded the removal of the Special Armed Forces Act.
1958, which gives unbridled powers to a soldier in a state of war.

The Army, confess senior officers, cannot solve the problem of insurgency.
"This is the plain and simple truth," says one commissioned officer. Others
readily agree. But can politicians and bureaucrats be trusted with a solution?

The answer lies in the stack of intelligence reports regularly despatched
to North Block which, not surprisingly, reveal the nexus between
politicians, bureaucrats and militants.

Take for instance, two of the most well-organised and dreaded militant
outfits, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)-Issak
Swu/Thuengaling Muivah group and the NSCN-Khaplang Heimi group. Both have a
wide area of influence, they have free access to sophisticated weapons from
the underworld arms bazaar of Cox Bazar and Thailand (it is estimated that
between the two groups, they possess some 5000 weapons, mostly AK-47s and
AK-56s), they train recruits in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar, have
offices in Bangkok, Geneva, US and Britain, and get financial and moral
support from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Bangladesh's
Directorate General of Field Intelligence and scores of Christian
organisations scattered over the globe. Both the Naga militant groups are
also at each other's throat.

The NSCN-M group, dominated by Tangkhuls, a dominant tribe, want to
establish a Greater Sovereign Nagaland joining Khonsa and Changlang areas
of Arunachal Pradesh, the North Cachar Hills and Manipur. Significantly, it
has direct access to Delhi and has been a key figure in the current
ceasefire. The rival NSCN-K, in comparison, is a smaller group with less
men and weapons and has no direct access to Delhi. But it has a trump
card: the Nagaland Chief Minister.

The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is another powerful insurgent
group with deep political roots. ULFA has its origin in the All-Assam
Students Union (AASU) movement of 1973. The hardliners in AASU created
ULFA in 1978. while the moderates formed what is today known as the Asom
Gana Parishad (AGP). The ULFA wanted an independent State while the AGP
campaigned to solve the state's problems through democratic means. However,
along the line, both drew close to each other for sustenance. In 1988, ULFA
almost took over the State, forcing the Centre to impose President's rule.
With the AGP's victory in the last general election in 1996, the ULFA is
back on the scene with renewed vigour.

But nothing is as simple as it looks in the mosaic-like states of the
North-East. Ethnic and tribal affiliations and rivalries are as critical as
political patronage to militant groups which are steadily swelling in
numbers. In Assam, for instance, Asom and Bodos have a long standing feud.
The Bodos, who have been exploited by Ahoms for centuries, and are
concentrated mainly in the Kokrajhar-Bongaigaon areas, have been on the
warpath since the 1930s. In the Sixties, the Bodos were shrill in their
demand for a separate state of Udayanchal which petered out subsequently,
only to rear its head once again in 1980. The Bodo Security Force emerged
in 1986, and Bodo insurgency under Upendra Brahma's leadership hit back
with full force four years later, culminating in the Bodo Accord in
February, 1993. The Bodo Autonomous Council was formed on the northern
bank of the Brahmaputra river but it soon began to crumble after the Centre
showed no interest in fulfilling its promises.

In Tripura. where the fight is against the "demographic invasion" of their
land by Bengalis and Bangladeshis (the 1991 census showed that only 23 per
cent of those living in the State were original inhabitants). there are. at
last count, 21 militant outfits, most of which have mushroomed after the
1989 Tripura Accord. The most powerful among them, the All-Tripura Tribal
Force (a splinter group calls itself the All-Tripura Tiger Force), is
anti-Bengali and anti-Congress and enjoys the political patronage of the
ruling CPI-M. Other outfits like the Tripura Tiger Youth Force and the
Tripura Liberation Organisation also enjoy the patronage of the Left
panics. On the other hand, the Tripura National Tribal Force, Tripura
Tribal Democratic Front and the Tripura Tribal Volunteer Force, are
pro-Congress militant outfits.

These, often overt, political alliances benefit all. "Insurgency," says a
senior Army officer who has served in Manipur, "is an industry here.
Everyone benefits from it except the security forces. And that's why there
will be no end to it."

Corruption is a routine matter in the seven states and it is so pervasive
that it is no longer shocking. Recently, when a bureaucrat took a proposal
for a Rs 10-crore development project for approval to his Chief Minister,
he was told to push the cost to Rs 36 crore.

There are innumerable audit reports which reveal the extent to which
development funds, so willingly shovelled by the Centre to the region, are
diverted for personal gain. Some instances, not yet made public, need to
be highlighted: Of the 19 cases of misappropriation of Central funds,
detected by audit agencies, released to District Rural Development Agencies
across the country, 10 (Rs 1.65 crore) were in Nagaland alone. In one
case, the Project Director of the State Rural Development Agency withdrew
Rs 1. 124 crore from the savings bank account (No.012/4835) in the State
Bank (if India. Kohima, and deposited it in his own fixed deposit account.
Six months later he returned the money minus the interest of Rs 56 lakh
which remained in his personal account.

Then there is the classic case where wages were paid to non-existent
labourers under the Employment Assurance Scheme. A report sent to the Union
Ministry of Rural Development shows that out of the funds earmarked for
unemployed labourers, Rs 15.45 lakh were paid to MLAs or persons authorised
by them in Dimapur and Mon districts of Nagpur, a sum of Rs 15.15 lakh was
paid to "important persons and their private secretaries," while another
booty of Rs 8.45 lakh was paid to two office-bearers of a political party.

The money looted by politicians in the region may look like small change
compared to the phenomenal heists in some other parts of the country, but
corruption is gnawing at the roots of the tribal society which can prove to
be fatal. However, the question that begs for an answer is: Will there
ever be a political solution to insurgency in the North-East?

Yes, there is, but it needs to be worked out carefully and patiently, by
bringing all the militant groups and sub-groups to the table for a
discussion in an atmosphere of genuine concern. The problem will not vanish
with gratis as evidence clearly shows - since 1966, Nagaland has got close
to Rs 30,000 crore as central grants which works out to roughly Rs 25 lakh
per person. Nor will it be resolved by well-publicised accords - there
have been eight failed accords to date. And certainly not by bringing in
the Army to suppress dissension - the Army has been used again and again
against the very people it was trained to safeguard from enemies across the

Perhaps a lasting solution lies in more autonomy to the states, genuine
economic development, new trade routes, less Central funds and a little bit
of pressure to herd militants groups to the discussion table. But then, we
need chief ministers who care for their people. And a Prime Minister who is
not helpless.


National Socialist Council of Nagaland-M
Area of influence: Nagaland except Mon, northern part of Tuensang and
northern part of Mokokehung, Manipur minus Imphal valley, pockets in
Senapathi and Churachandpur and Chandel.
Leaders: President: Isaak Swu, Prime Minister Muivah, Minister for Military
Affairs Maj Gen Atem
Strength: 4,000
Weapons: 3,500 to 4,000
Links: Foreign: Bangladesh Army, ISI, Myanmar Military officers in Bangkok,
Geneva, USA and UK. Indian: ULFA, BDSF, PLA, ATTF, Umbrella organisation
for other insurgent operations.

National Socialist Council of Nagaland-K
Area of influence: Changland, Khunsa, Mon, parts of Mokokchung, northern
Leaders: Chairman: Khaplang Heimi, General Secretary: Talikeba Mangro,
chief of Army Staff: Major General Khole Konyak
Strength: 2,500
Weapons: 600-650
Linkages: Foreign: Camps in Myanmar, contact with Naga Vigil, A UK-based NGO

People Liberation Army of Manipur
Area of influence: Imphal valley
Leaders: President: Irengban, Commander-in-chief Nan Kishofe, Asst Chief of
Army Staff: Major James.
Strength: 500-600
Weapons: 450-550
Linkages: Foreign: DGFI, camps and training in Bangladesh, procured arms
from underworld markets in Thailand and Singapore

Area of influence: all districts of Assam except Bodo and Muslim dominated
Leaders: Chairman: Arbinda Rajkhowa; Vice Chairman: Pradip Gogoi; Gen Sec:
Anup Chetia; Commander in Chief: Paresh Baruah, Operation Commander: Raju
Strength: 1,000-1,200
Weapons: 1,000
Linkages: Bangladesh, ISI, camps in Bhutan.

Bodo Security Force
Area of influence: Bodo Autonomy Council areas except Kokrajhar and part of
Leaders: Chairman: Ranjan Dairnary, General Secretary: Gobindo Basumahary,
Deputy commander in chief: Dhaneswari (Commander in chief Bupen Boro killed
in May 1997)
Strength: 700 to 800
Weapons: 600 to 650
Linkages: Bangladesh, Bhutan, ISI, nexus with ULFA, NSCN-M and NSCN-K and PLA.

Bodo Liberation Tiger Force
Area of influence: Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon
Leader: Prem Singh Brahma
Strength: 150-200
Weapons: 50-100

National Liberation Front of Tripura
Area of influence: North and West Tripura
Leader: Dhananjay Reang
Strength: 150-200
Weapons: 100-120
Linkages: Bangladesh; procured weapons from Thailand, close to NSCN-M,
United Liberation Front of Seven Sisters, Cobra Force.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements