“Conflicted” Northeast India: mired with socio-economic, political, ethnic & cultural identity
Written by Deep Santu Pathak
Northeast Indian (NEI) regions have been seeing various agitations, clashes, insurgencies and even attempts at annexation by neighbouring countries. The area has been a “disturbed area” since the 1950s Naga Insurgency(known as the mother of the North-east insurgencies) challenged their integration into the Indian Union even before India became independent in 1947; the 6-year long Assam Agitation of 1985 against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants; China’s annexation attempts in 1962, and now China building villages in borders nearing Arunachal and declining its recognition.
Insurgency and Ethnic Conflicts
‘The mushrooming of armed ‘Senas’ on caste and ethnic lines is a direct consequence of the polarisation of society’. Preoccupied with the daily battle of survival, the obvious choice of the victims of conflicts is: ‘if you cannot fight them, join them’; because the police are unable to protect them and ‘polarisation on ethnic and religious lines can further reduce the credibility of the police in the minds of the people’ coupled with the fear of domination by illegal immigrant population are what keeping the liberation fronts and secessionist movements alive. There are speculations that the Centre’s failure to rein in Paresh Barua, the leader of United Liberation Front of Assam, ahead of the end of the Treaty of Yandaboo by 24th Feb 2026, would result into a surge of insurgent activities. Britain returned Hong Kong to China after completion of 200 years in 1997(Hong Kong was seized by Britain exactly as Assam was, from present day Myanmar). On pure imagination, comprehending the future belongingness of NEI paints a dystopia picture.
The colonial leaders took nearly a century to annex the entire region, and administered the hills as a loose ‘frontier area’, with the result, that large parts of the ‘…[NEI] hill areas never came in touch with the principle of a central administration’.
“Differences create conflicts, NEI is territorially organized in such a manner that ethnic and cultural specificities were ignored during the process of delineation of state boundaries’ in the 1950s, giving rise to discontentment and assertion of one’s identity.”https://in.boell.org/en/2009/02/28/conflict-northeast-india-issues-causes-and-concern
Interestingly, 99% of NEI’s boundaries are international and only 1% is domestic. Though the conflict in the region is mired with complex political-economic issues, such as, struggle over natural resources, migration-related issues, displacement, social exclusion, etc., according to Dr. Clemens Speiss, ‘the politics of identity lie at the heart of the bigger part of the current conflict constellations in the NEI’. NEI has been intentionally underinvested speculating that the impact of the increased introduction of market imperatives in the traditional society of the region would have an irreversible impact on the people’s culture and life and it would also lead to increased settlement of mainland people to the NEI, something that would just exacerbate the already existing problem of ethnicity. Dependence on the government by a large section for their survival sharpen these conflicts. Ethnicity, although ignored in the 21st century and losing its importance in important political and social decisions, that is not however the case: NEI conflicts are an existential crisis manifesting in full colours and highlighting that ethnicity can become an important dimension of internal conflict when it becomes intertwined with other social, political and economic issues.
China’s disrespect for boundaries dates back to 27th April 1914 where it rejected, post signing the draft of the ‘Shimla Tripartite Agreement’ between British India, Tibet and China. In 1949, the People’s Liberation Army annexed Xinjiang followed by Tibet in 1951. There are various methods that China has been employing to satisfy its expansionist appetite. In the recent scenario, it built a village in Arunachal Pradesh and ‘…never recognised the so-called Arunachal Pradesh…China’s development and construction activities within our own territory are normal. This is beyond reproach as it is in our territory’.
A lawmaker of the Nepali Congress party claimed ‘Chinese troops had crossed the border and built nine concrete structures about 1km inside Nepal’. After the 1962 war, China has been increasingly occupying Indian land and now currently occupies more than 45,000 sq km of Indian territory in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir alone(excluding Arunachal). India’s foreign policies have been tyroic evident after it imposed an economic blockade in Nepal on an ill-conceived issue in 2015, which happened at the cost of India’s clout in Kathmandu despite Nepal being an important strategic asset to the Republic of India. ‘China established a military base after the Maldivian government leased out islands of Feydhoo Finolhu to China for $4 million. Just a few hundred kilometres from India’s shore, China thus gained a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway.’ Even India is dependent upon China(including Hong Kong) by $85 Billion.
If a hypothetical scenario be considered where China invades Myanmar under the veil of peace and democracy restoration by “fighting” the military junta and gains control of entire Myanmar, then it already would increase its military presence as well as around India by 30%. A bit further along the same arrow of intention indicates to the obvious divide and rule strategy: it starts funding NEI insurgents with superior weapons and logistics compared to Indian defences to seize the ‘Chicken’s neck’; supports the Muslim population for spreading radical Islamism. In a nutshell, there is a hotbed of insurgents and terrorists; along with the multi-front attack the People’s Liberation Army is aiming through Bhutan, Nepal in eastern India and Jammu-Kashmir through the north.
History hasn’t been predictable enough to the level of averting a potential disaster which inflicts huge damage to mankind where myriad of factors play roles, shape events, and start changes, neither was it ‘fair’; and hence, society can seldom comprehend its future course. If taken history as a learning experience, India’s conflict-handling hasn’t been very constructive. Its non-alignment policies without regard for long-term strategies and rational analysis, its annoying hook of Socialism- ‘equal sharing of miseries’in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, and the democratic world’s most unwanted historic ties with communal power like the former Soviet Union puts India in a troubling state than even Bangladesh and has been executed with peace and order restoration through delay and loopholing matters to save the politicians’ seat which have started to show its effects.
Throughout millennia, there are enough battles to learn from that wars and conflicts are never free of suffering, bloodshed, and loss of lives. But that has never stopped it from happening. Indian military still lacks the capabilities and the tools to protect itself from impending dangers militarily; whereas cyber, biological, and economic war-zone are also damage-inflictors. Russian interests have nothing like weakening China or stopping it from accumulating more power and territory. Both are communist superpowers against democratic India; so, the odds are, as it seems, are against the country which has never invaded any nation in its 100,000 years of history.
Americans’ intervention is also highly improbable as its interests lie towards the South-China sea, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. What follows is Hitler and Stalin era communal torture to North-easterners. The US is no longer the promoter of peace, democracy, human rights the cloaks of deception it uses to assert its interests, it never was.
Ignorance pulls everyone into the black hole of uncertainty and conflict. The decades of ignorance implied a lack of knowledge and rationality, and the lack of progress has been ticking like a time bomb to explode and it is very soon going to, by the decade-end. Suffering and chaos among millions are imminent. Lachit Borphukan’s army and strategies might have warded off mortal beings in the middle ages, but as of now, given the military technologies of the era, there is no defence against a nuclear missile. And given the name of the Chinese military, People’s Liberation Army, China would call it ‘mercy’ just like it calls Uighur genocide rehabilitation programs.