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GALLERY: 5 Lakh People In Kokrajhar, Assam, Celebrate Historic Bodo Accord

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was addressing his first rally in Assam after the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act last month.

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INTERNAL CHALLENGES

Time To Consolidate Peace In Northeast India

The ethno-nationalist insurgent movements in NE India have witnessed a continuous decline over the last several years.

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The declining trend of insurgency-linked fatalities in the Northeast, established since 2015, continued through 2019 as well. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Northeast recorded a total of 34 fatalities (18 civilians, five Security Force (SF) personnel and 11 insurgents) in 2019, as against 73 fatalities (20 civilians, 15 SF personnel, and 38 insurgents) recorded in 2018.

Overall fatalities, as well as fatalities in respective categories recorded in the region in 2019, were the lowest, on year on year basis, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data. At its peak in 2003, the region accounted for a total of 1,165 fatalities.

Civilian fatalities were peaked in 2000, at 519 fatalities; the maximum number of 145 SF personnel were killed in 2002. The insurgents lost a maximum of 607 cadres in 2008.

According to official data, the Northeast accounted for a total of 37 insurgency-linked fatalities (21 civilians, four SF, personnel, and 12 insurgents) in 2019, the lowest ever overall fatalities recorded since 1992. The previous low of 71 fatalities was recorded in 2018.


Fatalities in respective categories – civilian, SF, and insurgent – were also the lowest in 2019. According to official statistics, there were 223 insurgency-linked incidents in 2019, again the lowest recorded in a year since 1992, with the previous low of 252 recorded in 2018.

The Northeast comprises of eight Indian states, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim, of which the last has always remained free of insurgent violence.

On March 4, 2020, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs (MoS) Kishan Reddy stated in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Indian Parliament):


“The security situation in the North-Eastern States has improved substantially since 2014. Compared to 2013, there has been a 70% reduction in insurgency incidents, 80% in civilian deaths and 78% in security forces casualties in the year 2019.”

There were 732 incidents, 107 civilian fatalities, and 18 SF fatalities in 2013.

According to SATP, out of the seven insurgency-affected states in the region, the security situation improved in six: Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The only exception was Arunachal Pradesh where fatalities had increased from 14 in 2018, to 17 in 2019. There were six fatalities in Arunachal Pradesh in 2018.  Sikkim remained free of insurgency.

There were several reasons for the continuous improvement in the security situation in the region, of which the most significant was the effectiveness of SFs on the ground.

The SFs launched several successful operations in the region over the past few years and have dealt crippling blows against most of the insurgent formations violently active in the region.

According to official statistics, apart from killing 339 terrorists between 2015 and 2019, SFs have arrested 5,837 terrorists, including 936 in 2019. SFs have also recovered 2,570 arms during this period, including 312 in 2019. The mounting pressure of the SFs resulted in the surrender of 859 (158 in 2019) insurgents along with 314 weapons (67 in 2019).


Another 2,259 terrorists surrendered in 2020. MoS Kishan Reddy informed the Rajya Sabha on March 4, 2020:

“644 cadres of different outfits surrendered on January 23, 2020, and 1,615 cadres of different factions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland [NDFB] surrendered on January 30, 2020, after signing of Memorandum of Settlement with different Bodo groups.”

Indian SFs have been assisted by SFs of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar in their fight against the insurgents in the Northeast.

For instance, Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) targeted Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) based in Myanmar in 2019. The Operations, codenamed “Operation Sunshine 1” and “Operation Sunshine 2” were conducted between February to March 2019 (Sunshine 1) and May 16-June 8, 2019 (Sunshine 2).

Another important factor accounting for the improvement in the security situation across the region has been the success of negotiations with various militant groups.

According to the Government, it has been calling for talks with militant groups that agree to renounce violence and seek resolution of the conflict within the parameters of the Constitution of India.

Consequently, the Government of India (GoI) has been in talks with various insurgent groups, prominently including – the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), United Liberation Front of Asom-Pro Talks Faction (ULFA-PTF), and factions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) with whom a peace deal was signed on January 30, 2020.

The NDFB-factions which signed the peace deal include the Gobinda Basumatary led Pro-Talks faction (NDFB-PTF), Ranjan Daimary faction (NDFB-RD), and Saoraigwra faction (NDFB-S).

Worryingly, however, GoI has been unable to sign a peace agreement with the NSCN-IM, despite the signing of the Framework Agreement with the outfit on August 3, 2015. On October 31, 2019, NSCN-IM signed another ‘agreement’ to sign a final peace deal, the realization of this objective remains a distant reality, with the most basic issues still in contention.

R.N. Ravi, the interlocutor for Naga peace talks and Governor of Nagaland, in an interview published on February 28, 2020, stated:


“The delay is entirely on the part of NSCN (I-M); it appears that they are not prepared for a settlement. They are playing delaying tactics by giving new mischievous interpretations of the already agreed positions on contentious issues and thereby misleading the people. Issues like Framework Agreement, Pan Naga entity etc…”

Explaining the ‘Pan Naga entity’ issue, he added:

“Pan Naga entity was mutually agreed to be a cultural body with no political role or executive authority. However, after October 31, 2019, when the contentious issues were settled, NSCN (I-M) is asking for the proposed Pan Naga entity to have political and executive influence over Nagaland government. This is not acceptable to the government of India. Reopening settled issues is the delaying tactics of NSCN (I-M)”

Meanwhile, reports also indicate that militants of the Suspension of Operation (SoO) groups in the region are living outside designated camps. For instance, talking about Manipur, an unnamed Indian Army official noted, “There are an estimated 200-250 active insurgents in the State outside the camps monitored as part of the SoO.”

Further, throughout 2019, the region witnessed violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 (CAB 2019). After the law was passed in Parliament on December 12, 2019, the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) got more violent. The region witnessed at least 18 incidents of violent protests against CAA between December 11-16, 2019. These protests were reported from three states – Assam (11), Meghalaya (four); and Tripura (three). The anti-CAA protests and violence subsided after curfew was clamped in violence-hit areas.

Non-violent protests in the region continued thereafter, though the outbreak of COVID-19 has brought these to a halt as well.

Periodic ethnic clashes, as in the past, persisted through 2019, with four such clashes recorded in the year. Between October 12 and 15, 2019, unidentified assailants torched 14 houses belonging to the Adi community in a new settlement in the Mabira area of the Namsai District of Arunachal Pradesh. It was alleged that assailants from the Thai-Khamti community, who allege that the Adi community had encroached on their land, were involved in the incidents of arson. In the latest incident, on February 28, 2020, an ethnic Khasi was killed and four Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) members were injured, following a clash between tribals and non-tribals at Ichamati village in the East Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya. The subsequent clashes killed three people and led to the clamping of curfew in various parts of the State and the suspension of internet services.

The ethno-nationalist insurgent movements in the Northeast have witnessed a continuous decline over the last several years, raising hopes for the establishment of lasting peace in the region.

However, there is a looming threat of an increasing frequency of political agitations accompanied by violence across the region in the foreseeable future. A conducive environment for the resurgence of a polarizing, ethnocentric narrative, which had plunged the region into decades of turmoil, is being re-created.

Unless these trends are quickly reversed, both the Northeast and the country at large will pay a terrible price for the disruptive political adventurism of the party in power in the State and at the Centre.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

M A Athul

M A Athul is a Research Assistant with the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. He is currently working on research and documentation of insurgency in North East India. He has also worked on the field on West Asia and Afghanistan

 

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INTERNAL CHALLENGES

Manipur And India Governments Can’t Take The Pressure Off Terrorism Containment

There is a need to actively address the Hill-Valley divide in Manipur.

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On March 22, 2020, unidentified militants lobbed a grenade at a Border Security Post (BSF) post located at Wangjing Tekcham Leikai in Thoubal District. There was no report of any causality in the incident.

On March 13, 2020, a Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) militant was killed in a factional clash with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) at Longchai village in Tamenglong District.

On January 8, 2020, a bullet ridden body of a non-local, identified as Nilesh Baburao Jadhav, was recovered from Terapokpi Chingdol in Imphal West District.


According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), two fatalities have been recorded in the state since the beginning of 2020 (data till March 29, 2020).

Through 2019 the State registered nine insurgency-linked fatalities (four civilians and five militants) as against 23 [seven civilians, seven Security Force (SF) personnel, and nine militants] recorded in 2018. Total fatalities thus saw a decline of 60.86 per cent in 2019 as compared to 2018. Overall fatalities in the State in 2019 were the lowest since 1992. A previous low of 23 was recorded in 2018. At the peak of insurgent violence in 1997, the State registered 495 fatalities.

Significantly, fatalities 2019 in all categories (civilians, SFs and militants) were the lowest recorded in single year since 1992. The number of civilians killed, at four, was the lowest since seven such fatalities were recorded in 2018.  At peak, 266 civilians were killed in 1993.


For the first time since 1992, no fatality was recorded in the SF category in 2019. A low of six fatalities in this category was recorded twice: in 2010 and 2013. At peak, 111 SF personnel were killed in 1997.

The number of militants killed (5) in 2019 was also the lowest in any year since 1992. A previous low of eight was recorded in 2016. The peak fatality in this category was in 2008, when 341 militants were killed. Meanwhile, SFs continued to operate against the insurgents, leading to the arrest of 259 militants in 2019, adding to the 172 arrested in 2018.

Incidents of killing also registered a steep decline. Seven incidents of insurgency-related killing were recorded in 2019, as compared to 22 such incidents in 2018.

The geographical area of insurgent activity also shrank. Incidents of killing were reported from five of the State’s 16 Districts in 2019: Kangpokpi (three fatalities in two incidents), Pherzawl (two fatalities in one incident), Tengnoupal (two fatalities in one incident), Noney (one fatality in one incident), and Bishnupur (one fatality in one incident). Incidents of killing were reported from eight Districts in 2018: Noney (seven fatalities in seven incidents), Imphal West (five fatalities in five incidents), Chandel (three fatalities in three incidents), Churachandpur (two fatalities in two incidents), Kangpokpi (two fatalities in two incidents), Thoubal (one incident with one fatality), Tengnoupal (one incident with one fatality), and Kamjong (one incident with one fatality).

Despite the decline in violence, areas of concern persist, such as extortion and abduction by militants.


According to the SATP database, three extortion cases were reported in 2019, as compared to two in 2018 (such incidents tend to go grossly under-reported, as individuals under threat incline to reach private settlements with the militant groups).

There are several national projects under construction in the State and the private companies that execute these projects routinely targeted for extortion. Most prominent amongst them is the INR125.24 billion Jiribam-Imphal Railway Project that will connect State Capital Imphal to rest of India.

A Noney District resident, who received compensation in lieu of his land acquired for the project, in an interview to The Wire, disclosed that, out of the money he had received, he had to pay 20-30 per cent to ‘underground groups’. The report mentions the presence of NSCN-IM, ZUF, Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) and Kuki National Front (KNF) in the area.

The SATP database shows that 16 persons (10 incidents) were abducted in 2019 in addition to 24 persons (in 12 incidents) abducted in 2018. As with extortion, abduction cases most likely are a fraction of the actual incidents in the State.

Moreover, violence continues to affect small pockets of the Hill Areas. Out of the five Districts from where killings were reported in 2019, four are Hill Districts, while one lies in the Valley. In 2018, out of the eight Districts from where killings were reported, six were Hill Districts (Noney, Chandel, Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal and Kamjong), and two were Valley Districts (Imphal West and Thoubal). Manipur has a total of 16 Districts: 10 Hill Districts (Chandel, Tamenglong, Senapati, Ukhrul, Pherzawl, Noney, Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi, Kamjong and Churachandpur) and six Valley Districts (Bishnupur, Imphal East, Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, and Jiribam).

And the reason is simple. Talks with major militant formations representing Naga and Kuki communities residing in the Hills have not resulted in any final outcome. These groups include NSCN-IM, ZUF, KNO, and UPF.

The Hill Districts based militant groups – Kuki National Organisation (KNO), United People’s Front (UPF), and NSCN-IM – are demanding ethnic homelands exclusive for the respective tribes that they claim to represent, often excluding other tribes inhabiting the common area, creating an atmosphere of deep distrust.

At times, even local conflicts between neighbouring villages of different ethnicity are projected in community terms, leading to widespread violence.

For instance, on March 16, 2020, some miscreants suspected to be from the Naga community set ablaze a jhum (slash and burn) cultivation of some Kuki villagers on ‘disputed’ land in the Kamjong District. In retaliation, Kukis set ablaze a Naga owned petrol station at Chassad and blocked a major road in the Sampui area.


On March 17, Nagas from Kamjong village went to the site to clear the road, leading to a clash between the two sides during which over 50 houses were set ablaze. The Administration had to impose Section 144 (prohibiting assembly of four or more persons) in the area and curbs on internet usage throughout the State to contain the fallout.

Nevertheless, after the latest round of talks held between the Naga militant groups and Government of India (GoI), on an October 31, 2019, deadline, initially at least it appeared that the issues between NSCN-IM and GoI had been amicably resolved. However, increasingly it appears that this is not the case.

On March 9, 2020, the emissary of the NSCN-IM collective leadership V.S. Atem in his meeting with Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi conveyed:

“Until and unless, GOI [Government of India] recognises the Naga national flag and Naga constitution (Yehzabo) as inseparable from the agreement which would be chalked out, there would be no solution because that would be tantamount to deviating from the principle of the Framework Agreement. A solution without a flag and constitution can never be honoured.”

Also, after the talks, on October 31, 2019, civil society groups based in Imphal Valley Districts [Bishnupur, Imphal East, Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, and Jiribam], fearing possible implications of GoI’s negotiations with NSCN-IM on Manipur’s territorial integrity, took to the streets.

Understandably, on December 20, 2019, the Manipur Legislative Assembly reaffirmed the earlier adopted resolution No 121 to protect the territorial integrity of Manipur. Resolution 121, adopted on July 23, 2018, seeks an amendment to the present Article 3 of the Indian Constitution, incorporating the requirement of mandatory prior consent of the State Legislatures of affected states while forming a new State or changing boundaries or names of existing States.

Meanwhile, the Suspension of Operations (SoO) Agreement with the Kuki militant conglomerates KNO and the UPF, was extended on February 21, 2020. The SoO Agreement now will be valid till August 31, 2020. On June 25, 2019, in the seventh round of the ‘political dialogue’ between Kuki conglomerate (KNO, UPF) and the Governments (Union and State), there was a discussion on the creation of a Territorial Council for the community.

KNO ‘spokesperson’ Seilen Haokip, observed:

“To be precise we are doing a comparative study of the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC). Based on the BTC pattern, we are pushing with our demand for Territorial Council (TC) and trying to find a way to improve it (TC)”.

Later, on November 23, 2019, GoI interlocutor for the Kuki talks, A.B. Mathur, stated:

“Talks are underway. We are hoping to arrive at an agreement soon. We cannot put a timeline on it as it is a complex issue, and we are looking at the charter of demands the groups have placed before us.”

Valley-based major militant groups – United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Kanglei Yawaol Kanna Lup (KYKL) – present in Myanmar continue to benefit from the porous Indo-Myanmar border. A February 2020 report indicated the presence of a large number of militants in the southern zone of the Sagiang Division in Myanmar. The report mentioned the presence of UNLF with 3,000 cadres; PLA with 2,000; and around 1,000 cadres of KYKL in the zone. This is in spite of measures such as the 2015 surgical strikes by India and 2019 operations by Myanmar’s Tatmadaw, which forced these groups to shift deeper inside Myanmar territory.

Another potentially polarizing issue was the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA 2019) facilitating citizenship to ‘illegal migrants’ from six non-Muslim minority communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Jain, Buddhist, Christians and Parsis – from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

However, after the approval of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime for the State, which automatically puts the State out of CAA purview, the agitating public has become calmer.

The outbreak of Novel Corona Virus 2019 (COVID-19) in India, with some early cases detected in Manipur, could severely undermine the State finances, as the lockdown restricts economic activities.

This could potentially add to existing financial burdens of Manipur, leading to a diversion of the Government’s attention away from development projects, to meet the immediate public needs of food, essentials and emergency health services.

A June 12, 2019, report mentions that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) banned all transaction of funds from the account of the Manipur Government due to a mounting overdraft, forcing the Government to freeze recruitment in all State Government Departments.

The outbreak of COVID-19 is, moreover, an unprecedented situation, the likely long-term impact of which will be visible in the coming months and years; intuitively, it is certain to impact the State Economy negatively in the immediate future.

As we witness continuous declines in violence in Manipur over the past few years, there is a need to actively address the Hill-Valley divide in the State.

Sagacious political accommodation is needed to avoid ethnic tensions getting linked with the inevitable financial crisis, to undermine the relative peace that has been established.

Active vigilance is required by the State and SFs to preempt or contain ethnic violence between the major Hill tribes, as there might be conflicting interests over emotive issues like land, with both sides trying to reach an agreement with the Government. Besides, the Valley-based outfits holed up in Myanmar can potentially strike at any time, to reclaim legitimacy, if there is a settlement with the Hill tribes that is not acceptable to Valley formations.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Giriraj Bhattacharjee

Giriraj Bhattacharjee is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi.

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COVID19

COVID-19: 5 Out Of 8 Northeast States Are Coronavirus Free

The five states are – Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura.

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NEW DELHI: Minister of State for the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) Jitendra Singh on Monday said that five out of the eight states in the North-East are corona-free now.

He said that those five states are – Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura.

Three states in the region – Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram – are not corona-free but there have been no new positive cases in these states in the recent past,” Singh said.


Elaborating further, Dr Singh said that while Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura are totally Corona free, the remaining north-east states of Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram had 8, 11 and 1 Corona positive cases respectively, which are waiting to become negative, while no new cases were added till last night.

He congratulated the State governments of the North-Eastern region, their Chief Ministers and also the officials in the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) and North Eastern Council (NEC) for ensuring perfect coordination, which had made this possible.

Even during this emergency, the way the air cargo was operational in bringing supplies to the region, there was no shortage in the area of essential goods. From March 30 onwards, supplies kept reaching the region through Air India and the Indian Air Force. It was Prime Minister Modi’s directive that the North-East, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and island areas of the country be given priority,” Dr Singh said.


The governments in all eight North-eastern states have worked hard and collaborated with the Centre during this crisis. The North-East Development Council which is headquartered in Shillong has done an excellent job of coordination during this period,” he added.

Dr Singh also informed about the proposals received and under consideration from the different North-Eastern States like Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur for new health-related projects devoted to the management of infections and Corona care, critical care and upgraded healthcare.

These projects will be dealt with priority, he said. In addition, he informed that the Ministry of DoNER had placed Rs 25 crore at the disposal of North Eastern States in the initial stage itself, much before the lockdown, as gap-funding for corona related activities.

During the meeting, Dr Jitendra Singh also received an update about various economic activities in the recent days in the exempted areas, as per the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines, which primarily included the Bamboo related activities.

Briefing the media, Dr Singh expressed satisfaction that whereas in the last six years, under Prime Minister Sh Narendra Modi, Northeast has emerged as a model of developmental transformation, in the wake of the present COVID crisis, it has emerged as a model of effective, diligent and disciplined health management.


The video conference was attended by senior officers from North Eastern Council (NEC) Shillong as well representatives of different government bodies and PSUs including North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation (NERAMC), North East Handicraft & Handloom Development Corporation (NEHHDC), North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi), Cane and Bamboo Technology Centre (CBTC) etc participated from their respective places.

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