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FOR QUIETER HILLS

The political rhetoric notwithstanding, most northeastern militancies are rooted in the region’s lack of economic development. Ironically though, the insurgencies also stunt economic growth. Meghalaya’s chief minister, Mr D.D. Lapang, struck the right note when he put an emphasis on “civic action and social welfare” to deal with the militancy in the Garo Hills. Funds often are a lesser problem in the fight against militants than a vision and a workable strategy. Mr Lapang seems to have realized that it is important to involve the community in the battle against political extremists. It is too important a task to be left only to the government. No matter how much money the government spends on development, militancy cannot be stamped out unless the people wake up to the futility of violence. The chief minister’s “action plan” for the Garo Hills, therefore, has to offer more than an economic package. But,while it works to this plan, the state government cannot afford to lower its guard against the militants. The chief minister seems to prefer the police to the army or the paramilitary force for the task on the ground because the police would be familiar with local problems. It is a valid argument only if the police go about the job with no strings attached. Mr Lapang has to unequivocally demonstrate his political will to end Garo militancy.

Mr Lapang’s other suggestion, to involve the church in building popular opinion against the militants, is also a step in the right direction. The church has played a vital role in the fight against insurgencies in several states in the region. The Presbyterians in Mizoram set a glorious example in not only mobilizing public opinion against Mizo militancy but also in quietly working for the peace process that resulted in the Mizo accord in 1986. The Baptist church in Nagaland has played a similar role, along with organizations such as the Naga Hoho and the Naga Mothers’ Association, in raising the public voice against militancy-related violence in that state. One could not agree more with the chief minister that the church leaders in the Garo Hills cannot afford to “remain within the confines of their walls”. Because of its influence on the people’s social and cultural life, there is a strong case for involving the church in the government’s “action plan”. The church implements its own civic plans and social welfare programmes, which could complement the administration’s strategy. In fact, the success of such unity of action can help Mr Lapang tackle not just the threat of militancy but also social and econo-mic problems.

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