Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on Monday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, April 16: Amid the Northeast states’ usual clamour for central funding and “cooperation”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today advised them to reduce dependence on the Centre while rebuilding democratic and development processes.
Addressing the annual chief ministers’ conference on internal security which commenced here today, Singh said there was decline in violence but there was “no question that much remains to be done to restore calm and eliminate extortion, kidnapping and other crimes by militant or extremist groups on the pretext of ethnic identity.”
His prescription to the northeastern states was: Strengthen law and order capabilities by making state police forces more proactive and reducing reliance on central armed police forces. The Centre, he said, would continue to work towards this.
Almost in response, the chief ministers raised their demands for more funds.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said the state was taking steps to fill up vacancies using transparent recruitment procedures. He urged the Centre to fund creation of specialised units for investigation, traffic management and technical services.
Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh requested the home ministry to sanction four India Reserve Battalions to protect two power projects. He even suggested that former militants be absorbed in central police forces. Manipur has 846 policemen per lakh population — one of the highest ratios among the states.
The Prime Minister’s suggestion was more holistic. “Reassert and rebuild normal, democratic, political and development processes,” he told the northeastern states. He said implementation of infrastructure projects in the region would create conditions for return of normalcy.
Raising the Maoist spectre in the Northeast, Union home minister P. Chidambaram said Assam had emerged as the “new theatre” of Maoist activity while their activities had been noticed in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur also.
Gogoi called for pre-emptive action to thwart the spread of CPI (Maoist) influence in Assam by including the state in the Integrated Action Plan programme under which 78 backward districts in nine Naxal-affected states get Rs 30 crore each to counter Maoists. Assam’s emergence as the new Maoist hub and pilferage of development funds in the Northeast prompted Singh to rue how “complex” the situation remained. He said pilferage of development funds by rebels had hurt efforts to improve lives of the people. Singh also commented on intermittent clashes between Naga rebel groups by saying that inter-factional clashes “such as those in Tirap and Changlang” districts of Arunachal Pradesh were a source of insecurity. The Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions of NSCN are constantly engaged in turf wars in these strategically located districts.
Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Nabam Tuki said the insurgents were also using the forests in the foothills and warned that ignoring factional clashes and extortion might encourage locals to get “co-opted into NSCN factions”.
Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar said the state had seen a dramatic improvement in militancy over the last decade but there was no scope for complacency. He warned that the Indo-Bangladesh border was still volatile. For one, cadres of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) taking shelter in Bangladesh have plans to strike on security forces and development agencies. He said Dhaka should be urged to send back extremist leaders and freeze their bank accounts in Bangladesh.
While statistics show disturbances in individual states, violence levels have declined.
Chidambaram said the situation had improved in the Northeast with the government reaching out to and convincing militants that the Indian political system allowed space for every shade of opinion. A message about the system having the capacity to resolve differences through talks and other constitutional means had resulted in a turnaround.
Singh said, “I am happy that the political processes of negotiation and dialogue are under way with several insurgent and ethnic separatist groups that are committed to finding amicable solutions to their problems.”
Ibobi said the larger valley-based outfits like the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) had not responded to offers of dialogue while some cadres of militant groups like the Lallumba faction of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) were being rehabilitated by the ministry of home affairs, the army and the Assam Rifles.
Gogoi is likely to nudge the Centre to speed up the pace of negotiations with Assam-based outfits like Ulfa, the National Democratic Front of Boroland and the Dima Halam Daogah who are in talks.