Members of a militant outfit surrender in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district in January this year. File picture
Where guns rule the roost
Accords and treaties with different armed groups in India’s Northeast are marked by untidiness and haste. Often these accords are so perversely constructed that they sow the seeds for future mutinies, based as they are purely on political expediency rather than statesmanship.
Since New Delhi is the key stakeholder in every accord, the role of home ministers past and present needs to be analysed to get to the root of why they took decisions that were inherently faulty.
In almost all cases, these quick-fix decisions become the bases on which many mutinies have grown and are nurtured.
Almost always, accords are signed on the eve of the states’ or national elections, obviously to score political points. One of the abiding claims of the Congress party in Mizoram is how it had signed and sealed the peace treaty with former rebel leader Laldenga of the Mizo National Front (MNF) and brought peace to that state.
Mizoram is today the only state in the region to have bucked the trend and has remained relatively peaceful since 1986. The Mizo rebels have been fair and surrendered all their arms. They have not used guns to intimidate the state thereafter. Mizo rebels later became the rulers of Mizoram in what can be seen as a mature political decision of then Congress chief minister Lalthanhawla who stepped aside in favour of Laldenga — the MNF supremo.
Peace at a price
Of course, Mizoram has its share of ethnic cleansing when Mizos wish to purge the state of non-Mizos such as the Bru people who, Mizos believe, are interlopers from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan and present Bangladesh. The Bru are largely settled in Mammith district. Every time there is a Mizo-Bru skirmish (and it happens on the flimsiest of reasons) the Brus have taken shelter in neighbouring Tripura. At present, the process of rehabilitating thousands of Brus living in relief camps in Tripura is on but it is a painful and tortuous process. Northeast India must be having the largest number of displacements because of regular ethnic cleansing by different tribes and sub-tribes. But the role of Delhi in each or all of these accords and resettlement of displaced population bears close scrutiny.
Tripartite agreements between the Centre the state and the numerous rebel leaders are treacherous cesspools of political machinations. They literally became commercial transactions where the state buys peace at a price. People of Assam still recall how Rajesh Pilot, then minister for internal security, hurriedly signed an accord with the Bodos at Guwahati airport in 1993. He seemed impatient to seal the deal as it were. The root causes of the present crisis in the Bodo belt is the ill-conceived Bodo Accord which failed and sowed the seeds for a violent conflagration at the behest of the Bodo militants thereafter.
The accord, which envisaged the creation of an autonomous council for the Bodos, was signed without much thought as to what should constitute the boundaries of the proposed Council. It was to be expected, therefore, that disputes would arise over inclusion of several villages where Bodos are a minority. A clause was inserted in the accord stating that only those villages with over 50 per cent Bodo population would be included in the council, but several villages in the area had less than 10 per cent Bodo population. Since then the Bodo militants have systematically carried out their ethnic cleansing pogroms, triggering the exodus of non-Bodos. Initially, the Muslims, most of them immigrants, were the target. Then, the Santhals were targeted. This time, for the first time the word “illegal immigrants and Bangladeshi Muslims,” were used although a large section of Muslims settled in those areas came there much before 1971 on the invitation of the Bodos themselves, essentially to till their lands. The new settlers first lived as share-croppers on very tenuous terms. For them it was only a question of survival at first and everything else later.
We would also have observed that as long as things are on the boil and have not escalated, the Centre tends to remain apathetic. Only when things get very bloody does the Centre step in to firefight. Firefighting has its own costs and we see fresh bouts of violence every time the bush fires are tamed and things get into a lull. Bodo militancy escalated after 1993 and militant outfits split on inconsequential grounds of which a proper reading would show as turf wars of vested interests.
The point one wishes to make here is that accords signed with militant outfits of all shades have never really taken into account their seriousness about the surrender of arms. The consequences of such flawed agreements are there for us to see in the recent violence. The Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) headed by Hagrama Mohilary, who agreed to the Bodo Accord of 2003, and which led to the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council operative in what is now called the Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts (BTAD), never surrendered all their guns. What they did surrender was a tiny fraction of what they actually had.
Recently, a journalist who ventured into Kokrajhar after the violence, was taken around by former militants to show him where the surrendered weapons were kept. They were housed in a room whose lock the Bodos claim were with the authorities. That actually fooled no one. The weapons were ostensibly kept in the designated camps but the locks could easily be broken each time the surrendered militants want to intimidate anyone, including the State.
Arms and the men
It is the same with the Naga militant outfits currently in peace talks with the Centre. Armed rebels roam around and shoot and kill at the slightest provocation. Internecine killings might have cost more lives to the Nagas than their encounter with the much-maligned Indian army. The story is repeated in the case of the Garo rebel outfit, Achik National Volunteers’ Council (ANVC) which has now split into two factions. The faction with whom the Centre signed a ceasefire is supposed to live in designated camps but its cadres continue to intimidate and extort and now that a faction has emerged, the turf war has only got vicious in Garo hills. It is the same with the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) or with the Karbi militants. India’s Northeast today is proliferating with arms both small and big. The size hardly matters. They can all kill and maim.
So, who really controls the arms and ammunition surrendered? Is Delhi then laying the future for the whole region to finish itself with these unaccounted for arms? After all, arms are purchased so that they can be used. What’s the point in having them if you cannot use them is the unstated argument of the former militants. Indeed, what’s going to happen with all the arms in the region? Who will be the next targets?
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