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Merapani looks at conflict-free life

- Disputed zone on Assam-Nagaland border mulls role of MPs ahead of polls

Merapani, a small town under Kaliabor Lok Sabha constituency in Assam and placed eyeball-to-eyeball with Nagaland, has often grabbed headlines for issues related to inter-state boundary dispute — be it the abduction of farmers by miscreants from the neighbouring state or attempts by taxi owners of Nagaland to set up a stand here.

A majority of the people in the town, located 25km from the district headquarters of Golaghat, expressed the wish to move on and the anguish that neither the Centre nor the state government has done anything to resolve the dispute.

“What is the use of having MPs and MLAs who do not find time to stand by their people when they need them the most? We don’t want to get bogged down by the dispute,” said Chitran Panging, a farmer, when asked about the intensified campaigning in the area for the April 7 Lok Sabha polls.

All parties today ended campaigning in Merapani, which has around 40,000 voters. Nagaland will have a one-day poll on April 9 for its lone parliamentary seat.

Of late, tension has ebbed in the border area and people from both sides are mingling freely.

The Merapani market is mainly dependent on people coming from Wokha district of Nagaland.

Babul Saikia, a teacher, said they have been witnessing inter-state disputes since birth, yet no solution has been arrived at so far. “Images of the June 1985 carnage still haunts me. People are tired of the decades-long dispute between the two states and wish that our representative would raise his voice in Parliament to find a way out.”

For administrative convenience, the Assam-Nagaland border area has been divided into six sectors — A, B, C, D, E and F — spread over the districts of Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong. Merapani falls under Sector D. Golaghat, Jorhat and Sivasagar districts share a 380km boundary with Nagaland.

Recently, as part of efforts to foster neighbourly relations, Doyang The Sunshine, an NGO formed by some youths here, organised a cultural meet in which people from both sides of the boundary participated.

“We want to impress upon the world that Merapani is not always in the news for border disputes but is also the place where the best farming in the district is done,” said Hiranya Gogoi, an organiser of the event.

Trader Mukul Saikia said sometimes petty misunderstandings among residents of the border area were unnecessarily given too much coverage, adding to the problem.

Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio, while campaigning for the AGP’s Kaliabor Lok Sabha constituency candidate Arun Sarma on Thursday, said the bitter fruit of anomalies in demarcation during the creation of Nagaland was still being borne by the people of the two states. Merapani is now branded as a disputed area.

Rio appealed to the people to cultivate brotherly relations and work hand-in-hand to establish peace.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Markandey Katju and T.S. Thakur, had directed on August 20, 2010, that the Assam-Nagaland boundary dispute be resolved through mediation.

Accordingly, they had appointed Sriram Panchoo, a senior advocate of Madras High Court, and Niranjan Bhat, a senior advocate of Gujarat High Court, as mediators.

“Since the matter is under the consideration of the Supreme Court, we are hoping for a positive outcome, which will end the differences once and for all,” said Porag Rajbongshi, a student leader of Merapani.

He said people living along the border do not harbour enmity against each other. Rather, they mingle freely without any apprehension. It is the state governments that keep the boundary issue alive.