Unity is now part of the vocabulary of terror in the Northeast. It was always difficult to map the insurgency there according to state boundaries. But three infamous insurgent outfits in Tripura, Manipur and Assam have now got together to launch a united offensive on their common enemy — the Indian state. This “coordinated regional military offensive”, named “Operation Freedom” by the coalition, seeks to liberate the region from what is perceived as “Indian colonial occupation”. Pooling funds, ammunition and expertise, Operation Freedom has threatened to launch a series of attacks on the “Indian Occupation Forces”, with the explicit intention of causing “heavy casualties and economic losses”. The United Liberated Front of Asom is an old hand at this game, having evolved a way of sustaining itself by alternating between threats, attacks and staged surrenders, all geared towards the replenishment of funds. The ULFA has now been joined by the Tripura People’s Democratic Front and a cluster of three outfits calling itself the Manipur People’s Liberation Front.
Attacks on civilians, army and paramilitary personnel, the Central reserve police force, trains and Oil India sites have already been stepped up, and the borders between these states, and between them and their neighbouring states like West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh, have to be guarded much more vigilantly. This is made more difficult by the forested areas and by the stretches of the border shared with Bangladesh and Myanmar, which limit the scope of counter-insurgency measures. The police, army, CRPF, Assam Rifles and the Railway Protection Force have all been alerted to this new initiative. But what has suffered most, and continues to do so, is civil society in these states and its institutions of everyday life, like schools and universities. The Centre and state governments talk of development and rehabilitation, together with impressive and abstract sums of money set aside for such “non-violent” means of countering insurgency and the resulting infrastructural collapse. But the cycles and networks of terror remain, a legacy of the initial and continuing lack of political will to make any real difference for these ravaged states.