Sunday, March 20, 2011

Two birds of one kind (aka) What is cooking in Nagaland and Assam?

Nagaland: While historically there had always been turf war between the various factions that are fighting on behalf of the Naga "national" cause, something serious is brewing in Nagaland, Arunachal and Burma now.

While I have said this before, the Nagas (in addition to Nagaland) are numerically dominant in the four Hill districts of Manipur (Chandel, Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong), Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal, the North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam, and in some areas of the Kachin state and the Sagaing division in Burma. This expanse is what is loosely defined as the notion of Nagalim. However, there exists significant divisions between the different regions as regards tribal affiliations despite the fact that "Naga" is a broad brush with which the British and then themselves, and later GoI painted them. These dichotomies in turn mean that there is much cause for consternation and divide in terms of who is the legitimate representative of the "Nagas." While the Naga National Council (NNC) -- the initial body of Naga affiliates -- had been dominated by the Angamis, the Chakhesangs and the Semas, the signing of the Shillong Accord in 1975 forced out a grouping under Thuingaleng Muivah, Isaac Swi Chwu, Khole Konyak and SS Khaplang. This grouping further splintered into the NSCN(IM) dominated by the Tangkhul Nagas and the NSCN(K) dominated by the Konyak Nagas. This is a pure tribal ethnography-based power tussle and has little to do with ideology, except perhaps if money and power are ideologies.

The natural turf of these tribes and their respective affiliates means that NSCN(IM) dominates the West Nagaland-Manipur Hill districts tract whereas NSCN(K) dominates East Nagaland (especially the districts of Tuensang, Mon, Kiphire and Longleng), the districts in Arunachal and the Burmese terrain. In either territory, the dominating group provides sanctuary to other terrorist outfits. For example, NSCN(K) helps the ULFA, UNLF and other outfits regroup in Burma. As legitimate States see territory as taxable terrains, terrorist outfits see territory as extortionable terrains. Thus, there has been a significant turf war between NSCN(IM) and NSCN(K) for lebensraum which will indirectly seed their claims to be the only spokesperson for the Naga cause.

As of now, there seem to be three factions on the two sides of the fight: NSCN(IM) vs. the mother organization of NNC and NSCN(K). In Sept. 2009, aided by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (a Quaker-led initiative), the three groups had come together to sign an agreement towards a reconciliation process. However, in a short while skirmishes between NSCN(IM) and NSCN(K) started getting reported from Burma. Nevertheless, the peace process between the GoI and NSCN(IM) kept continuing with the back-and-forth on Nagalim/sovereignty culminating in the Swu-Muivah duo using an Indian passport to arrive in Delhi for the peace process. Meanwhile, NSCN(K) started floating an organization called ENPO (Eastern Nagaland People's Organization) by claiming that NSCN(IM) has started dissociating territories in Burma with a Naga majority from the peace process with GoI. (Note that Eastern Nagaland has always been a short-form for territories in Burma with a substantial Naga presence along with what is really East Nagaland.) To put down the genuine "left out" feelings in East Nagaland, the Government of Nagaland has been accommodating a 25% reservation for these people, albeit not in governmental jobs. Despite these measures, offshoot groups such as Zeliangrong United Front representing Zeliangrong Nagas started rising.

What is getting heady is the recent killing of the NSCN(K) "commander" in Tirap and Changlang -- Lt Col Khonwang alias Chipu Menon alias Thomas. The NSCN(IM)’s push into East Nagaland and Arunachal, originally the stronghold of the NSCN(K), seems like an attempt to restrict the other group to Myanmar and undermine SS Khaplang’s authority. The Cabinet Committee on Security has asked the Assam Rifles to move into Arunachal thereby preventing a full-scale turf war. Further, the Mon district administration has deployed the India Reserve Battalion (IRB) personnel and police in all sensitive areas to thwart any untoward incident. But if indications are anything to go by, this summer is going to get a-hot in Nagaland. Further, if the NSCN(IM) continues to marginalize the other groups, the peace process could be derailed completely. In some sense, any reconciliation between the various Naga groups is bad for GoI as it is easier to fight a divided crowd. But with a complete lack of knowledge on what the GoI thinks and executes, we can only guess at what is going on with full knowledge and what is going without any control.
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Assam: There is much violence in Assam over the last month or so. On the one hand, there are peace talks between one faction of ULFA led by Arabinda Rajkhowa and GoI. The other faction of ULFA led by Poresh Borua is "remote-controlling" one set of blasts against Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and the INC party for successfully forcing Rajkhowa & co. to crash-land. This peace talks are supposedly honorable with even the Prime Minister and the Home Minister all attention for Rajkhowa & co.

And then, there are "peace talks" between one faction of the NDFB (with Ranjan Daimary in jail) and the GoI. From what it looks like, this set of peace talks is what would be called "open your mouth, force it in" types. There is no honor involved and the Bodos seem to be openly complaining of not getting the same treatment as Assamese. The recent bomb blasts targeting the BSF have been engineered by the anti-talks faction and is grossly meant as vengeance for the lack of honor in the parleys between Daimary & co. and GoI. Even the now-disbanded BLT and the Bodo Development Territorial Autonomous Council seems to be openly mouthing the "lack of honor" bit.

And finally, there is an election season underway in Assam. Thus there is unavoidable political violence between one camp of AIUDF led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal and the J-e-I (which has sided with the INC camp led by Minister, Rockybull Hussain). In fact, this is elite-Muslim politics in India played out in Assam. The Ajmal camp is in control by siding with the uncle camp (of the family fiefdom in J-e-I politics) over the removing of Maulana Vastanvi for praising Narendra Modi's functioning. On top of this, there is the AGP which wants to usurp power from the INC and is playing carrot and stick in different constituencies across Assam. AGP split up with BJP and is trying to stitch some post-election alliance with AIUDF. The increase in Muslim population (who now are around 30%) due to illegal immigration is creating many voices for the Muslim community, not all belonging to the nationalist stream of thought (quite a few belong to the pan-ummah club). The Barak Valley where the Muslim percentage has grown very high is a significant example of this behavior. Overall, the scene is set for another violent summer of a different kind.

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