Dima Hasao district of Assam, bordering Nagaland, has been on edge over the last one week amid a sustained agitation — which led to two deaths in police firing Thursday — sparked by an interview in a digital news portal in which a purported RSS member suggested providing Rs 500 crore to the district as part of the upcoming permanent solution to the ongoing peace talks with NSCN(IM).
The interview, published in The Wire on January 19, quoted one Jagdamba Mal, whom it referred to as an RSS leader, as suggesting “separate development authorities” for 10 Naga-inhabited districts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, which would be given an one-time grant of Rs 500 crore. This led to the agitation by various groups that interpreted the “development authority” as one step towards inclusion of the district with “Greater Nagalim” in the future.
As Dima Hasao district observed two bandhs over the week, including one of 48 hours starting Saturday, the RSS said Mal was not one of its members, Mal himself denied being part of the RSS, and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal issued a statement assuring Assam’s geographical integrity would not be compromised. Agitating groups in the district as well as the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), however, have demanded a statement from the Centre.
After the interview, various groups including the All Dimasa Students’ Union, Jadikhe Naisho Hoshom and Dimasa Mothers’ Association took out protest rally and then called a bandh. Besides a statement from the central and state governments, they demanded an apology from Mal, registered an FIR in Haflong and demanded his arrest.
Some protesters tried to set on fire the RSS office at district headquarters Haflong Monday. The firing that killed two persons took place in Maibang, 50 km from Haflong, after a mob set the railway station there on fire and also removed railway tracks on the Lumding-Silchar hill section Thursday.
In the statement he issued that day, CM Sonowal said: “The people in any part of the state [Assam] should not worry about the proposed Nagalim, and people in Dima Hasao should not have any apprehension regarding this matter,” he said.
For the RSS, Sankar Das, its senior spokesman in Assam said: “Jagdamba Mal is not associated with the RSS,”
When contacted, Jagdamba Mal said he had indeed made some suggestions to settle the Naga issue, “but whatever I had shared with the reporter was blown totally out of proportion and out of context”. He insisted he was not a RSS member. “First and foremost, I must clarify that I am not a RSS member. Yes, I had spent over 40 years in Nagaland as an employee in the Accountant-General’s office, when I was also engaged in social work during my spare time there,” he said.
“I had indeed drawn up a list of suggestions for a proposed solution to the Naga issue, which included a one-time grant of Rs 500 crore for 10 districts including Dima Hasao of Assam, and formation of a development authority to ensure proper utilisation of that amount over a given period of time. But then that was entirely my personal opinion and has nothing to do with the government or the RSS. It is also a fact that I had shared this idea with a journalist who totally misinterpreted it, leading to such serious problems including the death of two innocent persons,” Mal told The Indian Express over the telephone.
The weekend bandh crippled life in the hill district, shutting down shops and establishments, while railway movement on the Lumding-Silchar-Agartala sector has not resumed yet. In Maibang, indefinite curfew was relaxed for a few hours Sunday, during which a prayer meeting was held.
In Guwahati, the AASU criticised the Centre for failing to allay fears in Assam. “While the NSCN(IM) has been repeatedly demanding inclusion of parts of Assam, the Government of India has failed to make a categorical statement on safeguarding Assam’s interests. Irresponsible statements made by people like Jagdamba Mal on the other hand has taken two valuable lives,” said AASU chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya.
The prospect of inclusion in NSCN(IM)’s “Greater Nagalim” has caused unrest in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh in the last several years. In 2001, agitators in Imphal had set the Manipur Legislative Assembly on fire when the Centre announced a ceasefire with the NSCN(IM) that was not confined only to Nagaland but extended to the neighbouring states too. Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have witnessed a series of protests over a map the NSCN(IM) had circulated covering large areas of the three states.