The murder of 11 persons, including a National People’s Party MLA in the outgoing Arunachal Pradesh legislative assembly, his son and security guard, by suspected Naga militants on Tuesday is a challenge to the government’s efforts to end militancy in the Northeast. Tirong Aboh was on his way to Khonsa, the headquarters of Tirap district, when he was ambushed by militants suspected to be from the NSCN (I-M). Aboh, reportedly, had been speaking out against the NSCN (I-M), the Naga insurgent group engaged in peace talks with the Centre, for threatening his supporters during the recent election campaign. Whatever be the motive, and whoever be the culprit, the government should send out a strong message that it will not let anyone take the law in their hands.
The incident comes a month after the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was partially lifted from Arunachal Pradesh, 32 years after the law was first introduced in the state. However, it continues to be in force in Tirap, which borders Assam and Myanmar. Militant groups, among them various NSCN factions and the ULFA, have a presence in Tirap district because of its terrain and proximity to the international border. These have come under pressure after the Myanmar military began to target their camps, forcing them to relocate to India and even surrender to the armed forces. Naga civil society groups in India have raised the concern that the military action in Myanmar is no longer limited to militant groups but extended to the indigenous Naga population as well. The Naga insurgency has a transnational imagination and conceives of Naga populations outside Nagaland, including in Myanmar, as part of the Naga homeland of Nagalim or Greater Nagaland. Groups like the NSCN claim to speak for all Nagas, a claim fiercely contested by dominant ethnicities in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The demand for Nagalim, which will need a redrawing of the existing state boundaries, is a major stumbling block as the Centre and the NSCN (I-M) work towards a final peace accord.
The new Arunachal Pradesh government — the assembly election results will be out today — should see Tuesday’s incident as a warning: It needs to step up the vigil against militancy. It calls for a co-ordinated effort involving the various state administrations, armed forces and the Centre. A clean and effective administration can help ensure that militancy has no ground to stand on.