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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The conflict within

Assam-Mizoram violence points to failure of political leadership. Peace must be restored, and ways found to prevent breakdown.

By: Editorial |
Updated: July 28, 2021 8:11:02 am
Like many of the contentious issues in the Northeast, inter-state border tensions are also a legacy of colonial times when British commercial interests dictated map-making and state-building.

The flaring of violence on the Assam-Mizoram border Monday that left six police personnel dead is enormously disturbing. The incident took place two days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a closed-door meeting with chief ministers and chief secretaries of the Northeastern states, in which the inter-state boundary disputes, too, reportedly figured. The border is now quiet with CRPF personnel in charge, but the fallout is rippling in other spaces, including on social media with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma sharing videos of the violence and earlier, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga countering Sarma. Sarma, who is the most prominent face of the NDA in the Northeast, and his ally and Mizoram counterpart must know that congealed state boundary disputes are too sensitive and complex to be debated on social media in a polarised situation. The spectacle of two chief ministers of states that saw eruption of violence battling on Twitter was disquieting.

Like many of the contentious issues in the Northeast, inter-state border tensions are also a legacy of colonial times when British commercial interests dictated map-making and state-building. In the process, sensitivities of local communities regarding land were either ignored or suppressed. These faultlines were left unaddressed after Independence, when boundaries were redrawn and new states created. Political conversations that demonise migrants and “outsiders” shrink the space and scope for fluid borders and hyphenated identities that are essential for the region to realise its cultural and economic potential. The Northeastern states share a collective destiny and only by being sensitive to, and accommodative of, each other’s interests can the entire region prosper.

There have been confrontations over territory in the region in the past. For instance, at least 28 policemen were killed in clashes on the Assam-Nagaland border in June 1985. The NSCN’s demand for a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim that includes parts of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh has been a major roadblock in the resolution of the Naga issue. Manipur has had its share of inter-state disputes resulting in destructive economic blockades. The Assam-Mizoram border has been restive, particularly since last year, necessitating the deployment of para military forces. In this backdrop, it is the responsibility of the political leadership to exercise sobriety and restraint, refrain from muscular posturing. The immediate task, of course, is to restore calm. Security forces take the cue from the political leadership: Any signal that the forces will be allowed to ignore the law and due process to enforce their writ can have disturbing consequences. Both Assam and Mizoram have been through long years of insurgency and are now slowly rebuilding their economies. Their leaders must nurture the peace, put in place institutional mechanisms to prevent breakdowns, and negotiate a way out of long-standing disputes in a spirit of give and take.

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