Updated: August 19, 2021 9:03:56 am
Independence Day saw a breakdown of law and order in Shillong and its adjoining regions. Some people attacked police after a former ultra, Cherishterfield Thangkhiew, died on August 13 following an encounter. Thangkhiew, associated with the HNLC, an insurgent group banned in 1991, had surrendered in 2018 and was leading a “retired” life when police shot him, allegedly when he attacked his pursuers. Though HNLC is hardly a force now, the police believe that the outfit, and Thangkhiew, were linked to recent low intensity blasts in Meghalaya. Given that the HNLC and its politics of ethnic separatism has few takers in Meghalaya, Thangkhiew’s death may have provided a trigger for anger against Conrad Sangma’s administration — be it on account of its Covid mismanagement, or failure to end coal mining.
The Shillong violence is a wake-up call. It comes three weeks after six policemen were killed on the Assam-Mizoram border — a fresh incident of firing was reported on Tuesday. In Nagaland, anxiety is building up over the failure to conclude the peace deal apart from slip-ups in Covid management. The Northeast has a long history of governance failures widening fault lines and leading to divisive ethnic mobilisations and violence. The past two decades, however, have been relatively peaceful. The Centre negotiated peace deals or ceasefire agreements with insurgent groups and state governments started to consolidate the tenuous peace and undertake major development projects, including roads, bridges and electrification. Now, a shadow is forming over this narrative of hope. The administration has been swift and successful in containing the violence, but these localised events do point to insecurities on the ground. The government needs to recognise, and be sensitive to, the numerous fault lines that shape ethnic, regional and political relations in the region.
The NDA government has been proactive in undertaking development projects in the Northeast — since 2014, the outlook has shifted from Look East, a 1990s’ formulation of the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, to Act East. It helped the BJP expand its electoral footprint in the region. While the BJP’s political outreach through the North-East Democratic Alliance has been successful, its exclusivist agenda has given a new life to the politics of polarisation. For instance, the promotion of the CAA-NRC resulted in mass mobilisations that seemed like a throwback to the days of the Assam agitation. In the best interest of the region, governments need to eschew the emphasis on singular identities and promote a politics of inclusion. That’s the warning from Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, and now Meghalaya.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 19, 2021 under the title ‘Northeast warning’.
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