Seeking to build on its striking rise in the Northeast, one of the main themes the BJP has been stressing in its poll campaigns in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland is the fall in militancy and relative peace in the region since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014.
During their trips to the three states, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Minister of Development of North Eastern Region G Kishan Reddy and BJP president J P Nadda, all talked of the Centre’s track record in curbing insurgency in states ravaged by armed conflicts over the years. On Tuesday, addressing a rally in Nagaland, Shah said there had been a 70% dip in violent incidents under the BJP rule in the region.
For one, this is not the usual poll hyperbole.
Take Meghalaya. In 2014, the state recorded 179 insurgency incidents, with deaths of 24 civilians and six members of the security forces, apart from 110 kidnappings, according to a report prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs. In contrast, in 2021, the state saw two incidents, with no civilian deaths or kidnappings recorded.
Nagaland, which continues to be relatively restive, registered 77 incidents in 2014, including the death of one civilian and 65 kidnappings. A year later, there were nine deaths each of civilians and security force personnel, while the number of kidnappings and incidents were up to 78 and 102, respectively.
In 2020 and 2021, however, no civilian or security personnel was recorded as having fallen to the bullets of insurgents. The number of incidents were 23 and 47 respectively, while there were 33 and 54 kidnappings each. This excludes the deaths of six civilians, and seven more who died in ensuing violence, in a botched Army operation in the state’s Mon district in 2021.
Tripura is an exception as insurgency has been waning here since 2009, when the Congress-led UPA returned to power at the Centre, and the Left Front was still the dominant force in the state. The state shares a nearly 840-km-long international boundary with Bangladesh, which once served as a safe haven for insurgents.
In 2009, the state saw 19 incidents of insurgency and deaths of eight civilians, itself a huge fall from an alarming 826 in 2000, when 360 people were gunned down. By 2014, the number of incidents had further fallen to eight, with the death of one civilian.
In 2018, the BJP ended the Left Front’s uninterrupted 25-year-rule and formed a government for the first time in the state. By 2021, the cases of insurgency in Tripura were down to one, seeing the death of two BSF jawans, with the number of kidnappings 0, from 558 registered at the turn of the millennium.
By all estimates, the shrinking map of the region under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), enacted in 1958 to give the security forces far-reaching powers of arrest and detention, also reflects the gains made over the years in tackling the insurgency in the region. In total, there are 16 insurgent groups in the Northeast which are declared “unlawful associations” or “terrorist organisations” under the UAPA Act, 1967.
AFSPA was lifted from Tripura in 2015, 18 years after it was imposed. In 2018, it was entirely removed from Meghalaya as well. While the Act remains enforced in nine districts of Nagaland in entirety and areas under 16 police stations in four other districts, Shah promised at his Tuesday rally that AFSPA would be gone from Nagaland in three-four years.
However, the road ahead in Nagaland is uphill, with the Naga peace process hanging fire. The NSCN (I-M) which has been in a ceasefire with the Centre since 1997 signed a framework agreement with it in 2015 for a peace accord, but this had angered other groups that operate under the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) umbrella. The demand for a separate flag and constitution have further stalled progress.
Unresolved border disputes among states, particularly Meghalaya and Assam, also remain a challenge. These have often resulted in flare-ups, including as recently as November 2022, when six people died in the area bordering Assam’s West Karbi Anglong and Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills after the Assam Police opened fire allegedly in self-defence.
The BJP, which is in power in all the states of the Northeast in one form or the other, is hoping to return in Tripura despite the tough challenge from the Left Front-Congress coalition.
In Nagaland, the BJP is contesting 20 out of the 60 seats in a repeat of its seat-sharing arrangement with its partner Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). In Meghalaya, the BJP bagged two seats in 2018 but made it to the ruling coalition led by the National People’s Party (NPP), and is now hoping to corner more constituencies.