Homeland Security

Northeast: the future prospects
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Issue Book Excerpt: Lost Opportunities | Date : 09 Mar , 2011

It is always difficult to predict the future course of events. Nonetheless, there are some trends that are discernible. One such is the illegal immigration from Bangladesh, which will continue to be the major concern. AASU has once again begun to highlight the failure of both the central and state governments to check infiltration.

The judgement of the Supreme Court of India, which has held that IMDT Act – 1983 as ultra vires of the constitution, is a shot in the arm for those who have been demanding its repeal. But how this verdict is implemented on ground is still to be seen.

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Political parties in order to protect their vote bank have already started to find ways to subvert the verdict.

Illegal Immigration

Despite the partial fencing of the 4,096 km long and porous India-Bangladesh border, illegal infiltration continues. Unlike in the East, the Punjab border is fully fenced and lighted. The inter-post distance in Punjab is two km and each post has a minimum strength of two platoons. In West Bengal, Assam and Tripura the inter post distance is anything from seven to nine km and each post has only one platoon. There are a number of villages located right on the border and some even beyond the fence.

The ethnic insurgencies are being slowly replaced or overtaken by Islamic militancy. The killings by ULFA of non-Assamese, mostly Biharis, in the last two months of the year 2000, points to a pattern; providing working space for Bangladeshi Muslims by replacing Biharis

The area in front is left wide open for the villagers and infiltrators to pass through. In Assam the construction of the fence was entrusted to the state PWD in the nineties. The then Chief Minister, who had won the elections on the immigrant vote, diverted the funds for the fence for other works, which delayed the construction of the fence for years.1

The continuance of infiltration will create social tension and conflict on a much larger scale than experienced before. One recent example will suffice. On April 24, 2005, members of a small club in Dibrugarh called Chiring-Chapori Yuva Manch (Chiring-Chapori is the name of an area in Upper Assam) distributed pamphlets to residents, urging them not to employ Bangladeshi migrants. It soon spread like a wild fire and turned into a campaign.

Picking up from where Dibrugarh club left, local units of AASU in Tinsukia, Sibsagar, Golaghat and Jorhat issued statements asking Bangladeshis who came after 1971 to voluntarily leave; the result, over 5,000 that did not belong to these districts left. For Gogoi, the Chief Minister, all who left were Indian citizen. One doesn’t require much foresight to see the contours of the emerging social conflict.

Islamic Fundamentalism

In the recent years, there has been a disturbing growth of Islamic militancy in the North-east. The phenomenon has gained ground after the American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. The juxtaposition of illegal Bangladeshi immigration that now consists mainly of Muslims, and the rising Islamic militancy is an emerging phenomenon, which has frightening consequences for India. North-east is profoundly affected by the events and trends in Bangladesh. According to Bertil Linter: “A revolution is taking place in Bangladesh that threatens trouble for the region and beyond if left unchallenged.

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Islamic fundamentalism, religious intolerance, militant groups with links to international terrorist groups, a powerful military with ties with militants, mushrooming of Islamic schools churning out radical students, middle class apathy, poverty and lawlessness, all are combining to transform the nation.”2 The world was put on warning when Islamic fundamentalists exploded bombs in 63 different towns and districts of Bangladesh almost simultaneously on August 16, 2005 killing two and injuring 138. The banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen with links to al Qaeda is suspected to be behind the explosions. The scale and coordination of the explosions have raised a number of questions for India’s North-east.

The army has been warning that the Naga rebels are using the cease-fire for consolidating their position. In many parts of Nagaland and Manipur, the insurgents run a parallel government and have levied household taxes.

The ethnic insurgencies are being slowly replaced or overtaken by Islamic militancy. The killings by ULFA of non-Assamese, mostly Biharis, in the last two months of the year 2000, points to a pattern; providing working space for Bangladeshi Muslims by replacing Biharis and other non-skilled workers from Orissa, West Bengal and Nepal.

Rise of Terrorism

The nature of insurgency has undergone profound changes in the past two decades. The romance of operating from jungle hideouts as revolutionaries no longer attracts the new generation of recruits. Insurgencies in the North-east are increasingly criminalised and terror has become the main weapon of the insurgents. Gone are the days when political mobilisation and guerrilla warfare defined the early insurgencies in Nagaland and Mizoram.

In future, attacks on innocent civilians, explosions in trains and public transport, kidnapping for ransom and use of mines and IED will increase. The easy availability of arms and explosives will further facilitate this trend.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig (Dr) SP Sinha

Brigadier (Dr) SP Sinha, VSM (Retd)

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