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Linkages Between Development and Spread of Extremism: Insurgency in North – East

Linkages Between Development and Spread of Extremism: Insurgency in North – East


Table of Content







External Hand in NE problem

  1. China
  2. Pakistan
  3. Bangladesh

Current Special Political Arrangements

  1. Ministry of Development of North Eastern region
  2. AFSPA
  3. Inner Line Permit
  4. Scheduled Autonomous Areas

Current Situation


North eastern states, also known as Seven Sisters, are burdened by colonial legacy like rest of India. Since independence, there have been numerous secessionist movements and Indian state has repressed them every time. North east is as diverse as rest of India is but one distinguishing feature is that except state of Assam, other states have dominantly Tribal populations. There have been continuous immigration stream from the time of colonial rule, especially from Bengal. States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram were deliberately kept isolated by colonial government and only missionary activities were allowed. Actually this all started in early 19th century when Burmese King attacked and took area upto Assam under its rule. This was followed by 1st Anglo Burmese war in 1824-26 under which Assam and Manipur became part of British India for the first time. There were two more Anglo Burmese wars, one in 1854 and other in 1885. British started tea plantations in Assam, and here too kept it largely aloof from mainland Indians. After independence these areas became part of India and that time north east only consisted of Assam, which later was divided in states of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and North Eastern Frontier Agency, which later came to be known as Arunachal Pradesh. Tripura and Manipur became Centrally Administered Area and a union territory in 1949. Sikkim was not yet part of India until 1974 when it became a full-fledged state and was under Chogyal Dynasty.

This balkanization was due to bewildering diversity this area consists of. Worst is that this diversity is often at war with each other and this was there from pre-independence era. Claims over any area are not exclusive to any one tribe and are overlapping. This all results into a zero sum game. This is quite evident from the fact that, after giving autonomy and dividing states, still there is ethnic violence.

After independence, government adopted a quite accommodative stance and most of them became loyal citizens of India. But some disgruntled elements, which saw this as compromise with their autonomy picked up arms to fight the state. Although they were fighting against state but they often targeted civilians of different ethnicity to eliminate ‘outsider’ from their area. Unfortunately, now these groups got degenerated into numerous smaller one and they kill almost only civilians in guerilla attacks. These are, in this way different from Maoist, who mainly targets people associated with the state and only suspected informers and traitors are killed.

In short, surviving insurgent group doesn’t resemble those arising from popular resentment, but are like those groups who lost their aim long back and now running a private racket or gang to serve their own narrow ambitions.


Nagaland people form Naga National Council (NNC) declared independence in 1954 which followed armed response from Indian state. This followed negotiations which curtailed into separate statehood in 1963. By this time Indian forces had unleashed disproportionate force on nagas and this caused resentment which revived voice of separatism. Finally peace accord in 1975 Shillong Agreement was signed and top naga leaders joined civilian politics. Still some people refused to give up and formed National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Nagas have some populations and claims in surrounding areas of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. They claim this area to be greater Nagaland. This new group also drew cadres from these areas. Overtime, many factions developed in this group as nagas again have diversity within them. Main death toll they create is of other ethnicities living in so called greater Nagaland.

Government has engaged into talks with two main factions – NSCN (I&M) and NSCN (K). But factionism is big drag on positive developments as one’s claim is over others and no one wants to settle with less.


In late 1950, devastating famine arrived in Mizoram and state of Assam failed to provide timely relief. This resentment snowballed into violence which led to formation Mizo National Front (MNF) in 1966 which called for an independent Mizoram State. This led to armed struggle and in 1972 Mizoram Union Territory was carved out of Assam.

After this, gradually leaders of MNF defected to constitutional politics and movement became weaker and weaker. In 1986 Mizoram got status of state and MNF became the ruling party with its leader Lal Denga. Since then this party is popular choice and largely successful in improving quality of public services.


Ethnic indigenous population here is of ‘Meitei’ people. Nagas and Kukis are also present in states. State negotiations with nagas demarcating area in their favor led to backlash from Meitei people and they formed United National Liberation Front (UNFL) in 1964. After this there have been crackdowns on this group once it disappeared and the reemerged in name of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1978. Again it was repressed harshly to reemerge finally in its original UNLF avatar. Since then this group has been killing few people every year. In 2010 its leader was arrested on Nepal Border and from then on this group is in dormancy.


British had separate policies for two parts of Assam. For Uplands it maintained policy of relative isolation and here population was ethnic Assamese, they classified this as tribal area. In contrast, Low lands were largely Hindi speaking; this was non-tribal area and was fully exploited by British. In these areas their bureaucracy relied completely on Bengali immigrants. For labor there were migrants which were Bengalis, Biharis, and Non Bengali Muslims. After independence there was continuous stream of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This overtime gave Assamese population a diverse character like any other big cities of India.

First time violence spiraled in 1970’s when it appeared that illegal migrants have entered into electoral rolls and Native parties will from now on loose elections. This led to creation of United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and some other similar groups. Then this followed counter insurgency and finally Assam accord was reached in 1985 between different parties and government. ULFA kept out of this accord.

But this time there emerged nexus between ruling party and ULFA which alienated migrants. Ruling party was not accommodative of migrants and they treated illegal and legal migrants alike. This caused counter mobilization of another Assamese Ethnic group, Bodos. They formed All Bodo Student Union and escalated violence against ethnic Assamese people. They also raised demand for separate state Bodoland. This demand could not be met because no ethnic group is in outright majority in a particular area. Later in negotiations government offered a Bodo Territorial Council, but his was rejected by Bodos.

Bodos have largely maintained peace from long, but ULFA got divided into factions and it recently unleashed deadly attack on Adivasis killing 70 of them.


Again, local people here became minority due to migration from Bengal. In 1978, Tripura National Volunteers was formed and began attacking other ethnic groups. Here too, this group was brought down by state response and in 1991 National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) began attacks. Since then here violence has been factionalized and there’s reprieve from last few years.

Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya
are largely peaceful states and communal mobilization is largely limited to politics in these states.

Counter Insurgency Doctrine

Counter insurgency doctrine is policy adopted by armed forces in dealing with different combat situations. It may be formal or otherwise undeclared practice. Indian Armed forces, at the time of Independence had good experience of combating counterinsurgency that arose time and again against British. Further, many of them had valuable experience of 2 world wars and other expansionist drives of British.

However, methods adopted by British were quite brutal. On any rebellion by a group from particular community, they used to retaliate from whole community. They used to burn entire villages from which insurgents belonged and they used to fire indiscriminately from airplanes over whole areas. This was due to non-affection as they were ruling a foreign land.

Now in new democratic setup, visionary Nehru decided that counterinsurgency shall be focused at winning ‘hearts and minds’ of the people and not to punish them. In other words, rebels were now to be won over rather than to be defeated. This concept was very challenging for armed forces and they attributed many failures to this. But in longer term, Indian democracy has been largely able to win over once dissenting people.

For this counterinsurgency policy developed was to regrouping many villages to a single village so that they could be better guarded by armed forces. Further, most crucial thing was to isolate rebels from normal population so as to block their supplies and further recruitments. This was complimented by regular search and comb operations in the villages.

It was seen that Indian Forces had a conventional warfare hangover even in this guerilla warfare. They liked to fight in large numbers even when it was risky to be detected easily in jungles. This resulted in to some big losses for Army. Overtime with repetitive setbacks army adapted to essentials of guerrilla warfare to some extent. One of the techniques was that of Small Units, in which team of 5-6 members penetrated forests and used to attack rebels. This type of strategies comes under Sub Conventional or unconventional warfare. For this Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School is there in Manipur to train soldiers in Guerilla warfare. Motto of the school is ‘Fight Guerilla like a Guerilla’.

External Hand in NE problem


After, 1962 indo-china war, China became quite hostile to India in all the matters. This directly meant that it accommodated all Anti India elements. It also gave them moral, material and monetary support. Naga National Council fighter travelled all the way to Yunnan Province of China to get guerilla training there. That time India allied with Myanmar and this cooperation blocked movement on Nagas until 1980 when Junta dictatorship came in power in Myanmar. With this it tilted heavily towards China and they both allowed their territories to be used against India.

It was only after Chinese economic reforms, China’s outlook changed. From active hostile it became passively hostile and finally now it remains Neutral.


Normal impression is that Pakistan couldn’t have much to do with NE insurgencies, while truth is that like Kashmir Issue, NE problem is aggravated due to its active involvement when Bangladesh was not yet an independent country.

One IDSA paper suggests that – Zulfikar Ali Bhutto expressed that Pakistan, like Kashmir, also have claims on some districts of Assam. His claim was on back of ‘growing’ Muslim population in Assam. It is said that it was his policy to push as many as possible Muslims illegally into Assam and then to claim/annex entire state. Pakistan open heartedly hosted Indian Rebels, mainly Nagas and Mizos. Pakistan went to the extent of seeking International support for naga cause by sending their leader to London with its diplomats. Similar support was provided to Mizos leader Lal Denga.

Even after liberation of Bangladesh, these leaders travelled mainland Pakistan and made connections of supplies through Rangoon, Myanmar. Later ISI became supporter of these outfits and it synergized its own terror outfits. There are a number of Islamic terror outfits operating in Assam which have their roots in Pakistan or Bangladesh for E.g. Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam.


After Liberation of Bangladesh, Government under Sheikh Mujibur Rehman remained cordial with India. But, soon he was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists and Bangladesh was taken over by Pakistan type mentality. They again revived Anti India and Anti Hindu rhetoric and embraced terrorism.

After this again active support and allowing Indian rebels to build base in Bangladesh started. All this happened under nose of Bangladesh government and ISI was an active party. Further typical anti India terror outfits came to existence under Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

It has been well known that Bangladesh has been used by rebels for quite long. Bangladesh has big network of Small Arms supply. In one famous raid in Cox Bazar area they were seized in huge quantity. But Awami League government headed by Sheikh Hasina is keen to have friendly relations with India and also has Secular Character. In 2008 this party came to power and since then it has refrained from allowing any anti India activity from its soil.

But illegal migration and cross border smuggling stills continues.

Similarly Myanmar has allowed bases in past for rebels, but now due to political reforms it has pulled the plug. Further, Bhutan has supportively dismantled almost all Anti India elements on its soil.

Nepal In past has acted meeting ground of extremism emerging from Pakistan and that from North east. Again in recent past, Indo Nepal Cooperation has improved resulting in many wanted criminals being caught.

But the problem remains is of Small Arms Corridor which stretches from south east Asia to frontiers of India through Thailand.

Current Political Arrangements

Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDONER)

The Ministry is responsible for the matters relating to the planning, execution and monitoring of development schemes and projects in the North Eastern Region. Its vision is to accelerate the pace of socio-economic development of the Region so that it may enjoy growth parity with the rest of the country.


Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)

This act is imposed in areas under internal rebellion, insurgency or militancy. First time it came in 1948 for unified Assam and was modelled on the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942, promulgated by the British on August 15, 1942 to suppress the ‘Quit India’ movement. As the title itself indicates, ‘special powers’ were bestowed on ‘certain officers’ of the armed forces to deal with an ’emergency’. These special powers allow use of force by Armed forces with complete impunity. Since then it is there in whole of Assam, Nagaland, most of Manipur, and some areas of Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.

Apart from this, similar act was brought at time of Punjab Insurgency in 1983 which was repealed when conditions normalized. Also, it is in place in J&K since 1990.

This act has been challenged in Supreme Court for it impinges constitutional fundamental rights of Article 19 and 21. But SC upheld this act as constitutional. Further, Jeevan Reddy committee was constituted to comment on AFSPA. It included one retired army chief and they unanimously recommended that AFSAPA be repealed in north east as violence has ceased substantially and be replaced by laws such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) as in rest of India.

Unfortunately, it fell on deaf years and it appeared that Armed forces have developed their own ambitions of power in these areas. They don’t want to let power in their hand go. This is main apprehension in maintaining balance in civil and military rule. If army is given work for maintaining law and order in addition to its basic and original work of defense, then this expansionist greed is generally observed. This has been seen in other countries where armies went to the extent of overthrowing civilian governments.

For this act to become effective area is to be declared as ‘Disturbed Area’. This can be done either by center or by state. (Read more here)

Inner Line Permit (ILP)

To maintain original identity of indigenous people of Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh entry of outsiders are not allowed without ILP. This system is in place since 1873, from the time of British rule. There are numerous other restrictions like on acquisition of property in the state by outsiders and trade in Minor forest and many other endemic things to outside the state.

It is agreed by observers that IPL system has failed to deliver its objectives and in all three states there has been regular illegal immigration.

Scheduled Autonomous Areas

Article 244 (1) provides that – Provisions of 5th schedule shall apply to the admin. or control of schedule areas and scheduled tribes, in states other than – Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Subject to legislation of parliament, power to declare any area as schedule area is given to President. Through this power President made ‘schedule areas order act, 1950’

In pursuance of this power

Article 244 (2) provides that – Provisions of 6th schedule shall apply to the admin. or control of schedule areas, in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Under this Autonomous Districts Councils are created which enjoy Legislative and Administrative independence in Matters such as management of forests, inheritance of property, marriage and social customs or other matters as may be conferred by governor.

Following Autonomous districts are there –

  1. Assam – North Cachar HILL District, Karbi Anglong District, The Bodoland Territorial Areas District
  2. Meghalaya – Khasi Hill District, Jaintia Hills District, Garo Hill District
  3. Tripura – Tripura Tribal Area District
  4. Mizoram – Chakma District, Mara District, The Lai District

Article 244A provides thatParliament may by law, form within the state of ‘Assam’ – an ‘autonomous state’ – comprising all or any of tribal areas (specified in part 1 of some table in 6th schedule) and create.

  1. A body – (where members are 1. elected or 2. Partly nominated and Partly elected) is allowed to function as legislature for that particular autonomous state/area


  2. A council of Minister – with such powers and functions as may be specified in law.

Such law will specify matters under jurisdiction of Autonomous State from state or concurrent list, Extent of executive power, taxation power and distribution of state taxes etc.

Other points are –

  1. Nagaland has been accorded special status under constitutional law. Article 371 (A) states that no Act of Parliament in respect of religious or social practices of the Nagas, Naga customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice and ownership and transfer of land and resources will apply to Nagaland unless passed by the State Assembly.
  2. Another structural change that is being envisioned through the ‘Look East’ policy (or act east policy) is economic development and trade routes to South East Asia via land and sea to bring about prosperity to the Northeastern states.


Current Situation

State response has effectively curbed violence in North-east. Whatever leftover violence is there is against ethnic groups. To eliminate violence completely is still a challenge. Current situation suggests authority of Indian government can’t be undermined their by these groups. But worrying trend is that these groups have created there aims other than original ones and these are more sinister. They enjoy give and take relationship with political parties and help them carrying out their illicit works. In return they get right to operate within limits with impunity. They run extortion rackets and all types of other illegal trades.

This results into dismal law and order situation in these areas. It is this absence of rule of law that these groups are still operating. Now counter strategy in general insurgencies are two pronged one is general development to dismantle ideological critique of state, second is curtailment of physical force by armed response. But in this case along with these two factors, is the third imperative and that is improving rule of law. If their local police and judicial system is strong, then members of these groups will soon be brought to justice, which will instill confidence in natives.

Chances of political settlement are bleak because of kind of diversity it holds. Any autonomy to one group will alienate others.