India’s Northeast region has been afflicted with insurgency for the longest time in India’s post independence history. During the last five years, however, the region has seen a dip in violence levels, which augurs well for the future. In 2014, the region witnessed 245 civilian and 23 security forces personnel fatalities. This has reduced substantially now, with civilian fatalities dipping to single digits in the affected states. In Manipur, the state most affected by violence, there were only seven fatalities in 2018. Assam, which too has been troubled by violence for long, recorded eight civilian fatalities. Elsewhere in the region, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya recorded one and two fatalities respectively while there were nil civilian fatalities in Mizoram and Nagaland. This indeed is a heartening trend. The table shows the declining trend in violence levels (http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/ countries/india/database/fatalitiesnorteast2006.htm)
In Nagaland, despite very low levels of violence, the potential for the situation to once again flare up is high. The Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015, between the Government of India (GoI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland–Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) is one of the noticeable development after the NDA government came into power. However, despite the accord, the process has so far, failed to bring the concerned parties to an agreeable settlement. The details of the Agreement have not been placed in the public domain, but broadly, it does not seek a change in political boundaries of the states. The ‘Framework Agreement’ remains a work in progress and would now await the outcome of the 2019 General Elections to determine what the future will hold. There is a need to get the wider civil society in the state to become stakeholders in the peace process to avoid the state slipping back into insurgency. A final peace accord with a conclusive settlement is of the utmost importance, not only for the Nagaland people but also for the overall security environment in the region and in the country. The Naga insurgency is deemed to be the ‘Mother of all insurgencies’ in India and its resolution will go a long way in bringing peace and prosperity to the Northeast.
Assam and Manipur still remain causes of concern, but the steep drop in incidents of violence is a sign of astute political handling of the situation, after the Assembly elections saw a change in the ruling dispensation, with the BJP coming to power for the first time in both the states. The violence levels have dipped and are likely to continue to show a declining trend. Assam however, is still grappling with the problems of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and the recent updating of the National Register of Citizens, as mandated by the Supreme Court in 2013 — a process carried out under the Apex Courts supervision, will also have to be astutely handled, considering the implications of the large number of illegal migrants settled in the state. But the overall prognosis for Assam is positive.
Manipur remains a matter of concern governance has resulted in improving the security climate ever since the BJP led N. Biren Singh government took over power. The challenges are not just in the security domain, but encompass a wider political dimension, which is linked to the Naga Accord. The Naga factions are seeking the merger of the hill regions of Manipur, which are Naga dominated into their demand for Nagalim or Greater Nagaland. However, as the Centre has made it clear that the Framework Agreement does not envisage a change in boundaries, this should allay the fears of the Manipuri people. Militancy remains a problem with the various terrorist outfits finding easy refuge in Myanmar, but proper border management is yielding results and restricting the space for such groups to operate.
At the macro level, the Centre’s Act East Policy is now giving a huge developmental push to the region. Northeast India is pivotal to the Nation’s Act East Policy, providing an interface between the region and its ASEAN neighbours. The ASEAN-India Plan of Action for the period 2016-20, adopted in August 2015, identified concrete initiatives and areas of cooperation along the three pillars of political-security, economic and socio-cultural. In all these areas, the states of Northeast India play a vital role. With renewed efforts to revive civilisational links and people to people connectivity, the region is headed for a gigantic economic push, which is likely to yield a huge peace dividend. There is also convergence on strategic issues, which has led to closer cooperation in combating terrorism. This augurs well for the region as a whole and we should see a further decline of terrorism related incidents in 2019. Hopefully, the time is not far off when all the states of the region will have peace in full measure.
Ms Divya Rathore is an intern in India Foundation.