Stop this deadly farce of ceasefire

The present round of clashes had already been going on for nearly a month, but it took the horrifying 17 October killing of nearly 40 innocent people for New Delhi to take notice and pull up the State government. Even then the latter did little beyond taking routine administrative steps like imposition of curfew and deployment of the army. By that time, according to official estimates, more than 1000 houses were burned down in 43 villages in Karbi Anglong district, and a total of 77 people had lost their lives with hundreds more maimed. While both the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) and the United People's Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) have engaged in arson and killings and both communities have suffered, mainly the Karbis are on the receiving end. Around 50,000 Karbi men, women and children have been crammed together in 49 refugee camps that are being maintained mainly by CPI (ML) cadres in the face of utter official apathy.

The scale of criminal callousness of the Indian state becomes all the more glaring when one remembers the backdrop to the recent bloodletting. This is the third such inter-tribal group clash in the region in 30 months since the April 2003 Dimasa-Hmar bloody conflict which was followed by Karbi-Kuki clashes, and yet, even after both the DHD and the UPDS openly declared war against each other in press conferences early this month, the State government remained a mute spectator. So did the joint monitoring group – comprising top officials from the State as well as central governments – that was set up precisely to keep a constant vigil and prevent such incidents.

But is it simply a case of failure on the part of the governments? Or is there a deliberate political design? The question arises because the armed outfits on collision course are not even semi-underground ones. Their leaders stay in known residences and meet ministers. Their armed cadres operate brick kilns and other businesses, move about in vehicles, go to banks and wherever they wish to and indulge in extortions with impunity, even though the ceasefire agreements stipulate that they must stay in the designated camps. They are allowed to move freely even during curfew hours, as the Assam governor saw for himself in a surprise visit to one of the camps very recently. This was a clear and impermissible violation of the ceasefire ground rules, he declared.

Not to allow such violation was and remains a necessity, but more is needed. There must be an immediate and thorough revision of the "ground rules", through democratic consultations, in the light of nearly four years of experience that is far from satisfactory. Only one designated camp should be allowed for each outfit (not more, as at present) and that too only in the core area for the concerned tribe, i.e., the area exclusively or densely populated by them. This will help reduce mutual antagonism and chances of confrontation; and also make monitoring easier.

However, these are but urgent interim measures to be adopted during ceasefire, which by definition can only be a short-term arrangement pending a real long-term solution. Ceasefire, when stretched indefinitely, only invites more fire. What the people of Karbi Anglong and NC Hills really need is a time-bound plan for the fulfillment of their democratic aspirations and political demands. And the best way to ensure that is to honour the national commitment given to them way back in 1969 in the shape of Article 244A of the constitution, i.e., to constitute an autonomous State within the State of Assam. But this, or any other political solution for that matter, is the last thing the rulers in Dispur and Delhi are prepared to concede. The ruling parties, having little foothold in the region, have been using the militant outfits from the very beginning for electoral gains and other political ends. They would continue to do so as long as they can. Worst of all, the State government has started raising the bogey of a 'red army' allegedly led by CPI (ML) leader and ex-MP Jayant Rongpi. This is a heinous attempt by a failed and discredited chief minister to pass off the blame to the party and the people's leader that have long symbolised the fraternal unity of Karbi, Dimasa and other tribes – a party and a leader that have been leading the mass movement for the attainment of their cherished aim of autonomous state in the most democratic, peaceful way. More, this is a nasty design to further destabilise the entire region to serve the vested interests. It is the bounden duty of all lovers of peace and democracy throughout the country to crush this conspiracy and stand by our bleeding brothers and sisters in this hour of man made crisis.