The BJP Gameplan in the North-East
The BJP has made sufficient inroads in the western, northern and central parts of India. Its ambition of becoming a truly all-India party and securing a majority on its own however continues to be frustrated by the party’s persistent weakness in the southern and north-eastern regions. Even in the southern states the BJP has recently managed to make some headway in Karnataka and also, through the alliance route, in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. But the North East has continued to prove inhospitable to the BJP. The BJP has just not been able to dislodge the Congress from the number one position in this region.
Disturbing Trend of Tribal Group Clashes in Assam
Assam has recently witnessed disturbing clashes between Hmar and Dimasa communities. While the Dimasas are the single largest tribal group in North Cachhar Hills, accounting for roughly one-third of the district’s total poulation, Hmars constitute a significant minority in the district. Comrade Jayanta Rongpi, member of CPI(ML) Central Committee and MP from Autonomous District constituency of Assam comprising the Hill Districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachhar Hills (NC Hills), visited the area in the NC Hills affected by the recent Dimasa-Hmar inter tribal group clashes during the first fortnight of April 2003. He had direct interaction with the people of both Dimasa and Hmar tribal communities during the period between 23 to 26 April 2003. Following is a summary of his fact-finding report.
The whole episode started with an incident in Dittokcherra area situated at the border between Cachhar and North Cachhar Hills districts of Assam, where 3 DHD cadres were allegedly kidnapped by a Hmar militant group (HPC-D) on 26 February 2003. The DHD, a militant outfit comprising mostly of Dimasa tribal youth reportedly had sent these 3 cadres to the area to establish a designated camp as per the ‘ceasefire agreement’ they have entered into with the Government of India.
The Joint Monitoring Group (JMG), set up to look after such complicated issues of ceasefire period, failed to sort out the issue of kidnapping of the three DHD cadres, even though its meeting was held in the first week of March under the chairmanship of Jt. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Other government agencies and authorities also could not provide any practical or satisfactory solution to the problem.
As a result, after waiting for a couple of weeks, the DHD took the matter in its own hands and armed DHD cadres in military fatigue launched a ‘search operation’ to trace their missing colleagues in suspected Hmar tribal villages. This led to a massive exodus of the Hmar people from those villages to the Mizoram-Manipur-Cachar border region where they are in substantial numbers. All sorts of rumours and stories of Hmar people being driven out from their homes got circulated. Then the retaliation came on 1 April 2003 when alleged HPC(D) armed cadres inhumanly butchered 29 innocent Dimasa tribal villagers belonging to Meghnathol and Chekarcham villages in the Mizoram-Cachar border area.
After the massacre of 1 April, everybody except probably the state authority knew that a big retaliation was in the offing in NC Hills where the Dimasas far outnumber the Hmars. And from 4 April onwards, Hmar tribal villages were burnt one after another and in a series of incidents 8 persons belonging to Hmar and Thado-Kuki tribe were brutally killed by mobs led by armed cadres wielding AK-series rifles allegedly belonging to the DHD. In the volatile situation of unprecedented mutual mistrust and hatred a few Dimasa and Kuki villages also had to bear the brunt of mob violence.
Almost a quarter of the population of NC Hills got displaced in this period. People belonging to both the communities fled to villages where their respective communities command the majority. These are not identified as refugee camps in the official ‘situation reports’ sent by the government agencies, which do not reflect the true magnitude of the tragedy.
At present, conditions of the refugee camps are pitiable. The tribal refugees are provided with food items they are not accustomed to eat and even those are of too inferior quality to be fit for human consumption. A number of infants and children have died in those camps due to lack of timely and adequate medical supervision. Although the Minister of State for Home Affairs, ID Swamy had declared a one-time grant of Rs 1 lakh to the families of those who lost their lives in the carnage, a meagre amount of Rs. 10,000 only has been made available to each family and that too only to the families of a particular community.
The Union Government must immediately implement the following measures to restore confidence in the minds of the affected people and facilitate their return to their villages and resumption of their normal lives:
(i) To establish temporary army pickets at Meghnathol and Chekaracham villages of Cachhar to prevent infiltration of militants from Manipur and Mizoram,
(ii) To stop discrimination in giving relief to the victims. Every displaced and dispossessed family irrespective of religion and language must be provided with one-time relief of Rs. 5 lakh along with employment to one member of familes that have suffered deaths.
(iii) To publish a white paper on the cause and aftermath of the Dimasa-Hmar clash in the district of North Cachhar Hills and Cachar districts of Assam.
The white paper should be able to answer the following unresolved issues:
(a) Why the JMG failed to respond timely and adequately to the issue of kidnapping of DHD cadres, because, it is this incident that triggered the whole tragedy,
(b) Why even after four months of signing the cease-fire agreement designated camps could not be set up leading to a situation wherein militants in military fatigue brandishing AK-56 rifles were found leading mob attacks against the rival tribe (as per the ground rules of ceasefire agreement, the militants are to keep weapons and wear uniforms inside designated camps only),
(c) Whether the government has as yet started the discussion on the substantial and core political demand of the DHD or it is merely buying time in the name of ceasefire agreement,
(d) Whether the steps taken by the concerned district authorities were adequate in the aftermath of the first massacre of 29 persons on 1 April 2003? Under what circumstances were the dead bodies left unattended for four days in the jungles for wild animals and birds to feast upon? Why no police picket was established immediately in the abandoned villages of Meghnathol and Chekarcham of Cachar district, which gave a free hand to the looters and common thieves to plunder the unguarded houses for four days? Was there any intelligence failure that led to a delayed response by the authority that could not anticipate the impending retaliatory action by the Dimasas in North Cachar Hills and waited till 9 April to impose curfew and other prohibitory measures?
(e) The role played by the ruling Congress(I) members of the NC Hills Autonomous Council and local Assam government minister GC Langthasa in creating ethnic division between Dimasas and Hmars for their narrow political gain in view of the coming parliamentary elections.
This is why the RSS-BJP ideologues have been making special efforts to crack the hard nut called the North-East. And the results of the Nagaland elections show that the BJP has succeeded not only in winning five Assembly seats but also in installing a non-Congress government under the banner of the NSCN-backed Naga People’s Front. It is another matter that one cannot even to this day find any social base for the BJP throughout Nagaland, including the constituencies their candidates have won! The NPF is acting as a cohort of the NDA and may join it soon.
The RSS-BJP supported the Assam movement led by the AASU and AAGSP in the early 1980s. True to its communal nature the BJP had then raised the demand that all Muslims who had entered Assam from the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) must be identified and deported. However, they were soft regarding the Hindu infiltrators whom they termed as “refugees”. The RSS had thus found an agenda to its liking, but because the Assam movement was spearheaded by powerful regional forces, there was not much vacuum at first for the BJP. Its alliance with the AGP also did not click. In some pockets with Bengali domination like Cachhar, the BJP did manage to secure some initial gains but the latter could not be sustained in the absence of an all-Assam momentum.
Now the BJP is again trying to hijack the old AGP demand for repeal of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act. This IMDT Act, which was passed by the Congress government on the eve of the Assam Accord, puts the onus of proving somebody a foreigner on the accuser and not on the accused. The BJP and sections of the AGP therefore hold this Act responsible for the failure of successive governments to identify and deport alleged foreign nationals from the soil of Assam. The real problem in Assam however stems from the non-implementation of the Assam Accord which had talked about providing constitutional safeguards to the three distinct components of the Assam society – the Assamese nationality and indigenous people of Assam, the tribal communities inhabiting various parts of Assam and the religious and linguistic minorities who have been living in Assam since Partition. Indeed, in much of its essence, the Assam problem is a legacy of Partition. Now instead of addressing the issue in its entire essence, the BJP is separately dealing with various aspects – like the BTC accord on Bodo Territorial Council which had originally also talked of providing hill tribe status to Bodos residing in the hill districts of Assam (see box) and now the bill proposing a repeal of the IMDT Act. The BJP is fully aware that it cannot get the repeal passed in Parliament because except the BJP and AGP no other parties are known to support this move, yet it wants to whip up divisive tension by raising this issue. The people opposing an outright repeal of the IMDT have a genuine fear that the repeal would subject the minorities in Assam to unmitigated harassment and thus create serious discords in the Assam society.
No Hill Tribe Status to New Communities Pending Creation of Autonomus State
(Reproduced here is the submission made by the CPI(ML) MP Dr. Jayanta Rongpi in Parliament on the issue of extending hill tribe status to Bodos residing in Karbi Anglong and North Cachhhar Hills districts. The concerned clause of the Bodo Territorial Council Accord has finally been held in abeyance when the Home Minister presented the bill in the Lok Sabha.)
The Govt. of India has assured the Bodo Liberation Tigers leadership that the demands for inclusion of Bodo Cachharis residing in Karbi Anglong and North Cachhar Hills in the list of Scheduled Tribe-Hills (ST-H) would be considered sympathetically as per clause VIII of the Bodo Territorial Council Accord. This has caused a wide rift between different ethnic tribal groups of the region. The indigenous tribal groups of the hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills like Karbis and Dimasas have deeply resented the present move to confer Hill Tribal status to the Bodos who are hitherto recognised as Scheduled Tribes-Plains (ST-P), because Bodos indigenously belong to the Lower Assam Brahmaputra Valley districts in the proposed Bodo Territorial Council Area.
Unlike the rest of the country, Assam has two sets of lists for tribals. One for the Autonomous Districts, i.e., the areas administered under the 6th schedule of the Constitution and the other for the tribals of the rest of the state. For administrative purpose those communities recognised as tribe in the Autonomous Hill Districts areas are termed as ST-H and those in the rest of the state in the valley districts are termed as ST-P. This was felt essential in the given context of Assam where vast differences existed between the socio-economic conditions of the ST-H and ST-P. Although there are no separate provisions of reservation for ST-H and ST-P at national level, there have always been two separate reservation systems for ST-H and ST-P in the state of Assam since the commencement of the Constitution. This special arrangement was established because otherwise the very provision of reservation would have carried no meaning for the ST-H people who naturally cannot be expected to compete with the relatively far advanced ST-P population. Therefore, the system of exclusive reservation for ST-H and ST-P in Assam must not be dismantled in the name of oft-repeated “removal of area restrictions”.
Further, it is a historical fact that due to various reasons including pressure from non-tribals large sections of ST-P communities had to leave their own traditional homeland. Most of them landed up in Karbi Anglong and are now demanding ST-H status. Before considering any such demand made by a ST-P community to be included in ST-H category, the core issue of Autonomous Statehood as per Article 244(A) for the Hill districts must be clinched first. Moreover, the consent of Autonomous Councils of Karbi Anglong and North Cachhar Hills must be made mandatory before considering the question of granting ST-H status to any new community, as the issue is exclusive to the Hill Districts and has got nothing to do with the rest of the state.
The past incidents of Naga-Kuki, Assamese-Non Assamese, Mizo-Reang, Tripuri-Bengali, Naga-Meitei, Bodo-Santhal clashes in the North East amply prove the point that any ‘solution’ worked out to satisfy a particular group invariably gives birth to a dozen of new problems. The government should not adopt piecemeal or pick and choose approach on the issue of scheduling even in the face of tremendous temptation to appease the gun-toting organisations. In recent times ruling parties have often been lured by electoral considerations to declare non-tribal communities as tribes. In the long run such approach will create serious socio-political and ethnic tension in the region and may even prove very costly to the nation.
The government has through clause VIII of the BLT Accord acted upon the demand raised by only one community leaving the core issue of Autonomous State in the cold. To rectify the mistake, the following course should be adopted:
(1) Create Autonomous State as per Article 244(A) of the Constitution comprising the Hill Districts of Assam and solve the demands raised by various communities including the Bodos living in the Hill Districts for scheduling as ST-H within the framework of Autonomous State.
(2) The consent of Autonomous Councils of Karbi Anglong and North Cachhar Hills must be obtained before enlisting any new group as ST-H.
(3) The resolution of Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council which was communicated to the Govt. of India on 6 November 1991 vide letter No. KACL/Xviii/162 should be the basis for considering any new demand of inclusion into ST-H list.
(4) A meeting of all elected representatives of the Hill Districts of Assam should be convened immediately by the Union Government to discuss the issue of Clause VIII of the BLT Accord.
(5) In the interest of maintaining peace and harmony and in the overall interest of the nation, the Govt. of India should keep in abeyance the Clause VIII of BLT Accord until the above-mentioned steps are taken.
The BJP has also consciously adopted a strategy of making
use of militant outfits in the region. Because of historical reasons a number
of ethnic and nationality movements have been going on in the North East since
independence. However, after several decades of underground armed struggle,
the people of these communities are aspiring for honourable settlement and peace.
This has created a situation favourable to reaching a political solution of
the problem within a federal-democratic framework of national unity. The BJP
is trying precisely to exploit this situation to advance its narrow agenda in
the North East.
The methodology adopted by the BJP to achieve this sectarian objective is to hold talks with the militant groups and enter into ceasefire agreements with them. What purpose do these ceasefires achieve? Ceasefires are welcome inasmuch as they restore a partial and temporary peace, but certainly ceasefires cannot be an end in themselves. But the BJP-led central government is utilising the ceasefire to just buy time while sidestepping the main demands of these movements. Meanwhile, under ceasefire provisions (on the basis that the militants have not surrendered) the militant groups are allowed to carry arms, wear their own military uniforms, and even use vehicles. It is also a well-known fact that many of these militant groups collect taxes and even indulge in extortion and kidnapping. There are also intermittent clashes among militant groups, and many of these are actually engineered by the central and state governments. It is the ordinary people who have to bear the entire brunt of the fallout of this politics of ceasefire.
We have observed how the ceasefire strategy has yielded immediate political gains for the BJP. Nagaland being a Christian dominated society, chances of RSS recruiting cadres there and building a stable ideological political were, and still are, quite remote. But intervening through the ceasefire route the BJP succeeded in erecting an anti-Congress front just before the assembly elections and dislodge the Congress from power. It is another matter that this politics of ceasefire with the NSCN, operating mainly outside Nagaland, set Manipur on fire.
A key figure in the ongoing talks with the NSCN has been Mr. Zoramthanga, once a militant leader himself and now chief minister of a non-Congress coalition in Mizoram. He seems to have a natural affinity for the NDA and has been instrumental in facilitating behind-the-scene ceasefires talks throughout the North East, be it with the ULFA, National Democratic Front of Bodoland, Achik (Garo) National Liberation Front, Hwinthrep National Liberation Front of Khasi-Jayantias, the UPDS in Karbi Anglong or the Dimasa militant group DHD.
Similarly, in the course of its ceasefire talks with the Bodos, the BJP discovered another alliance to score parliamentary gains. In the last assembly elections in Assam, the BJP was benefited by the Bodo militants’ support and in the recent elections to Rajya Sabha Bodo leader UG Brahma secured votes from both the AGP and the BJP as well as the ASDC renegades. Similar was the case in Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council elections.
Now the Congress has taken its lessons from the outcome of the Nagaland elections and is trying to outmanoeuvre the BJP in the game of backing militant groups. In any case it has its own long history of relations with militant groups, for example in the Hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, reaping electoral benefits from their muscle and firepower. Now with the BJP entering into the fray, the Congress is all set to revive this tactics on an even larger scale and has already started making attempts in this direction.
The North East based national movements for self-determination had taken to militancy in the face of sheer callousness and brute force employed by successive central and state governments. We do have our differences with the militant groups, but it cannot be denied that these movements had inculcated into the tribal youth precious values of selfless sacrifice and a vision for the betterment of the society. Decades of repression by a well-organized Indian Army could not lull their enthusiasm to carry on an uncompromising struggle for a better future. Now, with its devious tactics of ceasefire the BJP is sending them into “secure” camps (officially called Designated Camps) to get degenerated and absorbed into the “mainstream”. This is really a tragic outcome of a heroic struggle.
A historic situation had presented before the government a scope of peaceful resolution of the longstanding political demands of the movements of self-determination in the North East. The BJP is committing a crime by destroying this possibility with its ugly politics of ceasefire and divide-and-rule. The nation as a whole and the people of the North East in particular will never forgive the BJP for this heinous treachery.