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Indian Political Science Association


Source: The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec. 1992), pp. 536-558
Published by: Indian Political Science Association
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The Indian Journal of Political Science

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Never since Independence has the country's unity and

integrity been so seriously challenged as it is today. Not only have
the separatist forces raised their ugly heads in different parts of

the country in Punjab, North East (NE), Jammu and Kashmir,

and so on but the forces of fundamentalism are also advancing

the theories of statehood based on religion. Added to this are

the activities of the communal and casteist forces which are out

to divide the people on narrow, sectarian lines. "Is the Republic

breaking up"1 kind of issue has been the cover story of the
weeklies. The objective of this paper is to trace the roots of
separatism in NE India. It is hypothesised that the roots of
separatism in NE region lie within and without. The roots within

the country have to be traced to the actions of the state both

colonial and post-colonial affecting the tribal way of life in NE
India. In other words, what is necessary is to carefully examine
the approaches of the state to the problems of the region.
The Geographical Location

North East India is comprised of seven states - Arunachal

Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and
Tripura. Geographically the entire region is almost isolated
from the country, being surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan and
Tibet (China) and connected with the main land through West

Bengal and Bihar. NE region has natural frontiers on three

sides, and a political boundary on the fourth. She has common

frontiers with four states-China in the north, Burma in the west
Bangladesh in the east, and Burma in the south. The NE region
Tht Indian Journal of Political Scttnce, Vol. 53, No. 4, Oct. - Dec. 1992

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is thus the meeting point of South Asia, South East Asia and East
Asia. Here northern frontier from Sankash river on the west to

the entrance of the Brahmaputra into Assam is guarded by the

Assam Himalayas, The Macmohan line separates NE India from
Tibet. Interestingly, the tribal areas are located along international boundary. Kameng, Subansiri and Siang districts in
Arunachal Pradesh have a common boundary with Tibet and
Burma, Tirup and Manipur with Burma, Mizoram with Burma
and Bangladesh, Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills with Bangladesh
and Nagaland with Burma. It covers an area of 2,55,937 square
kilometres with a population of 26. 5 million. The NE has 221
scheduled tribes with 20 recognized tribes in Assam, 39 in
Nagaland, 110 in Arunachal Pradesh and many others in
Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram. It is one of the
most thinly populated regions in the country with an average
density of 104 persons per square km as against 201 per sq. km.
for the whole of the country during 1981 census. The increase
of population decennially is 35. 73 as against the national average
of 43. 75. 2 The table provides a profile of North East India.
The Secessionist Movements

The threat to national integration from the NE has come

from Naga National Council (NNG), National Socialist Council
of Nagaland (NSCN), Mizo National Front (MNF), Peoples
Liberation Army (PLA), Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kanglei

Pak (PREPAK), All Tripura Tribal Force (ATTF), United

Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) etc. Armed rebellion was
organised by these organisations after Independence. Insurgency
became the most popular method for the realisation of the goal.
It started with Nagaland which became the sixteenth state of the

Indian Union on December 31, 1963. The autonomy demand

launched by Z. A. Phizo of Nagaland with a few extremists as
late as in 1956 inspired the other disgruntled underground tribal

leaders to demand sovereignty from the Indian yoke. It was

argued that their ethnic cultural background was derived from
the Austro Mongoloid origins and their territory was subjugated
by the Government of India in 1947. They claimed that neither

the Hindu norms nor any Indian traditional pattern matched

with the conglomeration of the myriad ethnic tribes in the region.

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The political outfit of the underground Nagas was the Naga
National Council which was formed in 1946 after denouncing its

earlier title of 1918 - Naga Club. The NNG had submitted a

memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner on February 20,
1947 which said, inter alia, that "a constitution drawn up by the
people (Indian) will be quite unsuitable and unacceptable to the
Naga people".3 They had formed the Naga underground Federal
Government which disintegrated in 1974 because of differences
between Pro-Phizo elements and their adversaries led by T.H.
Muviah and Isac Swu. In 1975 the pro-Phizo group came into
an agreement with the Government of India through the Shillong Accord regarding the resolution of the Naga problem.
The Accord envisaged solution of Naga problem through peaceful negotiation and the Naga people accepted the Constitution of
India. But their adversaries refused to accept it and established
the NSCN in 1979. The NSCN has been carrying out an armed
struggle to bring an end to Indian suzeranity over the Naga
people and to establish Peoples Republic of Nagaland based on
Mao's ideology.4 The NSCN signed a protocol of understanding
with PLA of Manipur. The main objectives and principles are
to liberate Nagaland from the Indian yoke, to establish a socialist

state based on the Beijing ideology and to incorporate all continguous areas of the Nagas into one Socialist Union of Nagaland.
The NSCN believes in armed struggle and revolution to achieve
the objectives.5
The secessionist movement in Mizoram is led by the Mizo
National Front (MNF) which has been campaigning for a sovereign Mizoram since 1968 on the same strategy and tactics as
followed in Nagaland since 1965. It had clashed with the Indian
army. It created a tension between Mizos and Non-Mizos and
had gone to the extent of identifying themselves as non-Indians*
It had submitted a memorandum to the Government ol India on

30 October, 1965. It was stated, "During the fifty years of

close contact and association with India the only inspiration and

political cry is the creation of Mizoram, a free and sovereign

state to govern herself, to work out her own destiny and to for*
muate her own foreign policy".*

In Manipur separatist movement is spearheaded by the

Revolutionary Peoples Front (RPF) and its army wing PLA and
PREPAK and its offshoots like the armed wing of PREPAK

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callcd the Red Army and the Kangli Pak Communist Party
(KCP) and KCP's Red Army. The declared objective of these
organizations is the formation of an independent Manipur comprising the state of Manipur.7 Significantly in the party Congress
held in May, 1991 the RPF called for the setting up of an independent sovereign country in Manipur. The PLA started making

its presence felt in 1970s. It posed a threat to the administration in the early 80s by ambush and hit-and-run attacks on
security forces, bank looting, arms seizure and similar acts*

The RPF which appeared in May 1989 is running a sort of

government-in-exile in Bangladesh where it has entrenched itself.
It is revealed from a set of documents collected by the security
forces that the efforts are afoot to further strengthen RPF with
the help of the Kachin Independent Army which is locked in a

battle of Independence with the Burmese government. The

armed wing of the RPF-PL A comprises four divisions - Sadar hill
west areas of vally of Manipur, Sadar hill areas in eastern vally,

entire hill areas of Manipur and entire Imphall areas. The PLA
members are said to be equipped with the Chinese made revolvers, machine guns and an array of sophisticated arms. It had a
communication station set up with the help of a wireless set
seized from Manipur Police some time ago. While the main
camp of the RPF is in Bangladesh, the RPF and PLA are reported to have set up a second camp within Burma.
PREPAK has become a moribund organisation since the
death of its leader Tulachandra Singh in 1984. KCP exists only
on paper. The earliest insurgent group United National Liberation Front is not a force to reckon with Meghalaya which was
created under the Assam Reorganization (Meghalaya) Act, 1969
on April 2, 1970, and subsequently declared a full-fledged state
on January 21, 1972, remained by and large free from separatist

movement till recently,8 The Khasi Phur National Council

raised the issue of liberation of Khasi hills from the foreign rule

(India) in late 1970s. The main grievances of the tribe are the
exploitation of the tribal culture by the non-tribals and depriva-

tion of their cultural and traditional heritage. The foreign

nationals issue in Assam enthused them.

In Tripura secessionist call was given by the Tripura National

Volunteer Force (TNV). The tribal extremists have also orga-

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nized an armed wing called the Army of Tripura Peoples Libera-

tion Organization (ATPLO). It was formed by a section of the

TNV activists who left the organisation under the leadership of
Binod Jamatia. In a memorandum to the then prime minister

of India Mrs. Gandhi in 1983 it had expressed its firmness to

carry out armed struggle with a view to forming a sovereign
state. The moving spirit behind the ATPLO is said to be the
combined efforts of the NSCN and MNF rebels. The ATPLO

was subsequently divided into two factions. Currently these two

factions called the Jomatia and Kolni factions - have merged

themselves with the TNV which was formed in 1978.

The fear of the Assamese about becoming a minority in

their own state led to the rise of the separatist organisations like the

Lachit sena in 1960s. The ULFA came into being in April 1979,
and is thus direct descendant via the AASU which spearheaded
the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam between 1979 and 1985.
The ULFA is the proponent of the sovereign Assam. It has
vowed to liberate Assam from the exploitation of the centre which
is treating the state as its colony. It is striving to build a socialist
and sovereign Assam.'
The organisation openly runs military camps in the Brahmaputra valley. Its cadres have received their basic training from
the Kachin Independent Army in the adjoining Burmese jungles.
The strategy of ULFA is two fold. First, to award what it terms
extreme punishment to those who in its judgement are exploiters
of Assam through trade, commerce etc. and second, to extend
welfare activities in the rural areas. It has established links

with the NSCN, PLA. The ULFA was however declared unlawful on November 27,1990.

In the past the secessionist groups in Nagaland, Manipur,

Mizoram and Tripura functioned virtually in isolation and there
was no coordination in their military operational strategy against
the Indian army and its subordinate agencies. Of late, the situation has changed. Recently, the rebel groups in NE India have

formed some sort of a pan-Mongoloid federal set up called

Manipur-Nagaland-Tripura- Assam Consolidation (MNTAC) for
tactical coordination. The MNTAC has representatives from10

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ach of the rebel groups, namely, NSCN, PLA remnants led by

Temba Singh and a guerilla outfit called United National Liberation Front (UNLF) led by Rajkumar Megnen, TNV and ULFA.
The NSCN is at the helm of the affairs. The NSCN is a mono-

lithic organization the members of which belong to .different

ethnic groups. In February 1982 the NSCN, PLA and PREPAK
launched a joint attack on the army convoy in the Thangkhul
Naga inhibited area of Manipur. The MNF, NSCN and the
PREPAK had organised a similar guerilla attack between 14 and
24 June, 1982 in Mizoram.
The Emergence of North East India

North East India, as we find it today, is essentially creation

of the British. The pre-historic and proto historic period of

Assam is shrouded in mystery. Assam was known Praghyotisha

in ancient times. The Ahoms who came from Burma about the

years 1226 established themselves firmly in Upper Assam. By

1750 A. D they conquered the whole of the Brahmaputra valley.
The decline of the Ahom rule began with the Moamari rising in

1769. Later on the Burmese invaded Assam and the Ahom rulers

could not contain the Burmese invasion. The British drove out

the Burmese, and concluded the Treaty of Yandavoo on February

24, 1826 by which the whole of Assam came under the British

Cachor was an independent state. After the expulsion of

the Burmese the British annexed it to Assam, and in 1853 the
whole of Cachor was transferred to the Decca division and
retransferred to Assam in 1874.

Goalpara formed part of Assam in 1826 as a separate district. In 1867 it was included in the Bengal Commissionership
of Coachbehar. In 1874 the Goalpara district and the eastern
<loors were transferred to the chief commissionership of Assam.
The Jaintia territory was annexed by the British and added to

In 1822 the British annexed the Garo Hills and added it to

the Goalpara district. But in 1869 it was separated from the

Goalpara district, and was constituted into a separate district of

the Cooch Bihar division. In 1874 the Garo Hills was again

transferred to the chief commissioner of Assam.

P - 15

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Arunachal Pradesh inhabited by the tribes was completely
isolated from the rest of the country. The British annexed it
gradually and constituted it into North Eastern Frontier Agency

The British also occupied the Khashi, Jaintia and Naga hills
gradually. The Naga hills were constituted into a district and.
became a part of Assam.
In 1874 Assam which was a commissioner's division under

the Government of Bengal, was constituted into of Chief commissionership. Sylhat which was a part of Bengal, was added to

Assam. Manipur and Tripura were princely states during the

British rule. Clearly colonial rulers had experimented with diffe-

rent administrative arrangements in the NE region. The basic

objective was to create a permanent chasm between the different
ethnic groups so that they could not offer organised resistance
against the colonial rulers and the other objective was to ensure
extraction or rich wealth of the region in the interests of the

It should however be remembered that the colonial rulers

did not touch the basic administrative arrangement of the tribais,

namely, rule by the chiefs. They however, were successful in.

converting the chiefs into their agents in the region. The British
captured the hill tribes one by one and in response to their fight

for freedom throttled all their aspiration. In the process the

British also divided each of the tribes into splinters. Thus Nagas

were divided and dispersed into Assam, Manipur and Burma;

Mizos into Manipur, Burma. The Khasis, Garos and the tribes

of Arunachal Pradesh met with the same fate.

The Impact of the British Rule ort Tribal Way of Life

The British rule had tremendous adverse impact on the

tribal way of life. Their economy was crushed. Their social and

cultural values suffered irreperable damage. After the Sepoy

Mutiny (1857-58) India came under the direct governance of the
British government. Since then the British went on working for
both political consolidation and intense economic expolitation.

In the process came up the tea plantations on a large scale in

Assam and the adjoining areas. The interests of the tea gardens
and the planters were for a century the prime considerations of
the colonial rulers in the NE region. The tea planters went on.

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encroaching lands of the tribal people. When they resisted the

planters went in for expeditions in the tribal country, burning
villages, killings and blockades. The British occupation affected
the economy of the hillmen including its method of cultivation

called the jhum cultivation. The hillmen supplemented their

poor economy by hunting, fishing, elephant catching etc. in the
land of the foot hills. The British occupation of the area gra-

dually made the land unavailable to the tribal people because

the land was affected by the expansion of tea plantation and the

creation of the reserved forests for the interests of the British

timber trade.11

The British policy forced the tribais to swiftly move from

the conventional shifting cultivation to the settled cultivation.
It was an alien system imposed from the top. It was difficult on
the part of the tribais to accept the system readily. Added to
this was the growing British encroachment on their possessions
and rights. The tribais sharply reacted and the British dealt
with the reactions by burning villages and killing the tribais.
This was seen in the case of the British dealings with the tribais

from 1827 to 1942. There was a change only during the War
years when the British rulers felt the necessity of enlisting tribal
support in view of the threat to their empire from the Japanese

The Inner Line Permit System

The British rulers had taken two measures: within the terri-

tory of the north east they introduced what was called the inner
line system promulgated in 1874 and at the same time they made

arrangements so that the surplus population could go away to

upper Burma. The inner line system imposed some restrictions
on the planters against fresh encroachments on tribal levels. It
had also created a barrier between the hillsmen and plainsmen.
It caused isolation of the tribal people from the rest of India and

insulated them from the anti-colonial struggle. On the Inner

Line Regulation the States Re- organisation Commission observes,

<fthe inner line regulation in the pre Independence days was

administered vigorously mainly to exclude all contacts between
the tribais and the inhabitants of the plains.12

The christian missions played a vital role. They succeeded

in uprooting the people from their own tradition through western

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mode of living and education. But they did not create anything
which would sustain the society on new values.
The British did nothing to improve the tribal economy. In
the internal administration of the tribal society the class of the
privileged chiefs was strengthened. The tribal Chiefs were made
supreme in ail matters of tribal life. The objective was to thwart
the rise of democratic values. The NE region was made an
island under the British imperial control.
The Government of India Acts

The Government of India Act, 1919 and the Government of

India Act 1935 were the colonialists' response to the growing

movement in India for national independence. The 1919 Act
empowered the Governor General-in-Council to declare any
territory in British India to be a 'backward tract'. The provision
was applied to the tribal people of the NE. The Government of
India Act 1935 made provisions for declaring the tribal areas aa
excluded areas or partially excluded and frontier areas. In the
excluded areas the administration was patriarchal and vested in

the Deputy Commissioner. After the 1935 Act the partially

excluded areas of Jawai, the Garo hills and a portion of the
Mikir hills were allowed to send elected representatives to the
provincial legislature. The Lushai Hills, Naga Hills and the
North Cachar Hills continued as excluded areas without any
representation in the provincial legislature. The frontier areas
included Baliapara, Sadiya and Lakshimpur tracts inhabited by

tribes in an early stage of development. The purpose in both

these cases was to exclude the tribal people from the current of
the Indian national movement.

The Coupland Plan

The colonial rulers had hatched a plot before they left India

in 1947. This was a plot to take the entire NE region out of

India. The proposal was that the NE region be formed into an
independent political authority separate from both India and
Burma and this area be turned into a special colony directly
under the Btitish crown.13 The man behind the proposal was
R. Coupland who came to India as a secretary to Strafford
Gripps. The proposal was supported by the British political
officers like Robert Reid and others. It was conceived because

NE region was considered distinct from India and Burma.

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Clearly, the colonial rulers had administered the NE region

with two basic objectives, namely, extraction of surplus and

shifting all kinds of protests. In other words while their political

objective was regime maintenance and regime sustenance, the

economic objective was to extract surplus in the interest of the
colonial rulers. And broadly speaking they were successful in
their primary mission.

The post colonial state was born on August 15, 1947. It

was captured by the big bourgeoisie and the feudal landlords.
The constituent assembly was organised to draw up a constitution for the new state.

The Constituent Assembly

The constituent assembly had constituted two committees to

report on the NE Frontier Areas of Assam and the tribal and

excluded areas. The Sub-Committee on Assam under the

chairmanship of G.N. Bardoloi had noted the degree of political

awareness among the tribal people and found no justification for
keeping the excluded areas in that condition. It howver did not

favour a radically integrative policy and pleaded for gradual

assimilation. In fact these were two views at that time. A. V.
Thakkar and others advocated a rapid assimillation of the tribal
people with the neighbouring societies.14 Elwin, on the other hand,

stood for a protected and regulated development. In the constituent assembly there were members who advocated a policy
which would make the tribal people indistinguishable from the
rest of the Indian people. There were others who characterized
the tribal demand for a autonomy as a cry for 'tribalistan.' The
tribal leaders from Assam, J. J. M. Nicholas Ray asserted the
inherent superiority of the tribal culture and traditions.16
The District Councils

The Sub-Committee of the constituent Assembly headed by

G. Bordoloi recommended a set up for the administration of the

hill areas based on the concept of regional autonomy in all

matters affecting their customs, laws of inheritance etc. This
pattern of administration took shape in the form of the Sixth
Schedule. Under this schedule six autonomous districts were

created in Assam. United Khasi and Jainthia Hills Garo Hills,

Lushai Hills, Naga Hills, North Cachar Hills and Mikir Hills.

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There was to be a District Council for each autonomous district

with 24 members, three fourths of whom to be elected on adult

franchise. The Council shall have power to make laws for allotment, occupation, use etc. of land, other than reserved forests for
purposes of agriculture, grazing and other residential and nonresidential purposes, management of forests other than reserved
forests, regulation of shifting cultivation, use of water courses
and canals for irrigation, establishment of village and town committess and village and town administration, inheritance of
property, marriage and divorce and social customs. Such councils also have powers to constitute courts for trial of cases between

members of the scheduled tribes ; to establish and manage

primary schools, dispensaries, roads, road transport within their

jurisdiction and to prescribe the language and the manner in

which primary schools shall be conducted in the area. Such
councils shall have their own funds, powers to assess and collect
revenue, and impose taxes subject control of money lending and
trading by non-tribal. There was only one autonomous region:
the Pawr lakher region. Manipur and Tripura was made a part
of C states of the Indian Union, NEFA was retained as the
frontier agency which only later turned into a union territory
with the name ofrunachal Pradesh.

The district councils which were set up to democratize the

administration of the hill people who came to be administered

during the colonial days by the chiefs, failed to live upto the
expectations. The state bureaucracy looked at them as subordinate organs of the state while the tribais looked upon them as
symbols of supra tribal identity. The Part C status to Manipur
and Tripura did not make them happy. Manipur demanded full

statehood which was granted in 1972. Tripura was also given

statehood in 1972.

The Domination of Assam

There was growing resentment amongst the other tribal

people against Assam. Some of them demanded the creation of
a hill state comprising the autonomons districts of Assam. In
1955 the Aizal conference of the Khasi and Jaimitia hills, Garo
hills, Mikir hills and the Mizo hill resolved to demand a separate
state. A new political party called Eastern India Tribal Council

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was formed to sponsor the demand. The matter was examined

by the states Re-organization commission in 1955 which rejected
the demand.

The district councils which were subservient to Assam

became source of growing distrust among the tribal people

against the Assam administration. The matter reached such a
pass that Nehru had to pay visit to the hill areas to gain first
hand knowledge of their problems. Nehru had suggested a for-

mula under which the ministers from the hill areas would be

appointed on the recommendation of the legislators of these

areas. A regional committee would also be formed with the
MLAs of the hill areas.

The formula could not be tried because of the death of

Nehru. The Shastri government wanted the issue to be examined

the Pataskar Commission. The Commission among other things
suggested the appointment of a minister for the hill areas and
such other ministers of state and deputy ministers as might be

The Creation of Separate States

The Pataskar Commission's recommendations was rejected

by the constitution of a Cabinet Committee headed by the Home
Minister G.L. Nanda. It recommended the formation of a sub-

state according to which the hill areas would have a separate

legislature and council of ministers, but would remain within
Assam. The hill leaders rejected the plan when Mrs. Gandhi
took over after the death of Shastriji. She wanted the issue to be

examined by the Asoka Mehta Committee. The Committee felt

that the federal structure should not be the basis of re-organisa-

tion of Assam. As the hill leaders were unwilling to accept

anything short of autonomous state the Mehta Committee's re-

commendations could not solve the problem. However the

Government of India had to accept the demand of an autonomous state within the state of Assam comprising the auto-

nomous Khasi hills, Garo hills and the Jaintia hills. The relevant
legislation had also provided for an advisory council to be called

North Eastern Council. The autonomous state of Meghalaya

was inaugurated in 1970. The Mizo hills and NEFA were made
union territory and Manipur and Tripura became full fledged

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states on January 21, 1972. The Naga problem however could
not be solved so easily as it had many dimensions and ramifications.

Clearly the colonial administrative system was adopted by

the post-colonial state with minor modifications. It was forgotten
that the colonial administrative system was designed to create a
chasm between the plains and the hillsmen with a view to carry-

ing on interrupted colonial rule and exploitation. It was not

understood that the immediate task was to heal the widening
wounds. The state took more than two decades to understand

the implications of the colonial archaic administrative systems.

Again, as a result of growing movements and pressures autonomous states were created but no attempts were made to take
care of the problems of the states. The creation of new states

raised the hopes of the nationalities. But a highly centralized

political system with a very powerful centre stood in the way of
fulfilment of their dreams. Added to it was the capitalist model
of development which generated unevenness in the development

process. This model of development strengthend the sense of

deprivation. It had in its efforts to homogenize the development

crushed the autonomous tribal culture and way of life which

needed to be taken care of. Hiren Gohain has argued that NE
today has an economic order which remains colonial. The
capital in the major industries like tea is controlled by outsiders
and they have taken over all new enterprises like the plywood

industries. Trade in essential commodities is still in their domain.

Gohain says, "Substantial investments were made during the

plan periods but because of the backlog in development and its
faster pace in more advanced regions, the north east is caught in
the classic colonial bind of importing manufactured goods and
exporting raw materials and processed goods."16

The total lack of economic development in Manipur for

example, has helped the secessionists forces. "Till the Sixth plan,
the centre had invested a mere Rs. 150 crore in the state. People

do not know what tap water is. No public sector undertaking

has set up any project here. According to rough official estimate
about 60 of every 100 persons have to live without enough food,
clothing, shelter, education and jobs.17

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The same has been the case with Assam where modern

industry is yet to make headway. The area under tea shows a

marginal increase from 1,90,621 hectares to 2,11,323 hectares
between 1977 and 1982. The average daily number of 'labourers
employed in the industry increased from 4,10,520 to 4,62,754.
But the average yield per hectare decreased from 1541 kg to
1415 kg during that period. Between 1981 and 1984 production
of paper and cement declined from 14,141 tonnes to 537 tonnes
and 1,96,680 tonnes to 1,47,140 tonnes respectively. Between
1982 and 1987 the employment figures in all branches of the
private and public sectors rose marginally from 8,60,627 to
8,80,618 while the number of the registered educated applicants
for employment rose from 17,16,154 to 2,08,171. The communication, transport and the banking facilities are also meagre.
Forty per cent of the India's villages were electrified in 1980.
But in NE region when darkness falls electric lights go in only 10
per cent of the villages. These states account for 7.5 per cent of the
country's area, but only 2200 kms. of 60,000 kms railway lines have
been laid out here. As far as the banking facilities are concerned

the region has only one branch for a population of 32,000 as

against an Indian average of one branch for 20,000 people.18
In the fifties Assam and Manipurwere rice surplus areas but
now large quantities of rice have to be brought from outside the
state and trade is in the hands of the outsiders. The outsiders

and a small group of well-off natives have cornered the benefits

of development. The indigenous working people have been

pauperised. In Assam according to the world Agricultural
Census (1975) 81 per cent of the total land holdings covering 41

per cent of all holdings are below two hectares in size. The

national figure is 70 per cent. In Meghalaya 64.6 per cent of all

holdings are below one hectare (they cover 33.4 per cent of the

land area) Agricultural productivity in the region has been

stagnant. Between 1951 and 1976 the total foodgrains production
in Assam rose by 31.3 per cent while the area under foodgrains
increased by 31 per cent of the rural population in Assam live

below the poverty line. In North East India as a whole, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh practically the entire indigenous
population live on agriculture. On the other hand, compared
to the all India average of 46.8 per cent net cultivated area to
total area in 1977-78, in this region only 15.9 per cent was under
P - 16

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cultivation during the same year. Thus population per square
meter of gross cultivated area was much higher in NE India (587)

than that in India as a whole (398).

Discrimination in the Allocation of Funds

It has been alleged that there is a glaring inequality in the

distribution of development funds in the country. The NE

region which has some inherent difficulties received a step
motherly attitude in this regard as is evident from the table


Total Investment



(in Crores)

Total Areas brought under

irrigation (in hectares)














Source : North Eastern Times, 20 June, 1980.

The statement below gives the per capita deposit and

advance as on December 31, 1981 for all the scheduled commercial banks of NE India.

Per capita Deposit

Per Capita Advance








33 28











NE Region



All India



Source: B.K. Burman, Institutional Finance and Tribal

Development, Mainstream, Jan 18, 1986, p. 16.

These figures show low per capita deposit and per capita
advance in all the states and union territories of NE region. The

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deposits and advances include those concerning public sector

enterprises and corporations. It may be presumed that if these
are kept out, the picture would be much more alarming.
Attack on the Tribal Economy and Culture

There is a concerted attempt to destroy the unique economic

and cultural system of the tribais in NE India. The National Committee on Development of Backward areas set up by the Planning Commission in its report on the Development of NE Region
suggested that the district and village councils may be persuaded
to adopt "the progressive policy of individualisation of land in

the interest of development."19 The underlying assumption is

that the communal system of ownership management/control of
or access to land based resources is not compatible with development. This argument has been contested by Roy Burman. To
quote, "The experience of Maoris in Corporation in New Zealand
indicates that the communal system is not a bar to technological

or economic development in a capitalist framework. On the

other hand, the possibility of the socialist communal system under

certain conditions was recognised by Marx towards the end of

his life."20

However, as a result of the suggestion of the National Committee on Development of Backward Areas, attempts were made
to implement development programmes by short circuiting the

community. It was a great danger. Only powerful individuals

can do this with the support of the bureaucracy. B.K. Burman
has observed "This is creating neo- feudal rights where such rights
<lo not exist or exist only in incipient form. In terms of political

economy what is taking place is anti-development, through

The British left the north-east alone, and opened up only a
part of it for colonial exploitation of the region's resources tea, coal and oil. The rest of the area was marked off with over
1000 miles of a cordon sanitaire called the 'inner line'. After

Independence the Indian state merely pursued the same policy.

It was caught on the wrong foot as insurgency exploded in

Nagaland (1956) and Mizoram (1966). The Indian Army
grouped the villages as the British Army had done to subdue
Malaysian insurgents. The government invoked the Special

Powers and the Disturbed Areas Act to contain violence and

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insurgency. It levied primitive taxes, and issued identity carda

to citizens. It only widened the gulf of separation. Very

recently, the central government launched what were called
Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino to flush out the ULFA

The Role of the Indian State

The Indian state by its actions through its oppressive state

apparatuses has not only alienated the people of NE India at

large, but also facilitated the development of their antipathy
towards the other Indians. The army reprisals in Nagaland
Mizoram in 1980 and 1984 when they killed several innocent
people. In Nagaland the Nehru regime ordered a genocide
against the Nagas in 1950s. In the early 1970s Mrs. Gandhi
followed a similar policy in Mizoram where entire viliages were
uprooted and resettled for easier policing. In 1983 Mrs. Gandhi

precipitated a bloody ethnic war in Assam by imposing an

election. Significantly, the Army was deployed in Mizoram to
solve a civil problem, namely, famine in 1960s. The successive
central governments have manipulated the heterogeneity of the
north eastern people. Mrs. Gandhi had played the Muslims and
Bengalis of Assam against the ethnic Assamese and for a while
succeeded in blunting the ASSU agitation. In Nagaland, the
Centre succeeded in breaking the back of the Naga insurgents by
playing up tribal differences. It sponsored the breakaway of the
same tribais from the Naga underground and then ensured that
the Shillong Accord would drive a permanent wedge between the
powerful Awgami leaders and the smaller fringe tribes that were
supporting the last of the Naga rebels under the banner of NSCN
led by Muivah.
Partisan Attitude of the Indian National Congress

New Delhi has not cared to take a sympathetic non partisan

attitude towards the Mizos. It had dismissed the Laldenga

ministry to make political capital without giving it a chance to

prove its strength in the legislature. The Assembly was dissolved
minutes before the speaker was to notify his decision about the
dissident MNF, MLAs. In fact, had the speaker been allowed to
postpone his decision, the eight legislators who created the crisis

by defecting from the ruling MNF, and whose suspension has

stayed by the Guwahati High Court might have been disqualified

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before the confidence vote. Obviously the centre got wind of

Laldenga's plan and clamped down president's rule before he
could go ahead with it.
In its desperate desire to get toe hold in the NE the Congress^) has played into the hands of the regionalist forces. In
Tripura the Congress(I) rode on the back of Tripura Upajati
Juva Samiti (TUJS). In Meghalaya the Congress formed government with the support of Lingdoh's Hill Peoples' Union (HPU).
These two important decisions were taken when the Rajiv Gandhi
government was trying to fight against regionalism. The TUJS
is reported to have been providing succour to the outlawed TN

V. The HPU champion the Khasi cause. In the election manifesto the HPU has declared itself as the protector of the Khasi

identity. It had instigated the Khasi students to launch an

AASU-type anti foreigner movement. The Indian National

Congress had gone to the extent of receiving assistance from the

executed leader of the insurgency, Laldenga to defeat the nationalist leader Brigadier Sailo.
Politics of Accords

The Rajiv Gandhi government sought to deal with the

problem of separatism in NE by entering into agreements with
the secessionist forces. These were the Assam Accord, Mizoram
Accord and the Tripura Accord. These Accords sought to solve
the problems of the Mizoram and Assam through negotiation
and dialogue. Some concessions were made to the insurgents.
The last in the series was the Accord with the TNV in

Tripura. This agreement was signed by the Government of

India, Government of Tripura and the TNV on August 12,
1988. It was the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who had played
the most crucial role in entering into the agreement with the
TNV. The Accord required the TNV rebels to surrender all arms
under their possession. It was also agreed upon that the Govern
ment of India would withdraw all kinds of prohibitions which
were imposed on the TNV. The Accord further provided that
the seats of the tribais in the Tripura Legislative Assembly would

be increased from 17 to 20 and a few more villages would be

brought under the purview of the autonomous tribais councils.
It was further agreed upon that the Commander-in-Chief of the

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T.N.V. Sri Vijoy Rankhal would be made the chairman of the
tribal development council.

These Accords took no serious note of the basic problems.

They made no attempts to identify the roots of the problems and

to effectively tackle them The post-Accord scenario indicates

that they have not been able to cut much ice.
The Isolation from the Mainstream Democratic Process

One scholar has argued that the frontier states that have
suffered alarming isolation during the colonial days and which
have been manipulated by the colonial rulers to their interests

still lie outside the mainstream The country's core may be

identified with Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh,
Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. These are predominantly Hindi-speaking Hindu area. They elect 40 per cent of
the total representatives to Parliament. Secondly the states like
Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra,

Orissa, West Bengal, Tripura and Assam comprise an associate

to the core. They are non-Hindi speaking, but predominantly
Hindu, and account for about 50 per cent of the parliamentary
seats Thirdly on the outer fringe we have Punjab, Goa, Lakshad-

weep, the Andaman and Nichobar islands, Mizoram, Manipur,

Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. These are
the frontier states inhabited by the non Hindu and non-Hindi

speaking communities. They elect about 8 per cent of MPs.*2

These states are tenuously linked up with the centre. Sinha
says, "The relationship smacks of colonialism with a paternalistic
veneer of development and planning for backward regions added
by the new rulers". No major decisions are taken in the region.
The Role of the Imperialist Agencies

A report on the western moves in the area and a circular

from the US Information Agency on a similar theme are indicative of the covert activities of the imperialists. As early as 1966
reports were circulated by International Press efforts to create a

United and Independent Bengal comprising Assam, Nagaland,

Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim and Bhutan. According to the report:

"The separatists are counting upon the US and other Western powers to give them necessary assistance. They are confident that these Powers would be interested in establishing an

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independent state of southeast Asia, which could help to normalize

conditions there and which would provide shield against the

Chinese aggression".28
Whatever be the accuracy of such a report, the fact remains
that the Western powers have recognized the strategic signifcance

of this area. The US International Communication Agency had

issued circular on what it called the Project Brahmaputra in
June, 1979. It was pointed out that the special research cell of
the George Washington University with the approval of the
State Department had sent a number of teams of investigation
to conduct 'research' in NE India, Sikkim and Bhutan. "The
aim of this 'research', the circular noted," "is to throw light on
the public opinion in these regions to establish in what measure
the present status of these states remain acceptable or whether
there are indications that the formation of a new state is a current


The north east extremists have their outputs in Burma,

Bangladesh "An invisible foreign hand, that of the Central
Intelligence Agency, was said to be guiding their activities in
both Burma and India. The thrust of these activities was to

keep Burma and northeastern states in a state of unrest by

enabling the terrorist organisations to establish themselves for
the important task of monitoring affairs not only in China but
also in the entire NE"26 PLA established contacts with the

Pakistan Army and received support.26 Pakistan provided the

entire initial support and assistance to Naga, Mizo and Manipuri
guerrillas in 1950s and 60s87. There was a close connection
between the TNV and the Bangladesh military government.
The RPF and PLA have set up camps in Bangladesh. They
maintain a liaison office at Sylhet. The Christian missions'
involvement with the secessionist forces has been proved. The
role the Naga Baptist Mission has played and continues to play
in Naga politics cannot be overlooked. In Mizoram the Christian
missionaries are very active. They agreed to mediate between
the Mizo rebels and the Chief Secretary to the Government of
Assam28. The Missionary education does not create an attachment for the country. Chrisitanity implies an adoption, not only

of a religious order, but also of alien tradition. It has meant

rapid westernization of the tribal communities. It has been
responsible for what C.H. Homeindorf called "the breaking of

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the community spirit among the tribais and assertion of individualism.29 The success of the Christian missionary has led to a
considerable degree of western cultural influence and has accentuated the Nagas* sense of separateness from Indian culture.
Concluding Observations

Among the different ethnic groups in S3am and in the

north east there is a passionate urge today for self-determination.

The ethnic groups are restive. "There is an impatience with

stagnation, a revolt against age>old bondage and a thirst for
rapid development on the basis of a new found sense of identity.

An answer to this dilemma must be found in a revival of true

federalism which will eliminate anxiety, mistrust, and unhealthy

aggressive competition and at the same time liberate the units

from all sense of imposed constraint and enforced backwardness".*0 It is time to recognize that Indian union does not
belong only and mainly to the mainstream. The frontiers cannot

be made to be ruled, subjugated for years even after independence. But the point is: can the Indian state given its present class
character offer a true federal system of government. This underscores the need for bringing about a change in the character of
the state. It has to be understood that the roots of the problem

of underdevelopment in the North region and the growing

frustration among the tribal communities lie deeply embedded
in politics. This is not really a problem which is faced by a fairly

large chunk of the Indian population who are exploited by the

state and repressed by the state machinery. This is how a

capitalist state survives. It is true that the other oppressed sections of the people are not as vocal and restive as the tribais are.
This is because of the fact that ethnicity is a great organising
force in the tribal community. The permanent solution therefore

lies not with the tinkering of the constitution but with the
overhauling of the existing power structure through radicalisation
of politics.

1. Sunday, Calcutta, January 20-Feb, 1986.

2. For an overview of North East India, see, Ray Burman,
B K., 'North East India : An overview', Mainstream , December 6,
1980, Venkata Rao, K., A Century of Tribal Politics in North East
India 1874-1974, S. Chand and Co., Delhi, 1976.

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3. Parakash Singh, Nagaland , National Book Trust, 1972,

p. 136-38.
4. See, Rahamatulla, B., "Evolution of National Socialist

Council of Nagaland. The Renewal of Insurgency, Platform ,

Kohima, February 25- March 4, 1982, Vol. 5, No. 40, pp. 3-4.

5. Rahamatulla, B., 'Insurgency in North East India,

Political Science Review , April-September, 1982.

6. Goswami, B.B., Mizo Unrest : A Study in Politicisation of

Culture, Alekh Publishers, Jaipur, 1979, p. 150-55.

7. 'The Moist Triangle', India Today, June 16-30, 1980.

*Manipur Peace with Vigilance', Link, November 27, 1983, 'Mani-

pur I, II, III, The Statesman , Calcutta, January 29-31, 1991,

Manipur I and II, December, 9-10, 1981.
8. See Sarin, V.I.K., 'Meghalaya Extremists Threatening

Peace', The Times of India, New Delhi, August 16, 1980.

9. Kakati, S.C., From Phizo to ULFA in North East, The

Statesman, Calcutta, February 14, 1991, Terror in Assam I and
II, November 19 & 20, 1990, The Statesman , Calcutta.

10. 'Is the Republic Breaking Up', Sunday, Calcutta,

February 14 20, 1988.

11. Roychowdhury, P., The North- East : Roots of Insurgency,

Firma KLM Private Limited, Calcutta, 1986, p. 53.

12. The Report of the States Re- Organisation Commission, Mini-

stry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi, 1956,

p. 186.
13. Coupland, R., Future of India, London, 1944, p. 160.

14. Thakkar, A.V., The Problems of Aborigines in India,

Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Poona, 1941.

15. Constituent Assembly Debates, Volume IX, pp. 1022 23.

16. Hiren Gohain, 'An economic order that remains

colonial', The Telegraph, Calcutta, January 2, 1988.

17. Gautam Chowdhury, 'PLA Move to Destabilize, The

Statesman, Calcutta, January 31, 1991.

18. India Today, February 16-29, 1991.


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19. The Report of the National Committee on Development of
Backward Areas, Planning Commission, New Delhi, 1981, p. 8.

20. Roy Burman, B.K., Institutional Finance and Tribal

Development, Mainstream , January 18, 1986.

21. Roy Burman, B K., 'Problems and Prospects of Tribal

Development in North East India', EPW, April 1, 1989, p. 696.
22. Sinha, A.C., 'India's outer Darkness* The Statesmantr
Calcutta, March 4, 1984.

23. Sarin, V.l., North East in Flames , Vikas Publishing,

New Delhi, 1980, pp. 24-26.
24. Nibedon, N., North East India : The Ethnic Explosiony
Lancer International, New Delhi, 1981, p. 170.
25. The Deccan Herald , October 23, 1988.
26. The Statesman, Calcutta, January 18, 1988.

27. Link, May 29, 1988.

28. The Assam Tribune , Gauhati, May 3, 1967.

29. Homiendorf, C, H., The Naked Nagas , Thakare Spink,

Calcutta, 1941, p. 52.
30. Gohain, H., 'Assam and the Crisis of Indian Democracy', The Telegraph, Calcutta, February 7, 1991.

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