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Press Release
June 25, 2001

New Delhi, June 25, 2001: Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.K. Sinha, Governor of Assam, commenting on the cease-fire extension with the Naga militants, said, "Initially I thought it was a mistake." He went on to add, that the NSCN (IM)’s threats to pull out of the cease fire in case it was not extended to other areas were "more brinkmanship, than anything else."

Gen. Sinha was speaking at a seminar on "Addressing Conflicts in India’s Northeast" organised by the Institute for Conflict Management. The Institute is headed by Mr. K.P.S. Gill, former DGP, Punjab, and constitutes a major forum for research, data and analysis on terrorism and low intensity warfare in South Asia. The Seminar was convened at the India International Centre.

Presenting a paper at same forum, a senior journalist from Manipur, Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor of the Imphal Free Press, said, the reasons for the current violence in his State have more to do with the ‘official arrogance’, and the ‘gap’ that the arrogance has left between an official vision and the ground reality.

General Sinha also stated emphatically, "Assam is a mother-Sate" as opposed to the conventional notion of it being merely a one of the "Seven Sisters" of the Northeast; it was the core State and, "If there is insurgency in Assam, it affects the whole of the Northeast". He described the militants’ projection that Assam was historically not a part of India and that it was only under British rule that it became so as as "a canard". The Governor opined that it was such distortions that contributed to the initial popularity of militant outfits.

Gen. Sinha observed that consistent years of neglect of Assam led to the twin phases of the student movement and the insurgency, which he likened to a "stepchild in a family feeling neglected for a period of time and wanting to break away".

Speaking on the ceasefire with the NSCN (IM), Mr. Phanjoubam observed further that "As everybody now knows, the issue is not cease-fire, but territory." While emphasising on the failure to understand the temperament of the Manipuirs, he reiterated that "a good section of the Central leadership still does not seem to have got the message as they still insist on acting tough, instead of being concerned that such an orientation can only harden the people’s attitude."

In the context of the complexities regarding the cease-fire, he opined "Altering boundaries of States within India may be as easy as getting the ratification of a simple majority of the Parliament, but what we are witnessing here has nothing to do with what the statute book says, but what is in the hearts and soul of the people."

Speaking at the same forum, Lt. Gen (Retd.) S.K. Pillai, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and DG Infantry, stated that when the state becomes "a willing on unwilling collusive partner with terrorist and secessionist groups, it begets a stable anarchy." It is this condition of "stable anarchy" that currently prevails in many areas of India’s Northeast.

Gen. Pillai also noted that "Autonomy is all too often considered a panacea for ethnic conflict, particularly by a "soft state". Nothing different patterns of autonomy in the other countries, he observed that "autonomy is not necessarily a solution. It may be part of the problem. "The emphasised moreover, that if autonomy is viewed mainly in ethnic terms, this shifts are focus of attention from the "real issues of isolation and socio-economic producers". General Pillai also noted that grants of "autonomy" in the past have often hurried because of political pressures. A function of governance, he noted is to provide the intelligence flow and a holistic picture so that the political decision is not mistimed. The recent events in Manipur, he noted, were a case of the failure of this aspect of governance.

RD Pradhan, the then Home Secretary has given a remarkable account of how the Assam Accord was signed in a hurry because it had to be announced on 15 August 1985. Both the parties (AASU & GOI) knew that parts of the Accord were not implementable yet it was signed because the aim of the AASU was to get political power. An amusing footnote to this was that when Rajiv Gandhi did not approve of the phrasing of a draft clause, the Home Secretary’s response was "Sir, I have worked enough in the UN to know that bad English always makes for good negotiations. So please leave the English alone."

Gen. Pillai also underlined the destabilising impact of migrations from neighbouring States and countries, and pointed out that ethnic demands are consequences of such demographic destabilisation. General Pillai also noted the need for instutionalized arrangement for the psychological integration of the Northeast with the national mainstream. The development of human and economic infrastructure, he reiterated, was essential for such future integration and the resolution of issues.

Quoting Yash Ghai, Gen. Pillai, concluded "Autonomy should be chosen not because of some notion of preserving sovereignty but in order to enable different groups to have together to define a common public space".

Noted columnist, author and filmmaker, Sanjoy Hazarika, drew attention to the crisis of migration in the region. He cautioned against the rising rhetoric on this issue, however, with the words, "Most of us are the children of migrants, or migrants ourselves…. The problem arises when we speak of boundaries and homelands. He noted that, since the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, more than six million Hindus had migrated out of that country and into India, according to Bangladeshi sources. At least the same number of Muslims will also have migrated into India. This has resulted in enormous demographic destabilization. "The issue of migration," he said, "is extremely sensitive, indeed explosive, in the Northeast… There is almost no problem in the region that, in its cosmic aspects, can be alienated from land and from the movement of populations. He identified the ‘religious factor’ as the crucial element in the assessment of the movement of populations in the Northeast. "The faultlines are not over the immigrants themsleves," he noted, "but over the dispossession of land…. This is the chorus across the Northeast: the fear of dispossession dominates the entire discourse. Mati (land) is identity for the people of the Northeast."

Mr. S.K. Agnihothri, Secretary, National Foundation for Communal Harmony, Ministry of Home Affairs, noted that the problems in the Northeast, and especially Assam, were based on a failure or "withering away" of the state. He said there was too much emphasis on issues such as work permits, "but work permits are essentially for a floating population of workers who do not constitute a threat to the region. It is migrants who acquire and are attached to the land, and who intermarry with the locals, who are the real problem."

Mr. K.P.S. Gill, President, Institute for Conflict Management, noted, "Decision making in Delhi has more often than not been wrong with regard to this region, and has led time and again to enormous problems there. These processes will have to change, and to take into consideration the ground realities and opinions of the people from the Northeast, if the problems of this troubled region are to be resolved."

Working Paper

Press Release June 26

Press Release June 27





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