Failure of the Indian Government to address the root causes could lead to a Domino effect in South Asia
The Arunachal Dragon Force, also known as the East India Liberation Front, is a violent secessionist movement in the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The ADF seeks to create an independent state resembling the pre-British Teola Country that would include area currently in Arunachal Pradesh as well as neighboring Assam.
Mizoram’s tensions have arisen largely due to the Assamese domination and the neglect of the Mizo people by India. In 1986, the main secessionist movement led by the Mizo National Front ended after a peace accord, bringing peace to the region. However, secessionist demands by some groups continue to insist on an independent Hmar State.
Nagaland was created in 1963 as the 16th state of Indian Union after carving it out of Assam. It happens to be the oldest of insurgencies of India (since 1947) and is believed to have inspired almost all others ethnic groups in the region, demanding full independence. The state is marked by multiplicity of tribes, ethnicities, cultures and religion. It is home to around 400 tribes or sub tribes and has witnessed conflicts, including infighting amongst various villages, tribes and other warring factions, most of them seeking a separate homeland comprising Christian dominated areas of Nagaland and certain areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The area is rich in oil reserves worth billions and government efforts to strike deals with the rebel groups have yielded no results. Thousands have died since the insurgency began.
The struggle for the independence of Manipur has been actively pursued by several insurgent groups since 1964, some of them with socialist leanings, arising out of neglect by the state and central governments of the issues and concerns of the people. For lack of education and economic opportunities, many people have been forced to join these separatists groups. The disturbed conditions have only added to the sufferings of the general population. The controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (or AFSPA) has been extensively criticized, as it gives wide and unrestricted powers to the army, which invariably leads to serious violations of human rights.
It was the ethnic tensions between the Bengali immigrants after the 1971 war and the native tribal population in Tripura and the building of a fence by the government along the Bangladesh border that led to a rebellion in the 1970s. Very active insurgency now goes on amid very harsh living conditions for thousands of homeless refugees. The National Liberation Front of Tripura and the All Tripura Tiger Force demand expulsion of Bengali speaking immigrants.
Tamil Nadu: In the wake of their defeat by the Sri Lankan military in the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE rebels took refuge in the adjoining Tamil Nadu state of India, where on account of common ethnicity, religion, language and culture they mixed easily and enjoyed mass support for their cause. Overtime LTTE regrouped and recruited volunteers from amongst the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees and the local population and began to amass weapons and explosives. They began to work with a local independence movement called TNLA that was inspired by the Maoist/Naxalite movement and demanded secession from India. To the concern of the state and central government, highly explosive devices and other weaponry was recovered from LTTE’s possession but it has been difficult to take on LTTE owing to sympathy for Tamil cause among local Tamil population. TNLA has been banned and declared a terrorist organization.
Khalistan Movement of the Sikhs: The Sikh community has long nurtured a grudge against the Hindu dominated governments in New Delhi for having gone back on their word given at the time of partition in 1947, promising autonomy to their state of Punjab, renaming it Khalistan, which the Sikhs considered to be very important from their religious and political standpoint. Real as well as perceived discrimination and a feeling of betrayal by the central government of Indira Gandhi brought matters to the head and fearing a rebellion from the Sikh militant groups, she ordered a military attack on their most revered shrine – the Golden Temple, in 1981, where armed Sikhs put up stiff resistance. An estimated 3000 people, including a large number of pilgrims, died. This ended in a military victory but a political disaster for Indira Gandhi. Soon afterwards in 1984, she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards and this in turn led to a general massacre of the Sikhs across India. Although the situation has returned to normal, the Sikh community has not forgiven the Hindus for this sacrilege and tensions continue. The demand for Khalistan is still alive and about 17 movements for a separate Sikh state remain active.
Another factor that has added to the existing tensions between the central government and the Sikhs is the diversion to the neighboring states of their most important natural resource – river water, which belonged only to Punjab under the prevalent national and international law. This deprived Punjab of billions of rupees annually. With 80% of the state population – the poor farming community, adversely affected, there has been a great deal of unrest. Armed forces were used to suppress this unrest but there are fears that the issue could become the moot point of another Maoist uprising, this time in Punjab.
Kashmir: The Kashmir issue is as old as the history of India and Pakistan’s independence. It arose out of India’s forcible occupation of this predominantly Muslim state against the wishes of its people and in violation of the principle of partition of British India. A fierce struggle for independence continues unabated in the valley in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives at the hands of the central and state government’s security forces and have been displaced. There has been international condemnation of human rights violations. India has defied the resolutions of the UN Security Council that have called for demilitarization of the valley and holding of plebiscite to determine the will of the people.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars and efforts at reaching a solution through negotiations have not been fruitful.
Consequences for South Asia
The Indian internal scene presents a very disturbing scenario, one that has prompted Suhas Chakma, Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi, to say that ‘India is at war with itself’. Alan Hart, the British journalist, while speaking about insurgencies in India at LISA seminar in July this year, agreed with this characterization. There is a consensus that this situation seriously threatens India’s stability and consequently its democracy.
In a changing world, as the poor of India become more and more aware of the affluence of the relative few who reap the benefits from the country’s development boom, the rich-poor division assumes greater significance and cannot not be ignored. “The insurgency in all of its manifestations and the counter-insurgency operations of the security forces in all of their manifestations are only the casing of the ticking time-bomb under India’s democracy. The explosive substance inside the casing is, in a word, POVERTY” said Alan Hart, and said it rightly.
It is also important to understand that unification of India has not yet taken firm roots and it would be a bad idea to try and trigger fragmentation among its neighbors. There is imminent danger of the Domino effect taking the whole of South Asia down.