Politics rule Assam-Nagaland border fight; 'Go Gogoi' clamour grows

The pictures beamed live on local and national television with the police force both state and Central firing upon unarmed protesters without any immediate provocation have sent out a shiver down the spine of horrified viewers.

Simantik Dowerah August 22, 2014 11:45:58 IST
Politics rule Assam-Nagaland border fight; 'Go Gogoi' clamour grows

Blood soaked national highways, empty shells of cartridges, heartrending cries of the injured have become a routine in the last few days in Assam's Golaghat district. The pictures beamed live on local and national television with the police force, both state and Central, firing upon unarmed protesters without any immediate provocation have sparked a demand for the resignation of the  the  chief minister Tarun Gogoi -- or at least, that he relinquish charge of the home ministry.

How the clash started

The current spate of violence occurred due to a dispute between two individuals—an Adivasi named Salamon Sama and a Naga man Lotha— over a stretch of disputed land. According to NDTV, Lotha wanted to build a hut on this disputed plot where Sama was farming for him with his permission. Sama objected to the building of a hut and the local administration stopped both the construction and ploughing. Then came the turning point to the whole issue. Two Adivasi boys disappeared and the insurgent group Adivasi National Liberation Army chased away Lotha from Golaghat. The Naga man however sought help from the NSCN (KK) group who then unleashed a reign of terror by attacking 16 villages in Assam, putting houses on fire and killing 16 people.

Nearly 10,000 people fled their houses and have been staying in relief camps since then. Blaming the CRPF, which is commanded by a Naga officer in the area, the All Advasi Students Association of Assam began an economic blockade on National Highway 39. This highway is the lifeline to Nagaland and Manipur and saw no inter-state vehicular movement for four days leading to scarcity of essential commodities in those states. The protesters had also confined four Nagaland Police personnel for four days during this period who were enroute Nagaland after VIP duty in Assam.

Politics drowns the original dispute

Rather than deal with the border dispute at hand, the Congress party in Assam is intent on protecting its directionless government in the state by blaming the BJP.

Politics rule AssamNagaland border fight Go Gogoi clamour grows

Activists of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad taking out a mock funeral procession of Congress government during the 12 hour Assam bandh in Guwahati on Thursday over killing of Assamese people in Assam-Nagaland border areas. PTI

"The BJP has made a political issue out of the whole incident. The neutral force [CRPF] comes under the control of the Centre. The chief minister had informed the Union home ministry but they did not take the matter seriously. The statement by the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju that the law and order is a state issue is unfortunate," Congress spokesperson Kishor Bhattacharyya told Firstpost from Guwahati. "Why is Nagaland not being pressurised? Why is the Centre not taking action against the CRPF? The neutral force is favouring the Naga people. The Centre should intervene and solve the inter-state boundary dispute. All the other political parties are not pressurising the Centre."

The BJP in turn has tried to position itself above the fray of petty politics.

"Whenever they fail, Congress has always conveniently passed on the buck to BJP. What did the chief minister do to solve the crisis in the BTAD, Arunachal Pradesh-Assam border dispute or in the Karbi-Dimasa issue? He has failed everywhere. We don't want to do politics but we need to sort out the issues. We are really serious about it. Most of our office-bearers and many of our MLAs and MPs have already visited the affected areas. Tarun Gogoi would do the state a favour if he relinquished charge of the home ministry," said Assam state BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami.

In worse news for the Congress, the Ministry of Home Affairs has reportedly come out with a report pointing to the role of Congress dissidents in fanning the crisis across the state. "How can a report which has been scripted by someone and seen by no one to be believed? It has to back whatever claims it has made through proper evidence. So far as I know all Congress MLAs in Golaghat district are loyal to Gogoi. And the area also falls under his son's (Kaliabor MP Gaurav Gogoi's) parliamentary constituency. It has now become a trend to blame everything on dissidents. Dissident MLAs are mostly from Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts," former Assam education and health minister and leader of the dissident Congress MLAs, Himanta Biswa Sarma told Firstpost from Guwahati.

Sniping from the sidelines, regional party Asom Gana Parishad attacked both the Centre and the state. "Both the state and the Centre have failed the people of Assam. There is no law and order in Assam. The police is behaving like a brute force and violating human rights. We condemn this act of the government. Tarun Gogoi has failed to protect his own people and should step down," AGP president Atul Bora told reporters on Wednesday.

How Tarun Gogoi may have sought 'revenge' on heckling protesters

The economic blockade created pressure on the Assam chief minister to restore the supply line. On 18 August, the chief minister went to the relief camps to meet the refugeees at Uriamghat in Golaghat district. However, the crowd soon got agitated and heckled the chief minister damaging two vehicles of his convoy. A vehicle of a Congress lawmaker was also stoned. But the worst was yet to come.

As early as 5 am on 19 August, Uriamghat turned into a battle zone. The combined Khaki brigade of Assam Police and CRPF personnel went house to house and even to relief camps in search of those who had heckled the chief minister the previous day. Men, women and even teenagers were dragged out of their thatched houses and mercilessly beaten. Those who had the strength to run, ran to the paddy fields but were chased by security forces. As soon as the news of this khaki terror spread, people in thousands came out to protest the brutality, and the cops opened fire on the unarmed protesters.

TV footage clearly showed the police and CRPF fired from self-loading rifles and AK-47 rifles that too at a point blank range. Gaurav who represents the area in Lok Sabha went on to say that no one died from police firing and there was no reason to worry.

"Tarun Gogoi has completely failed to protect the people of the border areas in Assam. He is incapable of finding a solution to the Assam-Nagaland border problem. When he went there people had immense hope from him. They hoped that the chief minister would assure them of their security and they could return home. But he could not deliver any silver lining and so the people got angry. But what Gogoi did was to take revenge on these hapless people who had nowhere to go. He should leave the home portfolio immediately and we demand a full-fledged home minister in the state," KMSS publicity secretary Kamal Medhi told Firstpost from Guwahati.

On 20 August, police fired again on the protesters at Erengapara Chariali in Golaghat town who were marching to the Deputy Commissioner's office and the police station to set them on fire. This time three people lost their lives and six were injured. A concerned Centre immediately rushed more paramilitary forces and the army was called in to maintain law and order. What astounded many was the attitude of the chief minister and the MP to pass on the blame on the Centre rather than admitting their own failure to control the situation. On Thursday, Union junior Home Minister Rijiju met both Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang and Tarun Gogoi in Guwahati to cool tempers on the ground and sought cooperation from both. This may keep the region quiet for a while but long term solution is the ultimate answer.

Genesis of the Assam-Nagaland border dispute

The complication of the Assam-Nagaland border dispute is not new. Its origin can be dated back to the Treaty of Yandabo which was signed on 24 February 1826, nearly two years after the First Anglo-Burmese War formally broke out on 5 March 1824. The signatories of the treaty were General Sir Archibald Campbell on the British side and by Governor of Legaing Maha Min Hla Kyaw Htin from the Burmese side which drew the new boundaries. It got even more complicated with the formation of the Naga Hills District in 1866 and with the formation of Nagaland state in 1963. Not only the British rulers but also successive Central and state governments have come and gone but all failed to solve the issue till date. Recommendations of two Centre formed panels—Sundaram Commission (1971) and Shastri Commission (1985)—also stood rejected.

Even with the Supreme Court appointed mediators, the dispute is yet to be settled despite several meetings. Due to the complex nature of the problem, neutral forces (read Central paramilitary forces) are stationed in the disputed area belt to maintain law and order since 1971 as there are frequent clashes between the people of the two states. They fought in a big way in 1965, 1968, 1979, 1985 and 2007 earlier. With the idea of Greater Nagalim increasingly gather steam involving massive swathes of Assam land in the districts of North Cachar, Nagaon, Golaghat, Jorhat and Sivasagar, it is only a temporary reprieve till the next bullet is fired.

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