Outlawing militant outfits makes no sense in the absence of any action being taken against them, writes J B Lama

Given the Centre&’s different perception of law and order in the north-east, its rejection of Meghalaya&’s plea for paramilitary forces to fight insurgency in its Garo Hills district comes as little surprise. So why blame the people of the north-east if they feel that India&’s border ends at the “Chicken Neck”, the narrow strip of land in North Bengal that links the region with the rest of the mainland?
For 20 years after attaining statehood, Meghalaya was an oasis of peace and it was only in 1992 that the existence of the Khasi-dominated Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council came to light. Now keeping a low profile, its main objective is to secure independence while it goes about robbing banks, harassing non-tribal businessmen and traders (more than a dozen of them have been killed so far) through extortion. The capital town of Shillong became the hub for extremists from other states as well and their sympathisers.
At one point, the situation was so bad that the state government sought an immediate deployment of forces, but the Centre ignored it, keeping in mind local sentiments and opposition to it. The police force, however, took upon itself the task of en masse surrenders (1994) of the Garo-dominated Achik Liberation Magrik Army that was fighting for a separate Garoland. Later, its offshoot, the Achik National Volunteers Council, with the same objective of securing a separate state, showed up, but in 2004 it signed a truce with the Centre and is now suing for peace. Also active now in the Garo Hills is the breakaway ANVC(B).
What is of greater concern for the administration is the depredation by the proscribed Garo National Liberation Army, headed by a former senior police officer, Champion Sangma, since its formation in 2009. It was reported that even while in service, he was clandestinely running the outfit for almost a year and at that point of time, the minister in charge of home affairs was none other than present chief minister Mukul Sangma. The former was dismissed only after the outfit took to disruptive activities. It has so far killed more than 45 people, including police personnel.
On 4 November, its cadres intruded into Assam&’s Goalpara district and gunned down seven people belonging to the Hasong-Rabha community. What followed the next day was an ambush in the Garo Hills of a vehicle carrying undertrial prisoners, in which five policemen were killed. This was the third such attack on a police team in as many years. Champion Sangma (now in custody after his arrest in July last year) once accused the police of corruption and said they “deserve to die”. Having been a policeman, he should know better.
The continuing violence in the Garo Hills merely speaks of the administration&’s loosening grip on the situation. For three years now, the militants had been holding the people of the district to ransom. Outlawing militant outfits makes little difference if they are not tackled firmly. All things considered, there are two options left: either firmly crack down on militants – notwithstanding the Centre&’s unhelpful attitude – or negotiate with Champion Sangma, who once expressed the desire to contest the 2013 Assembly elections on a Congress ticket for the cause of “Garoland”.
The Garo Hills apart, the state has been on the boil since the first week of September following agitations by different NGOs demanding the introduction of the Inner Line Permit system to check infiltration. A young businessman was torched in his shop and succumbed to injuries in a Delhi hospital. Another businessman&’s wife died of shock when miscreants set their shop on fire. The administration&’s credibility has already hit a low. Only drastic steps can arrest the drift.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]