Persistent border irritants and some help from Dhaka
WHEN Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram were created, their borders were left undelineated and the Centre told these states to settle the matter with Assam before seeking its intervention. Arunachal Pradesh (formerly the North East Frontier Agency and Centrally-administered through the Assam governor), refused to accept the 1951 Notification on the 704-km common boundary with Assam and Nagaland has rejected the boundary as defined in the Nagaland Act, 1962. In the Merapani (Golaghat) incident in January 1979, at least 59 Assamese villagers were killed and in the clashes between the Assam and Nagaland police in 1985, as many as 45 died. Since then, simmering tensions along the border have surfaced many a time, souring relations between the Assamese and Nagas.
On 23 May this year, an unfortunate incident took place at Mariani (Jorhat district). According to our sources in Guwahati, two Adivasi youths, Atul Kurmi and Ranjit Nayak of the Naginijan tea estate, were allegedly abducted by some Naga miscreants. The same day, the Nagaland police handed them over to the Assam police at Mariani. The Nagas, however, claimed the two were caught for encroaching on their land.
Various Assam-based organisations demonstrated at Mariani in protest against the Naga action and imposed a road blockade to stop supplies to Mokokchung, Nagaland’s second largest town. Rupjyoti Kurmi, a Congress legislator from Mariani, sustained injuries in a CRPF lathicharge when he went to the local police station to inquire about the two youths. Assam cabinet minister Siddique Ahmed, who visited the troubled spot, said the government was waiting for the Supreme Court verdict on border disputes.
According to the Nagas, some All Assam Tea Tribe Association members assaulted Naga travellers and damaged their vehicle while they were filling petrol at Mariani and this was done at the instance of Rupjyoti Kurmi. On 28 May, the Ao Sendem, the tribe&’s powerful platform, imposed a blockade on the Mariani and Amguri roads and was determined to continue it until the dispute was solved. It told Mokokchung residents to brace themselves for a scarcity of commodities. The underlying motive, according to the Sendem, is to punish Assamese traders who, it claimed, did business with Mokokchung and its peripheries worth Rs 1.5 crore a day.
Since border clashes are invariably followed by the mutual exchange of allegations, it is difficult to pinpoint the main offender. A temporary truce should be in order, but it is also time that a serious look was taken into border disputes for the larger interests of the people of the disputant states and for peace.
THE North-east landlocked states like Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura will certainly welcome the Bangladesh government&’s gesture of allowing India to transport essential commodities through its territory. Though a temporary arrangement, there is no denying that if Dhaka allows transit facilities for Indian goods, road transporters will be the main beneficiaries. As of now, a truck carrying goods from Kolkata to Agartala invariably takes eight to nine days, whereas through Bangladesh it would be a matter of just two or three days at the most, the distance between the two points being 350 km.
There comes more encouraging news that the daily direct passenger bus services between Agartala and Dhaka will resume soon. These services were suspended last September following the burning of an Indian bus carrying 22 passengers by some miscreants near Dhaka. Mercifully, there was no casualty.
Meghalaya has also expressed a desire to have regular bus services to Dhaka. During his recent visit to India, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang emphasised the importance of a neighbour when he said, quoting a Chinese proverb, that a distant relative may not be as useful as a near neighbour. No idle musing, this.