North-East is a ticking bomb of ethnic tensions waiting to explode
Just like Manipur, there are faultlines running through the other seven states in the region; The Federal gives you the lowdown
Manipur has been burning for about three months now without any sign of the conflict between the two warring communities Meiteis and Kukis resolving any time soon. The conflagration is largely the outburst of latent tension between the communities that was allowed to fester and at times even stoked by the state’s ruling dispensation.
There are undercurrents of tension beneath the veneer in other North-East states as well, waiting to explode. In some cases such faultlines are intentionally nurtured for political gains. The Federal gives you the lowdown on major simmering issues confronting the north-eastern states.
Arunachal Pradesh: Chakma-Hajong refugee crisis
The Himalayan state is home to around 65,000 Chakma and Hajong refugees. The Union government settled them in the state in 1964-69 after they were displaced from their homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of present-day Bangladesh. Their villages were submerged due to the construction of the Kaptai dam.
Since the 1990s the indigenous tribal communities of the North East state have been demanding expulsion of the two refugee communities from the state. Bowing under the pressure, the BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh stopped issuing residential proof certificates (RPCs) to the people from the community from last year.
The document was issued by the state government for the people of the two communities to apply for government jobs, particularly in the security forces, and avail themselves of government welfare schemes. The certificate is also required for admission in educational institutions.
Amidst the demand of the communities to reinstate the facility, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prema Khandu declared in April this year that Chakma-Hajong people would be relocated by distributing them in different states. He also said that Chakma and Hajong refugees could not be permanently settled in Arunachal Pradesh because it is protected as a tribal state under the Constitution.
Needless to say, any attempt to dislodge a population from the area inhabiting by them for decades will be an invitation to trouble. The Chakma Development Foundation of India (CDFI) accuses Khandu of “perpetuating prejudices” against the communities.
Assam: Delimitation exercise draws flak
The most populous state of North-East region has multiple demographic faultlines. The traditionally conflicts were mainly over ethnic identity and land. But ever since the BJP came to the power in the state in 2016, religion has become the main bone of contention in Assam with the government being often accused of pushing policies discriminatory to its 34 per cent Muslim population.
The latest flashpoint in the state is the Election Commission of India’s draft proposal for the delimitation of parliamentary and assembly constituencies. Welcoming the draft, the state’s ruling dispensation claims that it would safeguard the political interest of the indigenous communities against the domination of “illegal migrants,” a euphemism indiscriminately used against the state’s Bengali-speaking Muslim population.
The draft, which the Opposition says is prepared at the behest of the ruling BJP, proposes to increase the number of reserved assembly seats. The Scheduled Caste (SC) reserved seats will go up from eight to nine and Scheduled Tribes (ST) from 16 to 19.
More importantly, for the BJP, the redrawing of constituency boundaries is expected to lessen the influence of Muslim voters in at least 15-16 seats. Currently, Muslim voters are in majority in over 30 assembly seats. Assam elected 31 MLAs from the minority community in the last assembly elections held in 2021.
The rejig proposal, however, has not drawn the ire of the minority community alone. The Bengali-majority Barak Valley and Ahom-dominated Upper Assam areas, too, have witnessed protests over the delimitation draft. The number of assembly seats in Barak Valley will go down to 13 from the existing 15. Similarly, Ahom groups said the domination of their community would be limited to three to four seats from nine.
The community is so miffed by the “marginalisation” prospect that an influential youth body has now called for the creation of a separate ‘Ahomland’ from Assam. The Tai Ahom Yuba Parishad Assam (TAYPA) has lined up a string of programmes from August to push for its demand. Non fulfillment of the community’s Scheduled Tribe status demand further accentuated the community’s alleged sense of alienation.
The nine opposition parties in the state – the Congress, Raijor Dal, Assam Jatiya Parishad, Anchalik Gana Morcha, CPI (M), CPI, TMC, NCP and RJD – have jointly challenged the delimitation process in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on Monday (July 24) asked the Centre and the poll panel to reply to the petitions within three weeks. The legal intervention has put a lid on the issue as of now. But unless handled carefully to assuage concerns of the stakeholders, the delimitation exercise can spell trouble for the state.
Meghalaya: Demand for winter capital
Pressure groups representing Meghalaya’s three major communities – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo – have been engaged in war of words for the past few months over the state’s controversial reservation policy and the roster system.
As per the policy, 40 per cent of the seats in the North-East state are reserved for Khasi and Jaintia communities and another 40 per cent for Garos. Five per cent seats are reserved for other ST communities of the state. The reservation policy has not been completely adhered to all these years, creating backlogs.
Garos have locked horns with the other two communities on the reservation issue. The community is also demanding setting up of a winter capital in Tura, the headquarters of Garo Hills. At least five policemen were injured when a mob attacked the chief minister’s office in Tura during a meeting with groups demanding for the winter capital on Monday. Two BJP and one TMC leaders were arrested for allegedly instigating the mob.
Mizoram: Spillover of Manipur crisis
There are around 2,500 Meiteis in Mizoram, mostly in state capital Aizawl. The minuscule community started fleeing the state as Manipur violence started spilling over to the state as Mizos share ethnic bonds with the Kukis. Over 1,000 Meiteis fled Mizoram after an organisation of the former Mizo National Front (MNF) militants issued an “advisory” to the community.
Protests have taken place across the state over violence in Manipur. Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga and his cabinet colleagues on Tuesday (July 25) participated in one of the marches organised in Aizawl to express solidarity with Kuki-Zo community of Manipur.
Nagaland: Complicated case of Naga tribes
The Centre has on principle decided to create an autonomous territorial council comprising six eastern districts of the North-East state. It is to resolve the long-pending demand of the seven so-called backward Naga tribes who felt neglected under the present set up.
The formation of the council, however, may not be very smooth as there are some objections over the territorial and administrative jurisdiction of the proposed council.
Both the Centre and the state governments need to be very careful with the tricky issue.
Sikkim: True definition of Sikkimese
The picturesque state has a simmering tension over the definition of Sikkimese. It escalated earlier this year after the Union Finance Ministry amended the Income Tax Act 1961 to redefine the term “Sikkimese” to include within its purview people of Indian origin who were residing in the kingdom prior to the merger of the state with India on April 26, 1975.
Besides, there is also discord over the definition between Bhutias and Lepchas, the actual indigenous communities of the state and Nepalis, who also call them ethnic Sikkimese.
Tripura: Demand for Greater Tipraland
The demand for the ‘Greater Tipraland’ by the scion of the state’s erstwhile royal family Pradyot Kishore Manikya is keeping the ethnic pot boiling in the state.
Manikya’s TIPRA Motha has been demanding the formation of a separate state for tribals. The demand in the past had spawned tribal insurgency.