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Blood in paradise

As North East India goes for Lok Sabha polls, the real issues involved are not about managing global recession or having a good Prime Minister. People are not concerned about the colour of the party-to-rule in New Delhi. As serial blasts and insur...

, ET Bureau|
Apr 20, 2009, 04.57 PM IST
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"There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction" -- John F. Kennedy
THREE people died on average everyday in the Indian states of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur in 2008. First quarter 2009 already threatens to challenge the 2008 figure. Wreckage, devastation, black thick smoke crowning the fires that burn below, mangled and charred dead bodies, scores of limbless injured dripping blood and hundreds of weeping relatives, their faces stark with terror that stems from the fear insurgency has injected into them!
That is the North East today, a cluster of seven states of this republic, which the tourism ministry in all its wisdom and nonchalence still prefers to brand "Paradise Unexplored" !
Welcome to one of the greatest ironies of Free India, 62 years after Independence as the country conducts its 16th Lok Sabha Elections ! Call it the world���s greatest political circus or whatever you will, it is thumbs down in this far-flung corner of India, where poverty rules, development is fairly insignificant in modern-day terms and the earth is soaked red in the blood of people who die on it every day.
The only silver lining is Tripura, where militancy has declined, while Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram are relatively peaceful in so far as insurgency goes. But then, the north eastern sky has always been dark for decades and even if shifting clouds do make away for a spot of silver now and then, you never actually know whether it will last.
In Assam, Nagaland and Manipur there are over 50 insurgency outfits, of which 34 are in Manipur alone. In 2007, Manipur had recorded 388 deaths, caused by militancy, a figure that rose to 484 in 2008. The killed were of all kinds: security forces, civilians and militants too. But what���s interesting is, if you average it all. In 2007, therefore Manipur on average, accounted for 1.06 insurgency-related deaths a day, while in 2008, it was 1.32 deaths a day ! Year-on-year therefore, Manipur���s degree of devastation rose by 24.74%, which is something that those who canvass for votes every election season should perhaps chew on. Overall, Manipur accounted for 47% of the total number of militant murders of the North East.
In 2008, Assam accounted for 384 such causalities and Nagaland 201. Along with Manipur, the three states together lost 1069 lives in calendar 2008, or at the rate of three lives a day. In the last 8 years there were 605 bomb blasts in Assam alone, while in the last three and half months of 2009, more than 20 incidents involving IEDs and grenades have taken place in the state.
During this period 49 civilians and 35 militants have got killed, while 307 from different militant outfits have been arrested while 130 have surrendered. Police claim that in last three months 79 incidents of bomb blasts were prevented and 376 kg of explosives seized in different places of Assam. Still, violence goes on unabated.
In the last 13 years, 3,754 people officially got killed in different insurgent related activities in Assam. During 1996 to 2001, a total of 2,644 cases of violence had taken place, that is at an yearly average of 528. In the period also, 400 security personnel were killed with a yearly average of 80, while 1,536 civilians lost their lives at an average of 307 ! In the period 2001 to 2009, 3,405 incidents of violence had taken place in which 226 security personnel got killed at an average of 28 per year, while 1,592 civilians lost their lives too at the rate of nearly 200 people annually.
When civilians or security personnel are not the target, the militants go about killing each other in what might be called a unique example of selective hysteria about blood. Consider Nagaland and the frequent clashes between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-IM (NSCN-IM) and National Socialist Council of Nagalim-K (NSCN-K). Atleast 13 cadres of the fledgling National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Unification) got butchered at Seithekima-C village, 15 km off Dimapur in May last year and this wasn���t the only instance of its kind.
In Manipur, extortionists have forced many an estalishment to close down. Every institution is open to extortion including places of worship, educational institutes, health centres, commercial establishments et al. Kanan Devi Memorial School at Pangei in the Imphal East District was closed for an indefinite period. Extortion demands forced the closure of two Government colleges in Imphal. Two private hospitals were closed down due to extortion demands. Several doctors at the state���s premier healthcare establishment, the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) have fled.
In all three states, common ordinary people are afraid to venture out of their homes. Even the home is not safe because you never know when the militants strike. The deadly blast at Maligaon in Guwahati city on April 6 have left an entire group of students of a local primary school, funded by the Prime Minister���s MP fund, so traumatised that they have not been able to attend classes since. In the troubled North East, they have actually started believing "Ignorance is Bliss" if the cost of education has to be paid with the life of a child. In Assam, everybody tells everybody else at home "Avoid crowded places", because that���s exactly where the last 20 serial blasts have happened.
So what���s happening ?
Anger. That���s what is happening everywhere. Anger against the state, anger against the New Delhi leadership, anger against unabated terrorism. For the first time in decades, it is ordinary people who are beginning to voice their anger in whatever form they can. People are tired of being killed, respectable people are disgusted having to lead the lives of fugitives. Business, like in the continuing Bihu season, has gone for a toss. Anger manifests itself all around and it is just unlucky for the vote-seekers that this has started surfacing at the time of polls.
"Compensation after death and repeated assurances of security is not something we want. We need to denounce terror," said Abhilasha Talukkdar, an MBA student and a voter of Guwahati Lok Sabha constituency. After the serial blasts of October 30, 2008, Assam has witnessed ordinary people coming out of their homes in dozens to stay up all night, lighting candles at street corners to protest the killings.
"It is high time that we put a stop to all this. There is a need for a strong political will to stop killings in the North East. If Mizoram���s insurgency can be solved through peaceful negotiations, why can���t the same be done in the rest of the North East" asks R Sema, a resident of Dimapur.
Imphal���s Binod Singh says pretty much the same thing. "Despite our tourism potential, tourists do not come and people of the northeast are forced to move out elsewhere. Why should this be ? We have everything here and all we need is a political will and a leadership that can solve the militancy issue. Insurgency here is home-grown and tackling it militarily will only have temporary effect, not a permanent one. We want to eradicate militancy completely" he said.
Sukhram Chauhan, a farmer from Bihar who does sugarcane cultivation in the troubled Kharoni area of KarbiAnglong told ET : " For God���s sake, I want peace should return to the hills. I have lived a very happy life here, but in the last couple of years there is so much mis-trust created between tribals and non-tribals that threatens to destroy everything. We need leaders who can change the atmosphere. There is an urgent need for change" the dhoti-clad old man said.
Dhiren Baruah, president of Save Guwahati, Build Guwahati (SGBG), an NGO, said: "The ULFA problem of Assam is a political issue and it cannot be resolved by army operations. The issue has been kept alive by vested interest groups just for their benefit, and a sincere political will is required to solve this issue." The NGO recently brought out a peace procession, protesting terror strikes in the state. The march was joined by some 500 peace-loving citizens.
Between April 16 and April 23, the North East will have decided which 24 representatives it will like to send up to the Lok Sabha. Never before in history perhaps has so much depended on 24 MPs. It will be their sacred duty to effectively parley with the government in power in New Delhi to bring permanent peace in this trouble-torn region. They would also need to exercise all their clout to parley with the respective state governments in the North East to ensure that come what may, the region must become trouble-free.
Voters across the seven states of the North East, want just that. They want action on part of the MPs. For decades, ordinary people have had to pay the price of relative comfortable inaction on parts of MPs, MLAs and the establishment overall.

Bikash.singh@timesgroup.com
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