Boundary And Other Tensions


By B.G. Verghese

The Northeast has been in the news for all the wrong reasons: continuing assaults on the person and dignity of persons from that region in Delhi and elsewhere, which is an absolute national disgrace, continuing controversy over AFSPA, and killings along the disputed Assam-Nagaland border.

The Bezboruah Committee has reported on the first issue. But over and above its recommendations, there must be swift and condign punishment of those indulging and encouraging hooliganism.Also, it is necessary to propagate nationally, and especially in universities, booklets and film clips on the Northeast to educate local barbarians about their own country and countrymen in place of the totally useless official “Northeast Newsletter” produced today.

IromSharmila’s release from detention after being forced-fed through 14 years of hunger strike in protest against the imposition AFSPAwas short lived as she insisted on continuing her fast.A hunger strike is a weapon of blackmail. Recalling Gandhiji’s fasts under alien rule is wilfully mistaken. Moreover, a fast unto death is tantamount to suicide, a penal offence. If Irom were to perish fasting, the situation could spin out of control and the Government would be flayed by its current critics.

There are legal and constitutional means to battle what one considers unjust laws. The Jeevan Reddy Committee recommended a workable compromise a decade back. This was to remove redundant provisions from AFSPA and incorporate some others in existing laws. AFSPA causes psychological hurt.

Further, since AFSPA can only be invoked in areas declared “disturbed”, public pressure can be applied on the concerned authorities to revoke “disturbed area” proclamations. There has been wrongful use of AFSPA. These cases have invoked speedy investigation and punishment in many cases. But to lift AFSPA totally in areas subject to militancy, cross border mischief and terror may be unwise. Militancy often occurs in remote uninhabited areas where city-based magistrates are not at hand to issue necessary warrants of search, seizure and firing. Hence investiture of such powers in the armed forces is necessary. Ground gained at great cost over time can be lost in an hour.

It might be desirable for the DA Act and AFSPA to be withdrawn in phases in limited areas. But let the armed forces decide on the scope and tempo of such initiatives in collaboration with the local government, whether in the NE or in J&K.

The Assam-Nagaland border dispute has been allowed to drag on for too long. Similar disputes exist between Assam and the new states of Arunachal, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland carved out of it. This stems from the discrepancy between the so-called administrative “Inner Line”, initially drawn in Assam a century ago to safeguard the settled areas with their tea gardens, oil fields and coal mines,and subsequent revenue lines delineated by the Raj to mark out additional forest working areas as valuable sources of raw material and revenue. So when Assam was reorganised, the question arose as to which Line should be the border. Sadly, inter-state disputes have reduced these areas to no-man’s landsand havens for illegal activities.

Central policy has been muddled. In the Assam-Nagaland case, the Sundaram commission recommended a joint survey. Nagaland unreasonably refused and there the matter has rested with periodic conflict. The answer, as this writer has long recommended, is that these disputed border strips be declared Trusteeship Zones, with the two contending states and the Centre as partners for, say, 50 years, and placed under a Centrally-directed joint administration to be developed as rail and road heads, infrastructure, communication and training hubs and special economic zones that attract industry and investment, using cheap NE hydro- power. Higher and technical education and health facilities could be located here. Revenues could be shared. But who islistening?

The same lack of imagination drives the fatuous debate on ways to attract back Kashmiri Panditsto the Valley from where they were driven out under jihadi pressure 25 years ago. Few remember that 50,000 and more Kashmiri Muslims also fled the state – traders to end routine extortion and worse, youth for education and training, and girls to escape forced marriage to jihadi brutes.

The Pandits lost their jobs and homes. If they return they will have to make a new beginning. Where? How? Building new ghettoes is no answer. With the Katra-Bannihal- Qazigund railway likely to be operational within two years, and maybe the planned lower-altitude, all-weather Bannihal tunnel as well, trans-PirPanjal movement will become shorter, quicker and cheaper. With Srinagar becoming an active international airport and an additional 1000 MW of hydro-power coming on stream during this same period, a Baramulla-Srinagar-Qazigund-Bannihal-Katra-Jammu industrial-transport corridor, with a fibre optic transmission line and technical training facilities to boot, could come into being. One can conceive of a series of SEZ hubs along this corridor, specialising in agro-processing, herbal-based pharma, floriculture and IT-enabled services.

J&K residents, whether Pandit, emigrant Muslim or other, would gladly seize the rich opportunities that beckon. And non-State subjects should be welcome if they bring investment together with technical, managerial and marketing skills. Pettifogging arguments by littlebigots crying wolf about “outsider” land grab and demographic change must be slapped down for the nonsense they are. Nor can J&K be condemned to be governed by the idiocy of people who ask why the State shouldnot have a Hindu chief minister or by the diktats of Pakistan’s Hurriyatstooges. Umar Farooq dare not even own up to who assassinated his father in 1990 and joins in celebratingthe late Mir Waiz’s “martyrdom” by his assassins.

Sadly, a section of Pandits have allowed themselves to become pawns in the hands of the Hindu Right which is as fanatical as the separatists. Pilgrimages are planned and opposed as insidious efforts to divide and mobilise communities and disturb communal harmony.

The proposed Indo-Pakistan talks are off thanks to the Pakistani High Commissioner’s boorish insistence in meeting Hurriyat leaders on the eve of the Foreign Secretary level talks, despite being warned against doing so. To argue that Pakistani VIPs have consistently met the Hurriyat over many years does not constitute an extra-territorial right. The parallel would not be Indian dignitaries meeting with Baloch and Sindhi separatists on the eve of talks on J&K with Pakistan, but of defiantly meeting PAK and Gilgit-Baltistan opposition leaders such as Amanullah Khan of the JK Liberation Front and others in Islamabad if they have not been incarcerated or forced to seek refuge in distant shores. These critics have no place in Pakistan’s tightly-controlled Kashmir colonies ruled by the constitutional ideology of swearing by “the ideology of accession to Pakistan”.

Anyhow, Nawaz Sharif is currently embattled in Islamabad with Imran Khan and TahirulQadri, a cleric from Canada, seeking to topple him. This has enabled the Army more obviously to assume control over a weakened premier whose efforts to expand trade with India and try Musharraf for treason are not to the liking of the military as evidenced by spoiling fire across the LOC.

Meanwhile, at home, the BJPin particular continues to debase democratic standards and push for a “Hindu nation”. Mr Modi is in danger of becoming India’s Nawaz Sharif, playing second fiddle to the RSS “army”.


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