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The violent clashes on the Assam-Mizoram border in Lailapur on July 26th are a result of the continuing confrontation between the two states. The clash came days after a meeting of the Union Home Minister with chief ministers of the Northeastern states, held in Shillong. In this meeting, it was reiterated that inter-state border issues would be resolved amicably.
Mizoram has accused the Assam Police of entering its territory, while videos of armed young Mizo men in battle fatigues and helmets were reported from the Mizoram side, which reported no injuries.
A cautious and calibrated intervention by the center is desired to restore peace and normalcy in the region, along with significant support from the two-state governments.
Confrontations in the Past
- There have been confrontations over territory in the northeast region in the past. For instance, at least 28 policemen were killed in clashes on the Assam-Nagaland border in June 1985.
- The NSCN’s (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) demand for a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim. Which includes parts of Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh. It has been a major roadblock in the resolution of the Naga issue.
- Manipur has had its share of inter-state disputes resulting in destructive economic blockades.
- The Assam-Mizoram border has been restive, particularly since last year, necessitating the deployment of paramilitary forces.
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Current Scenario of Assam-Mizoram border dispute
- In October 2020, skirmishes developed between residents close to the disputed border between Assam’s Cachar and Mizoram’s Kolasib districts.
- These centred around the encroachment of reserve forest lands and illegal constructions, which were taken down by the Assam Police. However, the land over which such constructions happened has been claimed by both states.
- The growing hatred later resulted in the July 26th violent confrontation between police and residents.
- Five policemen and a civilian from Assam were killed in the Mizo border town of Vairengte in clashes.
Reasons behind the Assam-Mizoram border dispute and Inter-State Border Tensions
- First, the fault lines created by Britishers in boundary demarcation are still unaddressed. They created boundaries as per their commercial interests. In the process, sensitivities of local communities regarding land were either ignored or suppressed.
- The border dispute can trace its origins to the demarcation of Lushai Hills from the Cachar plains by the British in 1875. The British had drawn the boundary in consultation with Mizo chiefs.
- But in 1933, the boundary between Lushai Hills and the then princely state of Manipur was demarcated. It said the Manipur boundary began from the trijunction of Lushai Hills, Cachar district of Assam, and Manipur state.
- The Mizos do not accept this demarcation and point to the 1875 boundary, which was drawn in consultation with their chiefs.
- In the decades after Independence, states and UTs were carved out of Assam based on the 1933 line.
- This includes Nagaland (1963), Arunachal Pradesh (UT 1972, formerly NEFA), Meghalaya (UT 1972), Mizoram (UT 1972).
- Second, there has been a proliferation of political conversations that target migrants and “outsiders”. This shrinks the space and scope for fluid borders and fixes the identities of people as per the region, to realize its cultural and economic potential.
- Last year, volunteers of a Mizo student body started putting up checkpoints reportedly on the Assam side of the border.
- They alleged that the descendants of the Lushai tribes were being denied their rightful home through increased encroachment by the Bangladeshi immigrants.
- These checkpoints even prevented Assam government forest officials from carrying out their routine movements.
- Third, the events point to a failure of the constitutional machinery, empowered to de-escalate tensions at the border.
- The presence of central paramilitary forces should have helped maintain the peace, but it didn’t happen.
- Further, both the states are ruled by allies of the central government. However, the political leadership failed to preserve peace in the region.
- Fourth, Economic competition for land, engendered by a lack of non-farm jobs across the Northeast region, is also enhancing bitterness among states.
- Fifth, other issues that complicate the situation on the border include the transportation of illegal drugs that travel via Mizoram to Assam and other parts of the country.
Implications of Violent conflict
- Augments Trust Deficit: It hinders the probability of Interstate cooperation in the future due to enhanced trust deficit. This is testified by competing claims on the issue.
- Assam says Mizoram police fired on Assam cops with light machine guns. Mizoram says that Assam police overran a police duty post in its territory.
- Increases Hatred in masses: Such instances tend to increase feelings of animosity between the residents of Mizoram and Assam.
- Inclination towards China: China will be watching these fights with relish. The state which feels more betrayed can be manipulated by China for its vested interests.
- Domino Effect: If prudent action is not taken and violators are not duly punished, then such clashes will be seen on other disputed borders in the northeast region.
Steps taken to solve the dispute
- An agreement between Mizoram and Assam was signed to maintain the status quo in the no-man’s land in the border area.
- In 2006, SC ordered a three-member Local Commission headed by a retired SC judge to demarcate all the boundaries between Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal. It also attempted mediation between 2010 and 2013 – all to no avail.
- In mid-July 2021, the Union home secretary had convened a meeting of chief secretaries of both states and the concerned police chiefs.
- In the meeting, all issues were discussed with the help of maps, photos, videos, and satellite images of the region.
- A roadmap was agreed upon to maintain the status quo and withdraw forces away from the border.
- There is no sure-shot and quick solution possible to the border disputes between various states without a spirit of give and take, and a civic engagement brokered by the Union government.
- For this to happen, governments should, first, try to stop violence of any kind and restrain partisans engaging in such activity in their respective States.
- The whole stretch of reserve forests has to be freed of encroachments from either side.
- The state leaders must nurture the peace, put in place institutional mechanisms to prevent breakdowns, and negotiate a way out of long-standing disputes.
- The Home Ministry must ensure that the Assam-Mizoram border situation should first be subject to de-escalation and then return to the status quo.
- The Constitution’s mechanisms for addressing inter-state disputes should be duly used. This includes activating an Inter-State Council (Article 263) or asking the Supreme Court to adjudicate (Article 131).
- Further, a time-bound court-monitored commission involving local communities in joint demarcation exercises should be announced.
Sectarian tribalism has been the bane of the North-eastern States, with underdevelopment acting as a catalyst in complicating knotty issues over land and other issues in the region. The Northeastern states must realize that they share a collective destiny. They should be sensitive to and accommodative of each other’s interests so that the entire region can prosper.