Northeast needs creative solutions like building economic and technology hubs in contested zones. Further, the contested areas should be administered by a central agency to prevent future claims and counter-claims.
- Recent border clashes on Assam-Mizoram Border and Assam-Meghalaya border points to the failure of central and state governments to solve the boundary issue.
- Today the borders between Assam-Meghalaya, Assam-Mizoram, Assam-Nagaland and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh are all hotly contested spaces and marked by frequent bloodbaths.
Reasons behind continued tensions:
- First, the boundary division in colonial times was done to serve the commercial interests of the British. While post-independence, it was more focused on administrative convenience. Thus, in both scenarios, the tribal rights were not given much respect while undertaking the demarcation exercise.
- Second, there is a tussle between adherence to the constitutional boundary versus obedience to the cultural boundary. The people of new states like Mizoram, Meghalaya (which have been carved out of Assam) show greater respect to cultural boundaries. For the tribes of the Northeastern states, the word ‘country’ is restricted to their respective homelands. A nation is a place where they are free to live the way their ancestors lived. However, Assam is tilted towards the constitutional boundaries, which gives it more control over forest regions that have been historically under the control of tribals.
- Third, the state and center governments have failed to focus on long-lasting solutions.
- In the past, Assam had inflicted economic blockades on Mizoram and Nagaland after every border tussle. No central government has taken these border disputes seriously, much less tried to resolve them.
- In the past, there were proposals to turn the disputed areas into economic zones, which would benefit the states concerned.
- Disputed borders can also become educational hubs, IT parks, health centres, and tourist destinations. Here investments can come from DoNER and the benefits will be shared by people on both sides.
- Further, it would be in the interest of all concerned if these contested areas were administered by a central agency to prevent future claims and counter-claims.
- Politically mediated practices of “fixing” borders and enclosure of the forest commons need to be centred around people, their longstanding practices, and concerns for forest commons.