Small state, big brother

Source: Business Standard

Synopsis:

Assam-Mizoram violence is an outcome of the central government trying too hard to ‘integrate’ distinct northeastern states, which has unleashed latent regionalism.

Background:
  • Recent border clashes on the Assam-Mizoram Border and Assam-Meghalaya border point to the failure of central and state governments to solve the boundary issue.
    • On 26 July, a violent confrontation took place between police and residents on the Assam-Mizoram border.
    • The clash has left six Assam Police personnel dead and a trail of injuries on both sides.
    • The tension on July 26th followed alleged attempts by Meghalaya to put up electric poles at the Khanapara area of Guwahati.
  • Today the borders between Assam-Meghalaya, Assam-Mizoram, Assam-Nagaland, and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh are all hotly contested spaces and marked by frequent bloodbaths.
Reason behind such intense border conflicts:
  • First, four out of six neighbors of Assam were carved out of Assam between 1963 and 1972. The boundary lines were drawn hurriedly and casually by the civil servants, just like the approach adopted by Radcliffe in demarcating the India-Pakistan border.
    • This is why such intense border issues do not fester between Assam, Tripura, and Manipur as those two were already territorial entities by themselves and not created by dividing Assam.
  • Second, there is the existence of a smaller state syndrome in 4 states. They believe that their culture, identity, and ethnicity are being subjugated by Assam, the bigger state. It is the same reason which makes Pakistan anxious about India’s policy. 
  • Third, the central government is trying too hard to integrate the Northeast region as one single monolith. This has awakened sleeping regionalism, as every state has a unique culture and diversity of its own.
    • Setting up an organization like the NEDA (Northeast Demo­cr­atic Alliance) by the ruling party also tries to impose homogeneity over the diverse region.
    • Such an integrationist approach also defeats the rationale behind the creation of smaller  Northeast states. They were created to address their insecurities about being overwhelmed by outsiders and losing their identity.
Suggestions:
  • The dispute can be solved if generosity is shown by the bigger state (Assam) towards the smaller. The smaller states have always resented Assam as the big brother. They didn’t want to be dominated by New Delhi nor by Dispur.
  • India settled its land and maritime boundaries with Bangladesh. It also settled the Katchatheevu island dispute with Sri Lanka. In each case, the larger neighbor showed generosity and large-heartedness. The disputes would not have been solved if India had approached them like Big Brother.

Read moreAssam Mizoram Border Dispute – Explained, Pointwise

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