Amit Shah’s date with NE states
IFP Editorial: The boundary disputes might be between the states as projected, but most of the disputes at the ground level are between the bordering villages.
In the recent North Eastern Council meet, the powerful Union Home Minister Amit Shah had urged NE states to settle their border disputes through bilateral dialogue. He has even given a timeline that all disputes should be resolved by August 15, 2022 so that the prime minister could proudly boast about it in his Independence Day speech. It was a sort of ultimatum. Most of the Governors and Chief Ministers besides the Chief Secretaries of the NE states were present in the said 69th NEC Plenary meeting. The biggest state in NE Assam has border disputes with almost every state except Manipur and Tripura. Perhaps, it is because the two were princely states with properly demarcated boundaries before the Indian Independence while the other states were carved out of Assam. The state of Assam has long standing border disputes with the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. The last one was known as the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA). Arunachal Pradesh became a full-fledged State on 20th February, 1987. Till 1972, it was known as the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). It gained the Union Territory status on 20 January 1972 and was renamed as Arunachal Pradesh.
The union home minister cited the case of border disputes with Bangladesh while saying that if India could settle border disputes with neighbouring Bangladesh why the NE states can’t do so despite being part of the same country. So sad that, Amit Shah did not mention the long-standing boundary disputes with neighbouring Myanmar. As we said before, the all-important issue of frequent border incursions by Myanmar villagers backed by their authorities along the Manipur sector of the international border was missing from the Home Minister’s speech. Cases of missing boundary pillars or shifting of the pillars has been happening now and then since Manipur’s merger with the Indian Union. Perhaps, it might have been because of the fact that issues concerning international boundary disputes is beyond the mandate of the Union Home Ministry while inter-state boundary disputes are very much the concern of the ministry. Well then, he should not have quoted the Bangladesh negotiations to push his logic and should have plainly asked for resolution of the inter-state border disputes in the interests of the country.
Manipur’s boundary disputes have not been that violent as in the case of Assam’s disputes with other NE states. Merapani is still a broiler-plate between Assam and Nagaland with frequent outbreaks of violence between villagers backed by respective state forces. More recently, we have seen violence and blockades on the Assam-Mizoram border while Arunachal Pradesh has also had its share of disputes with the state of Assam. The timeline set by Union Home Minister Amit Shah could perhaps be achieved as most of the NE states are either BJP governed states or by allies of BJP. But, there is no certainty to a peaceful resolution of the disputes. The boundary disputes might be between the states as projected, but most of the disputes at the ground level are between the bordering villages with claims mostly based not on historical records or documents but more on oral tradition.
A case in point is the Dzuko Valley which sits high amongst the clouds at 2,452 meters above sea level, straddling the border with Nagaland state. A state border between Manipur and Nagaland runs through the heart of Dzuko Valley, marked at some points by a narrow stream. There have been several instances of confrontations between Manipur and Nagaland. But in the end, it ultimately boils down to disputes between the Southern Angamis of Nagaland and Maos of Manipur. Not only in Dzuko, but there are long-standing border disputes between the two states in Tungjoy and Jessami. It is indeed lucky that the home minister has come up with an ultimatum for settling border disputes among the states. One must take advantage of it. And before we begin bilateral talks, we must be ready with proper historical documents to convince the other side.