The violence triggered in Dima Hasao by news reports about purported inclusion of the autonomous district in a ‘Frontier galand’ map drawn up by an RSS leader — shows clearly that the powers-be in New Delhi are playing with fire over an explosive issue. Ever since the ga framework agreement was signed in August 2015, trouble has been brewing over its contents that the Centre has chosen to keep under wraps. In a region where group identity can be a matter of life and death, this hush-hush pact has kept galand’s three neighbouring States Assam, Manipur and Aruchal Pradesh on tenterhooks till date. What is more, the Centre has been at pains to widen the pact by bringing more ga groups on board besides the NSCN(IM). It has imparted a sharp edge to electoral politics in poll-bound galand with several parties and organisations there demanding that the pact be filised once and for all. The BJP in turn has hinted that a ‘fil solution’ will soon materialise once it is elected to power in galand. With speculation running rife and suspicion at high pitch, RSS leader Jagdamba Mall should have known better than rush to the media with his “proposed draft agreement” that he called a “persol effort” emating from his “study of the ga issue for over 45 years”. However, the more than four-decades-long study that he claims, seems to have only given him a blinkered view of the ga problem and its implications for the broader Northeast region. The RSS may now have distanced itself from Mall’s so-called plan, but the damage has been done. Dima Hasao has gone on the boil over his ‘proposal’ suggesting the district as part of a ‘Frontier galand’, along with two ga inhabited Aruchal districts Changlang and Tirap, and seven Manipur districts Sepati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Chandel, Noney, Kamjong and Tengnoupal. Mall has suggested that this vast swath of territory be Centrally administered for 10 years to bring about ga development, which he should have known would raise the question — after 10 years, what? Is it at all surprising if this ‘proposal’ makes some stakeholders draw the conclusion that while the borders of galand’s three neighbours will remain untouched for the time being (as promised by the Centre), the situation could change after 10 years if ‘Frontier galand’ is merged with existing galand State to make Greater galim a reality?
Playing with fire
Such fears have already been stoked in Dima Hasao, with apex Dimasa body ‘Jadhike isho Hoshom’ and other civil, women’s and students’ organisations jointly calling for a bandh last week in the district. The outburst that followed has gripped headlines, with protesters attacking the RSS office at Haflong, blockading Maibong railway station and ripping up a section of the track, and clashing with security personnel. The police firing claimed two lives, left several injured and was followed by curfew clamped across the district. Thousands of stranded train passengers had to undergo much anxiety and privation; reports have come in of irate passengers going on the rampage and damaging property in New Haflong station. The Dimasas were all set to celebrate Busu festival on Saturday before the trouble erupted, and it will take time for the district to limp back to normalcy. But what damage has been inflicted on the already fraught ga-Dimasa relations there is anybody’s guess. Back in June 2001, the then NDA government at the Centre had signed a ceasefire agreement with the NSCN (I-M) — without territorial limits — a provision which provoked an angry backlash in Manipur as it was viewed by the majority Meiteis as a precursor to carve out ga-inhabited areas of the State into a greater ga homeland. Despite his ‘45 years study’ as claimed, Jagdamba Mall failed to draw lessons from such past outbreaks, which has now wrongfooted his organisation RSS in Dima Hasao. While the RSS and the BJP are appealing to the people not to be misled by speculations over redrawing of State borders, seeds of suspicion have been sown with Dimasa groups demanding that the Central and Assam governments come clear over the issue. Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has assured the people that Dima Hasao will not be included in any galim; in fact, he has been seeking concrete assurance from the Centre in the last couple of months that Assam will not lose any part of its territory because of the ga accord. However, public suspicion is likely to persist over the Central government’s true intentions. After all, long-term electoral calculations, a perceived tendency of adventurism and going for quick-fix solutions to seek political mileage, and overall secretiveness make for a dangerous mix. Assam is familiar with such uncertainty over another looming issue, the one of proposed granting of citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi migrants even as the NRC is being updated in the State in line with the cut-off year in Assam Accord.