From the 20th of April next, the Supreme Court will begin hearing a case which carries far-reaching implications to the geographical extent of Assam as a State. All eyes of the people of the State will therefore be upon how strongly the Assam government argues its case at the apex court about the long-standing border dispute with galand. The problem has festered on for decades to the disadvantage of Assam, with Dispur ever on the defensive. Successive Assam governments have cowered and retreated before galand with its aggressive, insatiable demands for more and more chunks of bordering areas of Assam. In this overt and covert agenda, every galand government as well as ga political parties, organisations and militant outfits have operated in unison. And successive governments at the Centre have lent Kohima a sympathetic ear, so as to mollify rebel sentiments. With a wary eye on Chi ever since Phizo went over the mountains to seek Beijing’s support for his insurgency, Delhi has always been soft to ga rebel demands — provided it does not impact on the country’s overall territorial sovereignty. So when Phizo’s successors in the NSCN unfold their map of galim or Greater galand, it gets the thoughtful consideration of the Centre. Had not Manipur protested vigorously to the proposed galim incorporating four districts of Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Sepati and Chandel, the pernicious concept of Greater galand would have progressed much further by this time. The demand for galim also lays claim to Tirap and Changlang districts of Aruchal Pradesh, but here the Centre is more circumspect, considering Aruchal’s frontier situation with Chi claiming the entire state. And so Assam alone has had to bear the brunt of ga land aggression, with more than 150 persons and at least 100 policemen of the State losing their lives at the galand border since 1979. The way things are going, Assam stands to lose even more in the coming days. By one estimate, as much as 10,000 square kilometers comprising half the area of six districts Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, gaon, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao is at stake.
It all boils down now to how much firmness, foresight and legal acumen Dispur shows in the Supreme Court in placing its arguments. Considering its past record of bowing to Kohima’s browbeating tactics, Dispur does not inspire much confidence in safeguarding the interests of Assam. After the British demarcated ga borders as a Hills District in 1925, followed by the 1963 agreement for creation of galand state, and later the Sunderam committee report — Assam and galand should have had stable borders. But galand has upped the ante continuously with the specious, if not mischievous, demand for unifying all the areas inhabited by ga tribes spilling over into Assam, Manipur, Aruchal Pradesh and even neighbouring Myanmar. Behind this orchestrated demand lies the implicit threat of a return to more ferocious insurgency for an independent ga homeland. And what has Dispur done in the face of such unreasoble demands? In 1979, a craven Assam government signed a shameful treaty with the galand government, surrendering control of four sectors A, B, C and D in Golaghat district as ‘disputed area’ to a neutral force. But with this neutral force firmly on Kohima’s side, a huge swathe of more than 6 lakh hectares came under the effective administration of galand. But the aggression did not stop there. Apart from occupying Diphu, mbor, Rengma and Doiyang reserved forest areas, ga marauders have entered several kilometers deep into bordering districts, setting up houses, offices and places of worship overnight. In the face of such blatant land grabbing, the Tarun Gogoi government has adopted an ostrich-like head-in-the-sand policy. Thus it is that when ga miscreants raided Uriamghat and killed more than 20 villagers on the Assam side in August last year, Chief Minister Gogoi pleaded helplessness as the murders took place on ‘disputed’ territory! All hopes now rest on the Supreme Court for delivering justice, though cases of inter-state disputes can drag on for years like the Cauvery waters dispute primarily between Tamil du and Kartaka. Be as it may, the Assam government must show backbone in the apex court and prepare for the long haul, if it does not wish to lose legitimacy in the eyes of its own people.