DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Insurgency and ethnic strife since the early nineties have taken a heavy toll on Assam, a state that even today has large pockets with extremely poor development indicators. Official statistics compiled by the Assam Police reveal a shocking scerio: as many as 8,227 people have been killed in insurgency related violence between 1990 and June 2015. These include 4252 civilians, 3063 militants and 912 security personnel. One is not sure if the 842 people killed during various bouts of ethnic violence in the Bodo Council area since the mid-nineties are among the 8000-odd people who have lost their lives to violence in Assam during the past 25 years.
Hardly anything has changed in Assam during the past three decades since insurgency had raised its ugly head. The chicken-and-egg situation continues—whether lack of development led to insurgency or whether insurgency has retarded development! But one doesn’t need to be familiar with rocket science to understand that lack of livelihood opportunities, poor governce, including a poor service delivery mechanism, large-scale corruption and lack of political will to change things or perceptions, are behind the sorry state of affairs in Assam. This state of affairs has been among the pull factors that have drawn local youth to join insurgent groups.
Take the case of the Dima Hasao district, until recently a hotbed of insurgent depredations. The district’s score of human development index is lower than the State average, figuring at 0.363 (11th ranking). In so far as income, education and health, the district occupies 10th, 6th and 17th positions respectively in Assam’s district-wise rankings (Assam Human Development Report, 2004). As high as 31.44 per cent of the district’s total population of 1,88,079 (2001 Census) lives in poverty as indicated by the human poverty index estimated in 1999.
Viewed solely from the point of view of economics, the reasons for this state of affairs is not far to seek. Only 6 per cent of the total geographical area in Dima Hasao district is put to agricultural use. This is because barren and uncultivable land and unclassified forest areas together constitute about 80 per cent of Dima Hasao’s total area. Besides, classified forest areas constitute about 13 per cent of the district’s total geographical area. This after Dima Hasao got an Autonomous District Council way back in 1952, just five years after India’s Independence!
The scerio is equally bleak in the Bodo Council area comprising four districts—Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Chirang and Baksa. As much as 408 km of so-called road in the Bodo Council area is non-motorable, located mostly in reserved forest areas which are the main hiding places for the NDFB (Songbijit) terror cadres. This has been a big hurdle for security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations against the NDFB (S) militants. The entire Bodo Council area has only four hospitals! The challenge is daunting because of the Bodo Council area’s 31.5 lakh population, 95 per cent live in rural areas.
We can talk about the need for a new peace policy or perhaps a new counter-insurgency doctrine where the Government would not venture to talk peace with newer militant groups or break-away factions. But, things will not change and insurgency will continue to sustain itself until we have good governce and a good service delivery mechanism that is actually accountable. It has become routine for the state governments in the North-east to call in the Army to tackle insurgency. At the same time, the states are spending crores in the me of police modernisation. Does police modernisation only means buying vehicles and bullet-proof jackets and so on? Certainly not. Training should be a key component of police modernisation in insurgency-hit states, but sadly this aspect is hardly high on the agenda of the police or the political brass. Is it because there is no accountability whatsoever and the Army is always there to be called in?
One is not expecting anyone in the Government to answer. The public too seems to be lethargic because they hardly resort to the use of the transparent tool called the RTI to obtain information. Well, the babus might deny such information on ‘security’ grounds where the masses are suffering from the absence of security.