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Making of another Kashmir in Northeast

Dipankar Dey

  • Pakistan’s close association with China has made it a stronger enemy for India to deal with easily. Delhi- Mumbai- Ahmedabad centric ruling oligarchy is looking for a softer enemy around NE to shift the war zone away from India’s power centre to the periphery.
  • Rise of Bangladesh as an emerging ‘Tiger’ of the South East Asia is a major blow to the proponents of religion based Two Nations Theory. To the Hindu nationalists of India, existence of Bangladesh, as an independent thriving nation, is an embarrassment. Bengali refugees are like ‘termites’ to them. And to fight these ‘termites’ they have decided to strengthen their hold in West Bengal first.
  • To the land locked people of North-eastern states, the Bengali speaking people of Bangladesh and West Bengal are not ‘termites’ rather these ‘refugees’ are their true friends. All of them, the locals and immigrants, are the victims of partition of Bengal in 1947. Unless this truth is realised and internalized by the people of Northeast, the entire region runs the risk of becoming another war zone like Kashmir.

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Kashmir and Northeast (NE) India have many similarities- both historical and strategic. After the partition of Punjab and Bengal, Kashmir and NE India almost got completely cut-off from the mainland India and caught surrounded by foreign countries. Moreover these two regions (Kashmir and NE) also have lost their easy access to sea ports (Karachi and Chittagong/Kolkata respectively) which they had enjoyed in the undivided India. Subsequent invasions of Pakistan and China have cut Kashmir into a divided entity.

It is feared that another Kashmir type war zone is in making in Northeast India. During last few years many disturbing developments in North East India have created a genuine apprehension in the minds of citizens and political analysts about the future of this resources rich region. It demands serious analysis to identify who are engineering this design and what could be the possible reasons behind this.

Here are few important developments during last four years which have triggered this apprehension:
August 2015: The government of India had signed a peace agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), the largest group representing the Nagas. After signing the agreement with the NSCN-IM, the Centre signed a preamble in November 2017 with six Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) to further hold discussions to find a solution to the issue.[2] But it has not been implemented.
May 2016: The Assam state Home Department had given its nod to set up the first ever full-fledged foreigners’ detention centre in the State. This was reported to be the biggest foreigners’ detention centre in the entire country.[3]

July 2016: The Citizenship Amendment Bill was proposed in Lok Sabha on July 19, amending the Citizenship Act of 1955. According to this bill illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan would not be imprisoned or deported. Instead these migrants would be eligible for Indian citizenship.

October 2018:  In the second and final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) more than 40.07 lakh citizens of Assam (mostly Bengali) did not find their place. Inclusion in NRC registrar is considered as a proof of identity.[4] These ‘outsiders’ constituted nearly 12% of the total applicants of 3.29 cores residents of Assam.

October 2018: BJP president Amit Shah declared that ‘Bangladeshi immigrants are like termites and each of them will be struck off the electoral roll’.[5]

January 2019: Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi said, ‘if proper respect is not shown to the Assamese people and the Citizenship Amendment Bill is passed, then the state will be bound to separate itself from India’.[6]

January 2019: Thousands of young people hit the streets in different towns of Mizoram to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Many of them held banners that read, “Hello China, Bye Bye India”.[7]

February 2019: The Supreme Court of India has asked the government to explore a suggestion for implanting GPS monitored ‘bracelets’ on the wrists of illegal foreign migrants instead of locking them, for a long time, in detention camps.[8]

February 2019: the Naga Student Union Delhi (NSUD) in collaboration with the Naga community in Delhi under the theme ‘Global Nagas have called for immediate political solution to the Naga problem and implementation of the 2015 'peace accord'.

February 2019: BJP president Amit Shah said Assam will not be allowed to turn into "another Kashmir" .[9]

February 2019: The Congress asked the central government to act immediately to control the situation and warned that Arunachal Pradesh “should not be made into another Jammu and Kashmir”.[10]

Through division of Bengal India has created a landlocked resource rich region in NE part of the country which is surrounded by five foreign nations namely, China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The only physical connection NE enjoys with mainland India is through Siliguri corridor which is often termed as ‘chicken neck’. Lack of connectivity with mainland India has crippled the economy of the region and made it totally dependent on others even for basic necessities. Serious academic study on the impact of division of Bengal on the NE economy is urgently needed.

Historical blunder
On 15th August 1947 two Indian states got divided, on the basis of Two Nation Theory as proposed by Hindu and Muslim political and business leaders.  Quite some time before the Muslim League demanded the partition of India on a religious basis, Bengal based industrialist G.D. Birla had pleaded for it. On 11 January 1938, he wrote to Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s secretary: “I wonder why it should not be possible to have two Federations, one of Muslims and another of Hindus. The Muslim Federation may be composed of all the provinces or portions of the provinces which contain more than two-thirds Muslim population and the Indian states like Kashmir … if anything is going to check our progress, it is the Hindu-Muslim question – not the Englishman, but our own internal quarrels.” Not only did Birla try to persuade Gandhi to agree to the partition of India on communal lines as early as January 1938 but he also approached Viceroy Linlithgow with the same proposal in the same month.[11]

Punjab and Bengal got divided in 1947 and millions of people got uprooted from their ancestral homes and crossed the border of two new Nations. As apprehended the exchange of population was not peaceful. Thousands got killed in communal riots.

Unlike Punjab and Bengal, Muslim dominated Kashmir was not divided. But “the immediate impact (of partition) was in Jammu. The Muslim subjects from different parts of Jammu province were forcibly displaced by the Dogra Army in a programme of expulsion and murder carried out over three weeks between October-November 1947”. The Muslims, who constituted more than 60 percept of the population of Jammu region, were reduced to a minority after the killings and displacement. To quote a 10 August 1948 report published in The Times, London: “2, 37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pak invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.”[12] Within hours of Kashmir’s accession to India, Pak army had occupied a major portion of the northern Kashmir and the state got divided into Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Indian state of Kashmir.  

NE- the next Kashmir of India!
There are many reasons for such an apprehension. Similar to Kashmir, Northeast India is also strategically very important to India’s neighbouring countries like China and Myanmar. Second, Hindutva philosophy of the Indo-Aryan ruling parties faces strong resistance from the Tibeto Barman and Austro-Asiatic tribes who dominate this region. Third, NE tribes have a long history of conflicts among themselves and with the State. In 1958 The Armed Forces (Special Power) Act (AFSPA) was enacted in 1958 primarily to empower Indian armed forces with ‘special power’ to maintain public order in ‘disturbed areas’. Incidentally till date AFSPA has been executed only in North-eastern states (except in Mizoram) and in Jammu and Kashmir.[13] Fourth, lacks of proper connectivity with the mainland Indian states have kept this region outside the investment radar of national and foreign capital. Human and natural resources of the region have not been utilized to their potential. Fifth, Pakistan’s close association with China has made it a stronger enemy for India to deal with easily. Delhi- Mumbai- Ahmedabad centric ruling oligarchy is looking for a softer enemy around NE to shift the war zone away from India’s power centre to the periphery. Sixth, rise of Bangladesh as an emerging ‘Tiger’ of the South East Asia is a major blow to the proponents of religion based Two Nations Theory.

Bangladesh not Pakistan is the major irritant to India now
After the division of Bengal, Muslim majority East Bengal went to Pakistan while Hindu dominated West Bengal remained with the Indian Union. In 1971 East Pakistan (East Bengal) declared independence from the Urdu hegemony of their ruler and became Democratic Republic of Bangladesh. Since then, language, not religion, has become the principal identity of Bangladesh.

Now Bangladesh is ahead of Pakistan, its previous ruler, in almost all the socioeconomic parameters. In 2017-18, it was ahead (US$1,751) of its sister West Bengal (US$ 1,500) in per capita income (in current price) and it is estimated that Bangladesh, one of the world’s densely populated countries, will exceed India’s per capita income in next couple of years.[14] Current per capita income of India and Bangladesh are US$2190 and US$1880 respectively[15]. To the Hindu nationalists of India, existence of Bangladesh as an independent thriving nation is an embarrassment. Bengali refugees are like ‘termites’ to them. And to fight these ‘termites’ they have decided to strengthen their hold in West Bengal first.[16]

The vicious circle of poverty and political unrest
The division of Bengal had turned North-east into a land locked region surrounded by five foreign countries. The umbilical cord is the ‘chicken neck’ corridor at Siliguri (West Bengal).  Due to lack of proper market and adequate support from the government at Delhi, the region could not utilise its huge economic potential for the benefit of their citizens. As the Table 1 indicates, during 2000-2018 NE states could attract only 0.03% of FDI equity flow which entered into India. Not only FDI even Indian commercial banks have not extended credit to NE people they deserved. Table 2 clearly shows that credit-deposit ratio of Northeast region has remained nearly half of the national average. Lack of fund and sustained siphoning of peoples savings and natural resources like tea, timber, oil, coal etc to other parts of the country have resulted into a vicious circle of inadequate resource, poverty, unemployment and political unrest. Instead of breaking this vicious cycle, political leaders have tried to sustain it for their selfish interests.

Table1: Received FDI Equity Inflows (from April, 2000 to March, 2018)


RBI Regional Office

States Covered

% to total Inflows

Guwahati

Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura

0.03%

Kolkata

West Bengal, Sikkim, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

1.0%

https://dipp.gov.in/sites/default/files/FDI_FactSheet_29June2018.pdf  visited 20.2.2019

Figures in Table 2 document state wise credit-deposit ratio of the Scheduled Commercial Banks of the six financial regions of the country. Data clearly reveal that among the six zones, north-eastern states have a very low C-D ration and during 1990-2017 its ratio has declined from 70% to mere 38%! Three zones, North-east, East and Central are the worst hit areas during this period. The major gainers are the South, West and North Zones. C-D ratios of the commercial banks have constantly increased in these areas during 1990-2017. In simple language the savings of commercial banks’ customers have been systematically siphoned off to the North, West and Southern states of India from the North-east, East and Central Indian states. For example in 2017 out of Rs 100 savings by the citizens of North East in the commercial banks an entrepreneur or borrower got only 38.2 rupees as credit/loan. But a citizen of West India could borrow 88.5 rupees for every 100 rupees deposits in the bank. Absences of FDI and inadequate finance from commercial banks have pushed the North-eastern economy into a low level equilibrium trap!

Table 2: State-Wise Credit Deposit Ratio (%) of Scheduled Commercial Banks: According to place of Utilisation (as at end-March)


Region

States/UT

1990

1999

2008

2014

2017

North East

Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura

70.0%

33.7%

48.3%

36.6%

38.2%

East

Bihar, Jharkhand, Sikkim, W Bengal, A & N Island 

52.6%

38.0%

58.2%

51.1%

43.0%

Central

Chhattisgarh, MP, UP, Uttarakhand

49.8%

36.8%

54.6%

51.8%

48.7%

All India

 

60.7%

54.8%

74.4%

79.0%

73.8%

South

TN, AP, Kerala, Karnataka, Lakshadweep , Puduchchery,  Telengana

83.2%

68.7%

96.8%

97.4%

86.6%

West

Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Daman & Diu, D & N Haveli

63.7%

67.0%

76.0%

80.3%

88.5%

North

Haryana, J&K, HP, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi

47.6 %

49.4%

70.1%

93.6%

79.1%

https://m.rbi.org.in/Scripts/PublicationsView.aspx?id=18230  visited on 20.2.2019
Another important observation can be made from table 2. The C-D ration of the coastal states of South and West are very high. It flags the importance of access to sea for the growth and economic development of the region.

Importance of Bengal to the North Eastern states
Figures in Table 3 indicate that the total population of the seven North Eastern states, as per 2011 census, were around 46% of the population of West Bengal. The Table also shows the population density and per capita income of seven north-eastern states, West Bengal and average per capita income of India as a whole.

Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram have very low population densities which get reflected in their higher per capita income than the all India average. Other states of NE region have much lower per capita income compared to all India average. In Nagaland population density has declined, during 2001-2011, which is not a healthy socio economic indicator.

Of the seven NE states, three states, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland (those have very low population density) had per capita income higher than that of West Bengal which has the highest population density among them. The remaining four NE states, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura, have per capita income less than West Bengal and  other three sister states of NE. Manipur has the least per-capita income among the seven sisters.

Economically strong neighbour in China might have helped Arunachal Pradesh to get access to a bigger market through formal or informal border trades. Though Nagaland, Manipur and parts of Mizoram have huge border with politically unstable regions of Myanmar the political and economic condition of this neighbouring country was not that conducive for economic engagement for a long time. As Myanmar is expected to grow at a faster rate in near future these four states which have borders with China and Myanmar are expected to reap the benefits of India’s Act East Policy.

Table3: Population density (per sqr Km) and Per capita income (NSDP/per capita in rupees at Constant 2011-12 Prices) of few Indian states


State

Population  (2011 census)

Population density 2001

Population density 2011

Per capita income 2011-12

Per capita income 2014-15

Per capita income 2016-17

Arunachal  Pr

13,83,727

13

17

73068

87965

86818

Assam

3,12,05,576

340

397

41142

44809

52416

Manipur

25,70,390

97

122

39762

44101

46756

Meghalaya

29,66,889

103

132

60013

55936

58826

Mizoram

10,97,206

42

52

57654

85056

101877

Nagaland

19,78,502

120

119

53010

60372

63568

Tripura

36,73,917

305

350

47079

58033

NA

West Bengal

9,12,76,115

903

1029

NA

54520

61245

All India

121,05,69,573

325

382

63462

72805

82229

http://www.esopb.gov.in/static/PDF/GSDP/Statewise-Data/statewisedata.pdf visited on 22.2.2019 http://niti.gov.in/content/population-density-sq-km visited on 22.2.2019

Tripura, which has a common language and cultural root along with strong physical connectivity with the emerging Asian Tiger in Bangladesh, probably gets immensely benefitted with greater engagement with Bangladesh. Geographically Mizoram and Tripura enjoy close proximity to Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh.

The main problem lies with Assam and Meghalaya which have lower per capita income compared to four NE states and West Bengal. These two states do not have any foreign neighbour to their east but to their west they have a more affluent neighbour in Bangladesh. Moreover their only physical connection with mainland India is located to their west in the state of West Bengal!

The possible way-out:
The policy makers of Assam, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya should reflect to which side they must look at, East or West, for their long term development. Better economic and cultural engagements with Bangladesh and West Bengal are likely to offer them better prospects to break their geophysical trap and help to access huge global market using the sea.

Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhaya, in his lectures ‘North East, Act East’, delivered on January 31, 2017, at Indian International Centre, Delhi, has also echoed the same opinion. According to him, Assam itself enjoyed one of the highest growth rates under the colonial economy built on trading tea, timber and oil with Calcutta to which it was linked. The epicentre of growth radiated down the Bay of Bengal via ports of Calcutta, Chittagong, Akyab (Sittwe), Rangoon, Moulmein, Tavoy and Singapore. He argued that ‘if transport through old Bengal and present day Bangladesh was crucial in the growth of the old Assamese economy, then every diplomatic effort must be made to restore such connectivity for the present day North East.’[17]

To the land locked people of North-eastern states, The Bengali speaking people of Bangladesh and West Bengal are not ‘termites’ rather these ‘refugees’ are their true friends. All, the locals and the immigrants, are the victims of partition of Bengal in 1947. Unless this truth is realised and internalized by the people of Northeast, the entire region runs the risk of becoming another war zone like Kashmir.

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1. Dipankar Dey, PhD, 17st March 2019, [email protected]  Tel: 91-9433887819

11.Suniti Kr Ghosh, Nationality Vs Partition, Aspects of Indian Economy, No 50, August 2011,  http://www.rupe-india.org/50/ghosh.html visited on 22.2.2019

17.Mukhopadhaya G,2017, North East, Act East, Occasional Publication 80, India International Centre, New Delhi,

Frontier
Mar 20, 2019


Dipankar Dey [email protected]

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