Northeast Notes: Surrender Of 1179 Bru Militants And What It Means For Assam Peace Efforts

As many as 1,179 Bru (Reang) militants laid down arms earlier this week at Katlicherra of Hailakandi district before Assam Assembly Speaker Biswajit Daimary, Water Resources Minister Pijush Hazarika and top police officers. The militants belonged to the Bru Revolutionary Army of Union (BRAU) and the United Democratic Liberation Front of Barak Valley (UDLF-BV).

Despite being rich in resources, the Northeast remains underdeveloped, and the rise of various militant groups has only created more problems for the people of the region. The Centre — both under the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA — has encouraged peace efforts to end the insurgencies. The region was largely ignored by New Delhi in the past, but there has been more focus on Northeast since 2014, after the Narendra Modi government came to power.

The surrender of militants this week, that too in such a large number, shows the efforts are bearing fruits. In 2020, the Centre signed the Bodo Peace Accord with four militant factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), ending the four-decades-old insurgency in the Bodoland region of Assam.

Peace efforts have always been appreciated by the people, who are fed up with the chaos created by insurgency inspired by unrealistic romanticism. Back in 2011, when the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government returned to power with a majority on its own despite facing allegations of corruption, one of the reasons cited for the victory was the peace efforts started by it — fully supported by the then Manmohan Singh-led UPA government — with the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Presently, one ULFA faction is in talks with the Centre, while the Paresh Baruah-led ULFA(I) has still been away from a dialogue. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has appealed to the Paresh faction to join the talks, though there has been no positive response. The pro-talks faction, meanwhile, is also reported to be unhappy as it believes there has been no progress even after the government changed at the Centre.

Clearly, there is much work to be done. The peace process will remain incomplete until and unless the ULFA(I) joins the peace process — and for this to happen, obstacles appearing before the ongoing peace process between the Centre and pro-talks ULFA faction needs to be sorted out. Besides, the state government also has to decide on the demands put forth by the surrendered militants. In the case of surrendered Bru militants, they have demanded a separate autonomous economic council, a full-fledged Scheduled Tribe (Plains) status and land settlement for the Bru community in Assam. The ball is now in the court of the state government.

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PM Modi In Tripura On Sunday As State Gears Up For 2023 Polls 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the northeastern state of Tripura, which is going to polls next year, for a one-day tour this Sunday. He is scheduled to launch various schemes in the poll-bound state and address a public gathering at the Swami Vivekananda ground in Agartala. The PM will meet party MLAs and also attend a meeting of the core committee of Tripura BJP.

This visit is significant for many reasons. The party is going to launch the poll bugle in the state where it came to power for the first time in 2018 by ending the 25-year rule of CPI(M)-led Left Front. Anti-incumbency, factionalism and an energised Opposition have been the major factors that are keeping the BJP worried. Through this Modi visit, state BJP leaders are hoping to build a momentum to counter the Opposition.

Already, royal scion Pradyot Debbarma-led TIPRA Motha and the main Opposition party CPI(M) have shown their strength in the capital city by holding rallies on the Vivekananda ground. The BJP, which already lost Himachal Pradesh to the Congress this month, can’t afford to lose another state like Tripura and the central leadership has already been active and advised all senior state leaders to work unitedly shunning factionalism.

Knowing that the battle to conquer the state isn’t easy this time, the BJP wants to ally with Motha, the dominant party in the hills. But Motha’s Greater Tipraland demand is the main obstacle in the path to the alliance. Currently, the saffron party is in alliance with Revenue Minister NC Debbarma-led Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. IPFT(NC) currently has five MLAs after three of them have joined Motha. It remains to be seen what message Modi gives to the party workers, IPFT(NC), Motha, and more importantly, to the people of the state. 

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TMC Trying To Shed ‘West Bengal’ Party Tag

Along with Tripura, another north-eastern state that is likely to go to polls early next year is Meghalaya — and political activities have already been rising in the hilly state. Amid this, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, along with her nephew and second-in-command in party Abhishekh Banerjee visited the state this week.

During her visit, Mamata tried to stress the fact that if the TMC, which is currently the main Opposition party, comes to power in the upcoming polls, the state would be controlled by indigenous leaders like Mukul Sangma, the leader of Opposition in the state assembly, and Charles Pyngrope, the state TMC president. It has been a fact that the party always faces allegations that it is mainly a West Bengal party and is run keeping the interests of Bengal above everything else.

It is due to this tag that the party’s repeated attempts to build a base outside Bengal have failed. This year, despite spending a lot of resources, the TMC failed to even open an account in the Goa assembly polls. In Bengali-majority Tripura too, the tag of being run from West Bengal has been an obstacle to the growth of the party.

In Meghalaya, the situation is quite different as the party banking on Mukul Sangma’s popularity can win several seats in the Garo Hills. However, not everything seems to be well within the party. Already, one of the 12 TMC MLAs, HM Shangpliang, who earlier had resigned from the assembly and the party, joined the BJP in New Delhi this week along with two ruling National People’s Party (NPP) MLAs and one independent MLA in the presence of Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, also the chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). According to a report in the Assam Tribune, three more TMC MLAs — Marthon Sangma, Jimmy D Sangma and Shitlang Pale — are expected to leave the party to join the NPP and the United Democratic Party (UDP). It remains to be seen whether people of the state give a chance to the TMC on the words of Mamata Banerjee, who also promised a Rs 1,000 per month direct transfer benefit scheme for women — on the lines of Laskhmir Bhandar initiative in Bengal.

The author is a political commentator.

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