Rajat Sharma

Assam-Mizoram border dispute: Centre must find out a permanent solution

akbThe deadliest clash that took place between Assam and Mizoram policemen on Monday, resulted in the death of seven Assam policemen. This incident has hurt every Indian citizen. Both the states are dearer to every Indian citizen and there are elected governments in both the states. It is sad that policemen of both the states had to resort to firing at each other.

While BJP rules Assam, the Mizo National Front, that is part of BJP-led NDA is in power in Mizoram. Policemen of both Assam and Mizoram are Indians, but for a piece of land, both sides fired at each other heavily, resulting in losses of lives. Nothing could be more worrying when our own policemen fire upon their brethren from another state.

This is an issue that should worry both the Centre and all national and regional parties. It should be a worrisome issue for the people of both Assam and Mizoram. When news came about the death of five Assam policemen on Monday night, I had briefly broken the news in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on India TV, but when I saw video footage of the constant gunfiring that went on between both the police forces, I became sad.

The first question that cropped up in my mind was how could this happen in our country, where policemen of two different states start killing one another? I rushed our reporter Pawan Nara to Guwahati, and from there to the Assam-Mizoram border to get a feel about the ground situation. I knew that this land dispute had been festering for the last four decades, but I never imagined the situation would come to such a breaking point.

The blood of every Indian will boil on seeing the video footage of firing that we showed in ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday night. The firing from both sides went on continuously, with shouts and abuses by attackers from both sides. Both the Assam and Mizoram governments are blaming each other for this, but the cruel fact is that all the five policemen killed were Indians. While Assam government alleged that it was Mizoram which encroached into its territory, built a road and set up an armed camp inside the inner line reserve forest in Lailapur, the Mizoram government alleged that it was Assam police which crossed the border and overran a police post at Kolasib.

A dawn-to-dusk bandh was called on Wednesday in Assam’s Barak valley to protest over the killing of policemen. Five companies (500 troops) of CRPF have been deployed at Vairengte in Kolasib district of Mizoram, that is adjacent to Lailapur of Assam’s Cachar district.

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma posted video of Mizoram policemen and some ‘goons’ celebrating the death of Assam policemen in the firing. He alleged that the use of light machine guns by Mizoram policemen “speaks volumes about the intensity and gravity of the situation”.

On the other hand, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga claimed that on July 24 during a meeting with Sarma and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Shillong, he had raised the border issue by saying that the territory being claimed by Assam was being used by Mizos for more than a hundred years. He alleged that Assam started to claim this area as its own because of population growth in Barak valley.

On Tuesday, Himanta Biswa Sarma went to Silchar hospital and visited the injured policemen. He announced Rs 50 lakh ex-gratia to the families of each policeman killed. He also announced one month additional salary to all policemen posted on the Assam-Mizo border.

Sarma said, Assam government will soon raise three battalions (3,000 men) to man the disputed border. He alleged that on Monday, he rang up Zoramthanga six times expressing concern over firing, but the Mizoram chief minister only said ‘sorry’. There was no other response from him, said Sarma. He pointed out that the dispute was over forest land, while Assam wants to protect forests, Mizoram government wants to destroy the forests.

Before independence, Lushai Hills (which later became Mizoram) was part of Assam. In 1950, Assam became part of the Indian Union. Almost all the states of north-east were created from Assam. In 1986, the Mizoram peace accord was signed, after which Mizoram became a full-fledged state in 1987. At that time, during Rajiv Gandhi’s rule, the Centre accepted the 1933 as the basis for carving out the state of Mizoram. But Mizo organizations claim that the 1875 Inner Line Regulation was the basis for creating the state.

This was the genesis of the long standing dispute. After 1995, there were several rounds of talks, but nothing conclusive came out. There was a clash in October last year, but this was the first time when firings took place from both sides and lives of policemen were lost.

The territorial dispute that caused unprecedented violence between the police of both states can be solved at the negotiation table. Both the chief ministers are willing to discuss and this is a positive sign. Home Minister Amit Shah has spoken to both the chief ministers and the Union Home Secretary is meeting the police chiefs of both states on Wednesday. The police chiefs will be told unequivocally to avoid violence at all costs. From now on, no shots will be fired, nor blood will flow and there will be peace. But a permanent solution needs to be found out.

Though previous governments had put the issue on the back burner for decades now, I believe Modi government will try to work out at permanent solution at the earliest. For the last seven years, Prime Minister Modi has laid stress on development of North-East, prepared special policies for north-east region, and has entrusted responsibility for development of North-East to senior ministers. Work is going on major infrastructure projects, but if inter-state disputes crop up, it can hamper progress. The border dispute has to be resolved soon and I am hopeful the Centre will try to find out a permanent solution.

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