Monday, September 5, 2011

Fasts, more bandhs and talks, and Indo-Bangladeshi relations

Now that Anna Hazare's fast is over in Delhi many are comparing his action with Manipur's Irom Sharmila, who is soon to complete the 11th year of her fast for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA).  There have been some reports that Hazare will now visit the northeast, although other reports suggest this is not yet confirmed.  CNN-IBN carries a short interview with Sharmila, in which she calls her life "somewhat odd".  Video footage and a transcript are available.  The Indian Government has said it is again considering ammendment or replacement of the AFSPA, although it does not sound particularly optimistic, Home Minister P Chidambaram stating simply that, as in the past, they are "trying".  The Communist Party of India (CPI) has responded by demanding the Act be scrapped immediately.

Ahead of his trip with PM Singh to Bangladesh, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi acknowledged that country's role in disrupting ULFA's activities and said that he wants to increase trade between Assam and Bangladesh to return the favour.   Illegal Bangladeshi migrants remain a sensitive bilateral issue.   Moreover, some in Bangladesh have cold feet about the transit agreement set to be signed during the visit.  Critics of the agreement say it will increase northeast Indian militant activity in Bangladeshi territory and that Bangladesh should hold on to transit as a bargaining tool for other bilateral issues such as the trade deficit, illegal migrants, border killings, border demarcations and resource sharing.   There are also concerns that current and potential trade between Bangladesh and northeast India would be destroyed by the agreement, as trade between the northeast and 'mainland' India would be made so much easier.  For further background on the Indo-Bangladeshi relationship, see last week's edition of the South Asia Intelligence Review.  Also of interest is a US diplomatic cable recently released by Wikileaks.  It discusses a 2008 meeting between the two countries' Foreign Ministers in which both listed northeast Indian militancy as a priority area for cooperation.

The Sadar Hills saga continues in Manipur.  A school and a truck were torched by the United Naga Council (UNC) in Sadar Hills Subdivision, while a grenade was found in a hospital in Imphal West District.  The All Naga Students' Associtation of Manipur added their two cents to the fray, stating they are against the division of Naga areas (and hence the creation of new districts).  To add insult to injury, a further 24-hour bandh was called for 1 September to protest the disappearance of a Revolutionary People's Front assistant public secretary.  Tehelka has an article that considers the everyday impacts of these protracted bandhs for Manipur's long-suffering population.  The bandhs are in effect on National Highways 39 (which heads north from Imphal, through Nagaland capital Kohima, to Assam) and 53 (heads east from Imphal to Badarpur in Assam, near the border with Bangladesh).  Goods are getting into Manipur from other directions however: a large amount (300kg) of pseudoephedrine was seized by the Border Security Forces (BSF) at the border town of Moreh this week. 

The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) bandh called for 26-27 August mentioned in last week's post turned into a non-event. Apparently not discouraged, the NDFB responded by calling yet another bandh for 1 September which proved more successful with hundreds taking part in sit-ins and other forms of protest on that day.

 The next round of talks between the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Indian Government commenced in Delhi on 3 September.  Militants from the non-talk faction threw a grenade at a police station the night before.  Tehelka has published a very useful and comprehensive article on the background and current state of talks between ULFA and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the government.  Kanglaonline debates the value of talks in the face of continued violence.  Like the HD Centre report discussed in a previous post, which considered the same question and reached the opposite conclusion, this article uses the case of the NSCN-IM as evidence.

Manipur's Chief Minister said early last week that the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system should be reintroduced because 'migrants' now outnumber 'tribals' in that state.  The ILP, which means Indians from other states must get a permit to travel to the states it applies to, was stopped in Manipur in 1950.  It is still used in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.   A Bill to reintroduce the ILP has been withdrawn and on 30 August students threatened to launch agitations if it is not reinstated.  

Finally, a group that doesn't often make the news did this week with the arrest in the Imphal Valley of five Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) militants for arms supply and extortion.  KYKL is a Meitei group seeking to "clean up" Manipuri society.

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