Instability at the Gate: India’s Troubled Northeast and its External Connections

’s Northeast has long been described as a remote and sensitive area, racially and culturally disconnected to mainland India but strategically attached to it. Expressions of ethnic identities since India’s independence have been very blunt in the whole region and many sub-nationalists developed a strong separatist stream from the late 1940s.
Rapidly, the ethnic struggle became a well-organised and multidimensional militancy which took up arms and launched various enduring insurgencies against India’s central government. Facing a harsher repression orchestrated by New Delhi, the few separatist groups that had burgeoned in the region turned rapidly radical. Moreover, most of them had found in the local population their main back-up : the “Robin Hood syndrome” they had created enabled them to benefit from a wide popular support.

This paper intends first to give a brief overview of the rise and growth of some of those separatist groups, with a special focus on the Nagas, the Mizos and the Assam movement.
Insurgency took different forms in the Northeast as ethnic leaders chose different paths, means and patrons to pursue their struggle for recognition and/or separatism. Indeed, most of the armed ultras soon criminalised their activities in order to sustain their struggle.
An analysis of the degeneration of these sub-nationalist movements into mere criminal groups has been proposed in this paper. With the Indian Armed Forces having more and more capacities and discretionary power of action, insurgency has radicalised its forms and activities. The criminalisation process will be broached by focusing the study on few separatist groups that have dropped their original revolutionary and lofty ideals to concentrate their struggle on easy money and underground activities, in spite of the fact that individualised interests, internecine rivalries and indiscriminate violence have often
turned the population against those outfits.

Finally, how has the externality of the insurgency influenced this phenomenon? The third part of the paper will propose an overview of the rapid externalisation of all the insurgent groups. The linkages they have established across borders enabled them to obtain friendly support (Pakistan), funding (China, LTTE) and strategic shelter (Burma, Bangladesh). We will attempt to demonstrate how these external connections fuelled the instability in the Northeast and conceptualised their struggle and survival. However, in the meantime, the external factor could also be the solution to the problem: by opening up the Northeast and developing it as a result of a more globalised local economy, the stalemate could possibly be overcome.

  • In :
    CSH Occasional Paper N°16, Publication of the French Research Institutes in India
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