As India prepared to celebrate its 60th anniversary last month, it was violence as usual in the Northeast. Five women and two children were killed in an attack by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) on Bihari and UP migrant labourers in Assam`s Karbi-Along district.
New Delhi celebrated Independence Day with heavy security cover. So did cities and institutions that have traditionally been target of Pakistan-supported Kashmir terrorist organisations like Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and ISI-trained extremists like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohamad (JeM), and Harkat-ul-Jehad al Islami (HUJI). But security in eastern India was largely overlooked - as it has been since Independence.
On September 1, a blast in a crowded marketplace in Assam`s capital Guwahati killed two and injured over a dozen. The ULFA claimed responsibility.
India was born with two disturbed wings. In the west was Pakistan, born as a twin of India. In the east was East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and Northeast India. Ethnic activism had already started in the east in the form of the Naga national independence movement led by Phizo.
But while the security threats from the east have some similarities with that from the west, there are important differences which may be more difficult to deal with in the course of time.
The problem in the western wing was basically centred on Kashmir. Fighting Pakistan and PoK-based terrorists has been the focus of the Indian government, with good reasons. This is especially so because the capital, New Delhi, is situated in northern India, where partition`s painful memories still linger. Eastern India, too, suffered as much if not more from partition and its aftermath, but was too distant from New Delhi to get serious attention.
It is dangerous to obsessively attend to only one region in security calculations and ignore others, wishing the problems would go away. They will not. It is our indifference to the Northeast that has allowed China to quietly encroach on territory claimed by India.
Seeds of separation were planted in Northeast before partition by Christian missionaries from the US and the UK. They spread Christianity and introduced a good education system. But strangely, people were kept out of trade, commerce and industry. While at one level the Nagas, Khasis, Mizos and others were taught to aspire, the opportunities to fulfil those aspirations were not introduced - a perfect recipe for frustration.
As mainland India surged ahead on the development index, the perception grew that New Delhi considered the people east of the Siliguri corridors as outsiders or second class citizens.
Thus began the search for independent identity and roots. Though the American and British intelligence organisations are blamed for starting the rebel movement in these areas, one would have to wait for declassification of US documents of that period to understand their motives. One of the aims, clearly, was to keep the region, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, unstable and create islands of dominos against a well-identified adversary.
Image: Activists of the All Assam Students Union protest during a bandh called in Guwahati on August 18, 2004 against the bomb blast at Dhemaji in the violence-infested State. As India prepared to celebrate its 60th anniversary last month, it was violence as usual in the Northeast.
Image: Associated Press