Border disputes can get nasty. The country’s north-east, which shares borders with several countries such as China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan, has had its brush with some of these border disputes.
However, all is not well among states in the region too.
The recent flare-up along the Assam-Mizoram border in which several people on both sides were injured and some huts were torched last Saturday is the latest among many such incidents that the country’s least populous and ethnically diverse region has reported over past decades.
Assam and Mizoram share a 164.6 kilometres (km) boundary.
Mizoram was part of an undivided Assam until 1972, when it initially became a Union Territory (UT) and later a full-fledged state in 1987.
There have been minor skirmishes in the past with Mizoram seeking delineation of the border on the basis of Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations (BEFR), 1873.
Though both Assam and Mizoram governments agreed to maintain status quo on the dispute several years ago, there have been transgressions and encroachments with each state calling out the other, much to the Centre’s dismay.The matter came to a head after some residents of Vairengte in Mizoram’s Kolasib district set ablaze makeshift huts made by residents of Lailapur in Assam’s Barak Valley’s Cachar district on a stretch of alleged disputed land.
Mizoram claimed the huts were built on no man’s land, while Assam denied the former’s assertions.
Saturday’s incident comes on the heels of a similar flare-up between both the states on October 9 on the border along Assam’s Karimganj district and Mizoram’s Mamit district, when a hut and portion of a betel nut cultivation belonging to two Mizoram residents were set on fire.
Assam claimed the area, where the cultivation took place, falls under Singla reserve forest in Karimganj district, while Mizoram insisted that residents of their state have been cultivating there for long.
Both the states have approached the Centre seeking resolution following Saturday’s flare-up.
On Monday, Union secretary for home affairs Ajay Kumar Bhalla held a video conference with chief secretaries of both the states and asked them to settle the dispute amicably and mutually.
Officials from both Assam and Mizoram also held a meeting on Monday and agreed to maintain peace and work together to resume movement of hundreds of goods trucks that have been stranded at the border since Saturday following the flare-up.
The border disputes in the region primarily involve Assam because four states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya were carved out of the region’s most populous state over the years.
Assam shares an 804-km boundary with Arunachal Pradesh. Though initially, there were no disputes, later allegations of encroachments have led to multiple disputes and attendant violence. A suit has been pending in the Supreme Court (SC) since 1989 on the issue.
Assam and Nagaland share a 434-km boundary and border dispute is still unresolved even after over five decades. Nagaland has been claiming some portions of Assam as theirs, while the latter is accusing the former of encroaching thousands of hectares (ha) of its land.
Both the states have refused to accept recommendations of two commissions set up by the Centre to resolve the issue and a suit is pending in the apex court since 1988.
There have been several violent clashes over multiple border disputes.
Over 100 people have been killed, mostly from Assam, in attacks by armed men from Nagaland in separate incidents in 1979, 1985 and 2014.
The Assam-Meghalaya border dispute is over four decades old and there are 12 contentious points along the 733-km boundary that they share. Several rounds of talks have failed to resolve the issue.
Last September, Meghalaya deputy chief minister Prestone Tynsong had said that 56 incidents of border disputes had occurred between both the states since 2017.
The long-standing border disputes were expected to be resolved following a change in power equations in the volatile region over the past four years.
A Bharatiya Janata Party (led)-led coalition formed the Assam government in 2016. The BJP’s ascent to power led to the dwindling fortunes of the Congress, which was comparatively a political force to reckon with in the region as compared to its receding footprints in the rest of the country, in 2016.
Soon, the BJP managed to cobble together governments in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura and is part of the ruling coalition in Meghalaya and Nagaland.
In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front (MNF), which is a constituent of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a BJP-led front of anti-Congress parties in the region formed in 2016, is in power.
Border disputes within the region were in sharp focus of deliberations during the fourth conclave of NEDA held in Guwahati in September, 2019.
Union Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah had also attended the conclave.
‘We want the border disputes in the north-east to get resolved soon. If border disputes between India and Bangladesh can get solved, why can’t we find a lasting solution to border disputes between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh or Assam and Nagaland?” Shah had questioned in his address at the NEDA conclave.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, a key Assam minister and the convenor of NEDA, had echoed Shah and urged all chief ministers of the region to address the disputes in a timebound manner before the country celebrates 75 years of its Independence in 2022.
Will the bickering states comply with the deadline?
Perhaps, an amicable solution, brokered by NEDA, may lead to inter-state border peace and harmony.