Northeast India in 2014: A wait for peace, progress

Northeast India in 2014: A wait for peace, progress

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Nava Thakuria
The year 2014 passed away with a major change of perception among the people of northeast India. The residents of the trouble-torn region unanimously urged for peace and development from the authorities concerned. They have also extended whole hearted support to initiatives that might yield prosperity for the alienated region of India.
The last week 2014 was very disturbing for the peace loving people of Assam as they witnessed one of the worst massacres in the region where the tribal militants killed over 75 Adivasi people in various parts of the trouble-torn State. The militants belonged to the banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) targeted Adivasi residents in Sonitpur, Kokrajhar and Chirang districts on the evening of December 23 creating panic to all sections of the society.The first half of the year saw the general election that helped the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to make its position better in the region. Primarily a Congress party’s bastion, the region helped the emerging BJP to get win for eight candidates in the last Lok Sabha polls.
The saffron party, which grabbed the power in New Delhi, could have a satisfactory performance in Assam, where it won seven seats. The BJP also registered another win (Kiren Rijuju) in Arunachal West Parliamentary constituency. The 2009 general election witnessed only four BJP candidates’ success (all seats belonged to Assam) in the region, which has altogether 25 Lok Sabha constituencies.
BJP this time retained Gauhati (Bijoya Chakraborty), Mangaldoi (Ramen Deka) and Nagaon (Rajen Gohain) Parliamentary seats in Assam. It also captured Lakhimpur (Sarbananda Sonowal), Dibrugarh (Rameswar Teli), Jorhat (Kamakhya Prasad Tasa) and Tezpur (RP Sarmah) seats.
The Congress also won an equal number of seats even though the oldest party of India could bag 13 MPs in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The party won three Parliamentary seats (Gaurab Gogoi from Kaliabor, Sushmita Dev from Silchar and Biren Singh Engti from Diphu) in Assam this time,
where as it bagged seven seats in 2009 general election.
The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) also increased its tally from one to three (Badruddin Ajmal from Dhubri, Sirajuddin Ajmal from Barpeta and Radheshyam Biswas from Karimganj). The Kokrajhar seat was won by Naba (Hira) Sarania, a former leader of United Liberation Front of Assam as an Independent candidate.
Neiphiu Rio, the former Nagaland chief minister and leader of Naga People’s Front (NPF) won from Nagaland’s lone seat. Neiphiu is understandably sympathetic to the BJP led NDA
government in New Delhi. Similarly, PA Sangma, former LS speaker and leader of National People’s Party (NPP) won from Tura constituency of Meghalaya and he too remained supportive of the BJP.
The other seat of the hill State went to the Congress candidate Vincent Pala (elected from Shillong Parliamentary constituency). The Congress in Manipur registered success as two of its sitting MPs namely Thokchom Meinya and Thangso Baite won from their respective
constituencies. Similarly, the Congress party retained Mizoram’s lone seat (CLRuala).
As usual, both the Parliamentary seats of Tripura were won by the CPM candidates namely Jitendra Chaudhury and Shankar Prasad Datta from their own constituencies. The lone Sikkim seat was won by the SDF candidate (Prem Das Rai).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura in November-December and announced few important schemes. The most significant outcomes were the launching of the first train from Meghalaya and inauguration of Palatana gas-based power plant in Tripura.
The Prime Minister flagged off the first train from Mendipathar in western Meghalaya to Guwahati. It was a historic moment for the people of the tiny State, as it got connected with the Indian railway network after decade-long wait. Modi also unveiled the plaque of a new rail line from Bhairabi to Sairang connecting Mizoram to the railway network.
The year also witnessed the last meter-gauge (MG) train from Silchar to Lumding railway station on  September 29. The 15694 Down Barak Valley Express train with 13 coaches left the century-old railway station of Barak valley to make the history, as the track went for improvement as broad-gauge (BG) railway.
Modi, while addressing a BJP workers’ rally in Guwahati during his first visit as the Prime Minister also created a huge public debates with his comment that New Delhi would go ahead with the land-swap deal with Bangladesh.
Various political parties like Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), All India United Democratic Front  (AIUDF) and students & civil society groups including All Assam Students Union, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity raised voices against the
deal, known as Land Boundary Agreement.
Following the series of protests by the Assam based organisations against the deal, which was signed by the governments of Dr Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina three years back in Dhaka, the BJP leaders claimed that Assam would emerge as a gainer after the deal is materialised as the ongoing illegal infiltration from Bangladesh would be stopped forever.
The ruling Congress in Assam witnessed dissident by a section of party legislators against the chief minister Tarun Gogoi, but it was tamed cleverly by the party’s high command. The leader of the dissident forces Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma stepped down from two of his ministries (education and health) under Gogoi’s cabinet in July.
Sarma was interrogated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Kolkata for his probable involvement in the multi-crore Saradha financial scam. A former Assam police chief Shankar Barua, is also suspected to be involved in the scam, committed suicide in September.
But even after the CBI’s interrogation on the Saradha scam, senior Congress leader Anjan Dutta was appointed as the president of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) by the central leadership.
Legislator Dutta thus replaced Bhubaneswar Kalita, a member of Rajya Sabha, in the APCC office.
The Bodo dominated western and northern parts of Assam witnessed a number of killings by the insurgent outfits including the last one in December, where the NDFB rebels did not even spare the women and minor children. Earlier the tribal militants targeted Muslim settlers. But the brutal killing of a tribal girl (Priya Basumatary) by NDFB (Songbijit) cadres on suspicion of being a spy had resulted in massive public outrages against the militants as well as the government.
The areas under the Bodoland Territorial Council also witnessed series of communal violence between the indigenous Bodos  and Muslims in Kokrajhar and Baksa districts during May resulting in the killing of around 45 persons. It reminded all of the 2012 violence that spread across Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri and Dhubri districts claiming over hundred lives and displacing thousand others.
A television reporter (Jaikhlong Brahma, who works for NewsLive from Kokrajhar) was arrested by the police suspecting his unethical and illegal link with the banned militant outfit. After three months in jail under National Security Act, Jaikhlong was released in the first week of December following an order from Guwahati High Court. His arrest had resulted in massive protests across Assam by the media organisations, and supported by international media rights bodies.
The last three months of the year was dominated by the news of Islamist outfits who reportedly planned a strong terror network in the country as a whole and eastern India in particular. It was started with an accidental blast in Burdwan of West Bengal on October 2, where the investigation agencies reported that the locality was already transformed into a terror hub of Jammatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
The arrest of JMB operative Sahanur Alam in Assam indicated that the terror network was expanded to northeast India too. Prior to  Sahanur, who pretended to be a doctor and worked as a Jehadi (also spelled as Jihadi) to recruit more and more Muslim youths for terror training, the police arrested his wife (Suzena Begum) and six other JMB linkmen from Barpeta district in lower Assam.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is investigating into the foreign terror angle to the Burdwan blast arrested few more Jehadi activists from West Bengal, Assam and even one (Rohingya Muslim citizen of Burma) from Hyderabad of Andhra Pradesh.
Amidst all the difficulties, Guwahati hosted the annual DGP conference in November successfully which was organised by the Intelligence Bureau for the first time outside New Delhi. The conference was inaugurated by the Union home minister Rajnath Singh and was also
addressed by Prime Minister Modi.
Rhino poaching remained in the news all along the year. At least 28 one-horned rhinos were slaughtered in various forest reserves of Assam during 2014. The authorities succeeded in arresting 24 poachers while 20 others were killed in the encounters with security forces.
The precious rhinos were poached in all important Assam forest reserves namely Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park, Orang National Park and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary. It emerged as a setback for the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 programme that aims to increase the
Indian rhino population up to 3000 in the next six years.
The Assam government presented its first bravery award to Gunjan Sarma in November for saving lives of 10 school children who were kidnapped by a gunman. A student of Nazira Central School in Sivasagar district, Gunjan was recently selected for the National Bravery Award which would be conferred on her in New Delhi on January 26 next.
The northeastern people established growing interest in football. Once the popular game across the region with the legendary players like Talimeran Ao, Gilbertson Sangma, Baichung Bhutia, football returned to the public sphere with the Indian Super League (ISL) journey. Many young players from the region like Durga Boro, Robin Gurung, Milan Singh, Alen Deuri etc got the opportunity to play for the North East United Football Club. Even though the team did not
include all players from the region, the entire exercise helped the football to regain its lost glory among the trendy generation.
(Nava Thakuria is a senior Indian journalist based in Guwahati, Assam)

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