North East Boundary Issues – UPSC GS3

Context: Recent border clashes on Assam-Mizoram Border and Assam-Meghalaya border points to the failure of central and state governments to solve the boundary issue.
Reasons behind these boundary issues:
  • Hurriedly drawn boundaries:
    • Four out of six neighbours of Assam were carved out of Assam between 1963 and 1972. The boundary lines were drawn hurriedly and casually by the civil servants, just like the approach adopted by Radcliffe in demarcating the India-Pakistan border. This is why such intense border issues do not fester between Assam, Tripura, and Manipur as those two were already territorial entities by themselves and not created by dividing Assam.
  • Small State Syndrome:
    • There is the existence of a smaller state syndrome in 4 states. They believe that their culture, identity, and ethnicity are being subjugated by Assam, the bigger state. It is the same reason which makes Pakistan anxious about India’s policy.
  • Forced homogeneity:
    • Central government is trying too hard to integrate the Northeast region as one single monolith. This has awakened sleeping regionalism, as every state has a unique culture and diversity of its own. Setting up an organization like the NEDA (Northeast Demo­cr­atic Alliance) by the ruling party also tries to impose homogeneity over the diverse region. Such an integrationist approach also defeats the rationale behind the creation of smaller  Northeast states. They were created to address their insecurities about being overwhelmed by outsiders and losing their identity
  • Ignored Tribal rights:
    • Boundary division in colonial times was done to serve the commercial interests of the British. While post-independence, it was more focused on administrative convenience. Thus, in both scenarios, the tribal rights were not given much respect while undertaking the demarcation exercise.
  • Constitution Vs Culture:
    • There is a tussle between adherence to the constitutional boundary versus obedience to the cultural boundary. The people of new states like Mizoram, Meghalaya (which have been carved out of Assam) show greater respect to cultural boundaries. For the tribes of the North Eastern states, the word ‘country’ is restricted to their respective homelands. A nation is a place where they are free to live the way their ancestors lived. However, Assam is tilted towards the constitutional boundaries, which gives it more control over forest regions that have been historically under the control of tribals.
  • No serious effort to resolve:
    • State and centre governments have failed to focus on long-lasting solutions. In the past, Assam had inflicted economic blockades on Mizoram and Nagaland after every border tussle. No central government has taken these border disputes seriously and tried to resolve them.
Way Ahead:
  • In the past, there were proposals to turn the disputed areas into economic zones, which would benefit the states concerned.
  • Disputed borders can also become educational hubs, IT parks, health centres, and tourist destinations. Here investments can come from DoNER and the benefits will be shared by people on both sides.
  • Further, it would be in the interest of all concerned if these contested areas were administered by a central agency to prevent future claims and counter-claims.
  • Politically mediated practices of “fixing” borders and enclosure of the forest commons need to be centred around people, their longstanding practices, and concerns for forest commons.
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