Assam-Meghalaya Border Firing: Why The Vexed Issue Is A Legacy Of The Congress' Apathy

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 24, 2022 01:31 PM +05:30 IST
Assam-Meghalaya Border Firing: Why The Vexed Issue Is A Legacy Of The Congress' ApathyNorth eastern India
Snapshot
  • Till all the interstate border disputes are amicably resolved, tragic incidents like the one at Mukroh will keep recurring.

Six persons, including one forest guard from Assam, died at Mukroh village along the Assam-Meghalaya border on Tuesday (22 November). 

The unfortunate deaths are a direct consequence of the unresolved interstate borders in the Northeast. And it is the Congress , which ruled over the states of the region for successive decades, which is to blame for the interstate border disputes. 

The tragic incident occurred when police and forest guards of Assam tried to stop a truck they suspected to be carrying illegally-felled timber in West Karbi Anglong district of that state. 

The truck did not stop and the police party, including forest guards, gave chase in a couple of vehicles.

The truck was intercepted near Mukroh that falls in Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills district. But Assam claims that the area falls in its own West Karbi Anglong district. 

According to a credible version of the events pieced together by Swarajya after speaking to multiple sources, the team of Assam police and forest guards tried to arrest the driver and other occupants of the truck.

It was then that a large crowd of locals gathered and tried to free the driver and other occupants of the truck. 

The mob of locals objected to the Assam police and forest guards entering Meghalaya and allegedly attacked them. The Assam police team, which was grossly outnumbered, panicked and opened fire to save their lives. 

Five locals died in the police firing and a few were injured, two of them seriously. There are conflicting versions of how the Assam forest guard was killed — the local villagers of Mukroh said he died in firing by the Assam police, while Assam authorities hold that he was killed by local villagers. 

But whatever be the actual version of the dreadful incident, the fact remains that it all happened because of the conflicting claims over the area that the truck was intercepted in. 

Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972. But many parts of the 884.9-km-long interstate border was not clearly demarcated, thus leading to both states making conflicting claims over such areas. 

There are as many as 12 areas along the Assam-Meghalaya over which both the states lay claim. Violent clashes leading to loss of human lives have taken place many times in the past. 

The last major incident occurred in May 2010, when firing by Assam police resulted in the deaths of four Khasis in the disputed Langpi area along the interstate border. 

The Congress, which ruled over both the states for many decades, made no effort to resolve the border disputes. The Congress ruled over undivided Assam (which included the present-day Meghalaya and Mizoram) since 1947 and was in power when Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972. 

The Congress has also ruled Meghalaya for long periods since 1972. But despite being in power when Megahalaya was created out of Assam and then in both the states, no Congress government made much of an effort to clearly demarcate the interstate border. 

The disputes exist mainly because the interstate border does not follow geographical features at many places. And also because large tracts of land along both sides of the undemarcated portions of the interstate border were earlier covered by forests and community lands which were uninhabited.

Subsequent human settlements in such areas triggered disputes between the two states with both laying claim over such areas. 

But it is not just portions of the Assam-Meghalaya border that are disputed. Border disputes fester between Assam and Mizoram, Assam and Nagaland and Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Neither successive Congress governments in these states, nor the Congress governments at the federal level in New Delhi, ever made any serious attempt to resolve them. 

On 26 July last year, firing by Mizoram police over a border dispute resulted in the deaths of six Assam Police personnel and a civilian at Lailapur in Assam’s Cachar district along the Assam-Mizoram border. 

On 29 January 2014, villagers from Arunachal Pradesh shot at and killed 10 civilians of Assam at Behali forest in Biswanath district of Assam. 

The most volatile has been the Assam-Nagaland border and scores of people have lost their lives in disputes over the past many years. Among the major incidents was one in April 1989 in Golaghat district where 25 people, including Naga villagers, were killed. 

In June 1985, a Naga mob massacred 41 people, including 28 Assam Police personnel, at Merapani in Golaghat district. In January 1979, Naga villagers killed 54 villagers in Assam Karbi Anglong district. 

After all these incidents, and the many minor ones that have also resulted in many deaths, commissions of enquiry have been set up and merely perfunctory attempts made to resolve the border disputes. 

It was only when Atal Behari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister that a serious attempt was initiated to resolve the interstate border disputes in the Northeast. But this was put on the backburner when the Congress-led UPA returned to power in 2004 and ruled for the next one decade. 

Since 2014 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) returned to power, efforts to resolve these disputes were once again revived.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been overseeing the process of negotiations between the states to resolve their border disputes. 

Fair progress has also been made and some of the disputes between Assam and Meghalaya as well as Arunachal Pradesh have been amicably resolved through negotiations. But many disputed areas still remain to be resolved. 

Till all the interstate border disputes are amicably resolved, tragic incidents like the one at Mukroh will keep recurring. The Congress is squarely to blame for that. 

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