New Delhi/Guwahati: The recent ethnic flare-up in Assam that killed 58 and displaced
hundreds of thousands of people not only shook the governments in
both the state and the centre but revived the debate on why peace
is so fragile in the northeastern state that is home to complex
multi-ethnic, religious and linguistic groups.
The fresh violence incidentally came days after Home Minister P.
Chidambaram said at a press conference in Chandigarh that the
northeast has been "more peaceful" than "the most peaceful" year
2011. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited the state over
the weekend, described the riots as a "blot on the nation".
The conflict that ripped through parts of Assam last week was
triggered by the murder of four men of the Bodo community in a
Muslim-dominated area of Kokrajhar district. The killings
generated repeated cycles of violence that led to more deaths and
forced more than 250,000 people, including women and children, in
Bodo-dominated areas to live in refugee camps, again bringing on
the edge the sensitive border state that was otherwise headed
What is causing the state of beautiful landscapes and tea gardens
to sit on a tinderbox?
"Politics of manipulation," said Ajai Sahni, an author and expert
Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict
Management in New Delhi, blamed politicians for not working out
"permanent and inclusive" solutions to Assam's problems, including
the issues related to Bodos, the largest tribal group in the
"Political parties don't want clarity on the issues in Assam. You
solve one issue and leave the other hanging. You make settlement
for one group and leave others unresolved," Sahni told IANS,
referring to the influx of illegal immigrants from neighbouring
Illegal immigration is one of the burning issues confronting
The Bodos feel threatened that they are being robbed of their land
and identity by wave after wave of Muslim immigrants coming in
As per the law, immigrants who crossed over from Bangladesh into
India after 1971 are liable to be detected and deported. But there
is no reliable data on the number of such people.
Assam is home to more than 30 million people, according to the
2011 census. The state's population has witnessed a huge jump of
nearly 17 percent in the last 10 years. Religious
minority-dominated districts like Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta,
Morigaon, Nagaon and Hailakandi have recorded growth rates of
20-24 percent during this period.
On the other hand, eastern Assam districts that do not share any
international border registered around nine percent population
Sahni said the government has left the issue of illegal immigrants
deliberately unresolved because of "electoral politics" and fear
of losing Muslim votes.
But, then, it's not just a Bodo-Bangladeshi problem, said Ranee
Narah, a Congress MP from the state.
"It is a misconception that the Assam issue is all about Hindu,
Muslim confrontations," Narah told IANS, stating that the recent
bout was "politically motivated to malign the image of Chief
Minister Tarun Gogoi and his government".
Assam demography, she said, is too "complex" for any "immediate
"The state and the central governments are tirelessly working to
resolve all the issues and address to the grievances of all
indigenous and ethnic groups. The process is on," Narah said,
ruling out any foreign hand in the fresh violence.
Sanjoy Hazarika, founder of the Centre for North East Studies at
the Jamia Millia Islamia and an expert on the northeast, said: "At
the core of most of these confrontations is the problem of
Each group in the "complex multi-ethnic state, which is India and
Southeast Asia rolled into one, worries that they are losing to
"Politicians have essentially failed to do the difficult work," he
A home ministry official said the trail of death and destruction
in the state had "shaken the government" and that is why Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh paid a visit to Assam seeking to provide
comfort to the affected and announcing a Rs.300 crore package for
relief and rehabilitation.
Manmohan Singh, who represents the state in the Rajya Sabha, said
the riots in Assam were "a blot on the nation" and declared that
the government was working to solve all the problems.
A minister in the state told IANS the government was drawing up a
proposal to form regional development councils across the state
where every group will be represented and will have stakes in
"peace and development". "That is one of the initiatives but lot
more needs to be done and we understand that," the minister said,
not wishing to be identified.
But Hazarika, a known expert on northeast issues, believes that
all these are cosmetic treatments and issues at the core remain
Politicians have failed to build trust and impart a "sense of
equality and ownership among all groups", he said.
"Quick-fix solutions won't work. You also have to disarm the
factions and groups with illegal weapons," Hazarika said.
Narah agreed. "Permanent peace will come only after permanent
solutions. I am hopeful Assam will see a lasting peace soon. It is
also true that we politicians have to give peace a chance."