North East Insurgency

North East Insurgency

This article deals with the ‘North East Insurgency .’ This is part of our series on ‘Internal Security’, an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.

Introduction to North East

  • North-East India consists of 8 states, namely Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim, situated in the North-East of India. Further, the first seven are known as Seven Sisters.
  • An important aspect of the North-West’s geography is that a narrow passage of about 21–40 km, sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh, called Siliguri or Chicken Neck Corridor, connects the Seven Sisters to central India. It makes the region strategically vulnerable. 
North East India - Strategic Map
  • Demographically, people of this region are mostly tribals of Mongoloid origin, and they speak the language of Tibeto-Burmese origin.
  • At the time of independence, this region consisted of the princely states of Tripura and Manipur. Sikkim was an independent country. The rest of the Northeast was part of the larger province of Assam. States like Nagaland (1963), Manipur (1972), Tripura (1972), Meghalaya (1972), Mizoram (made UT in 1972 and state in 1987) and Arunachal Pradesh (made UT in 1972 and state in 1987) were carved out of Assam. Sikkim was merged into India as Associate State in 1975 via the 35th Constitutional Amendment and full state in 1976 via the 36th Constitutional Amendment.

Reasons for lack of development in North-East

North East Insurgency

1. Centralized Governance 

Indigenous people have little share in political and economic structures at the central level. This centralized approach has deprived the locals of determining the nature and context of the problem, thereby frustrating their aspirations of autonomy.

2. Economy controlled by outsiders

  • Indigenous people have little role to play in the economy of the region. E.g., most of the plantation industry is dominated by the immigrant labour force. 

3. Connectivity issues and lack of infrastructure

  • Due to the partition of India, North East turned into a landlocked region.
  • After the 1962 Indo-China war, Union didn’t build high-grade roads and other infrastructure for fear that it could lead to faster movement of Chinese troops.
  • Due to the hilly terrain, building highways in the North-Eastern region is difficult. Along with that, the entire North-East Region has 2,650 km of railway tracks, and except 180 km, the rest is in Assam. Air connectivity is also low, and 8 states have a total of 9 airports.

4. No Ease of Doing Business

  • North-Eastern States fare poorly on the Ease of Doing Business Index. Starting and doing business in these states is a challenging task. States like Mizoram, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh were ranked 29th, 30th and 31st on the list.

5. Ethnic issues

  • North East has many Tribal Ethnicities, usually rising against each other. 
  • Ethnic discord is marked by some communities being branded “outsiders”. These outsiders include
    • Chakmas in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh
    • Hill versus valley disturbances in Manipur
    • Bangladeshis and Bengalis in Assam
    • Sikh sanitary workers in Shillong (Meghalaya)
    • Hajongs in Arunachal Pradesh


The imposition of AFSPA in the North-Eastern States and the heavy-handedness of the security forces have led to the feeling of discontentment among the people of the North-East. 

7. Power Deficit

Although there is immense potential for power production in the North East region due to swift-moving rivers, the potential is not tapped. Sikkim is the only state to be a power-surplus state. The rest of the NER states face acute power deficits.

8. Political representation

Many argue that one of the key reasons for not giving the Northeast a high priority is that with only 3.8% of India’s population, it only sends 24 Members of Parliament to the Lok Sabha, out of which Assam alone sends 14. 

Development plays a vital role in ensuring that the security of a state is maintained. However, when development goes haywire, the people go for agitations and, in extreme cases, take up arms against the state.

Recently, the Government of India has placed special emphasis on the development of the Northeast. As a result, North-Eastern states are showing rapid growth rates compared to other states of India. E.g., Meghalaya grew at a rate of 9.7%, and Arunachal Pradesh grew at the rate of 8.9% (even greater than Gujarat’s growth rate of 8.7%).

Reasons for Insurgencies in North East

Pre Independence Reasons

  • Tribes were not brought under strict political control and rigid regulations by the British Indian Administration.
  • British Tribal Policy and Christian education in North-East India are believed to be the genesis of demands for Independence from India. 

Post Independence Reasons

  • Ethnic and cultural specificities were ignored during the delineation of state boundaries in the 1950s, giving rise to discontentment and asserting one’s identity.
  • Underdevelopment, lack of connectivity, and inadequate health care and educational facilities created discontentment against the Union.
  • High unemployment rates in North-Eastern states due to a lack of industries force the youth to take up arms. E.g., Tripura has an unemployment rate of 25.2% in urban areas, followed by Nagaland with 23.8%.
  • Hostile neighbours extend moral and material support owing to porous international borders. Pakistan offers support, shelter, arms, etc., to various insurgent groups through ISI. China also plays a role in supporting and training some insurgent groups which have a communist inclination.
  • Ethnic diversity in the Northeast and government policy of integration: The tribes in the Northeast resisted the government of India’s measure to integrate all these tribes and their cultures into single Indian culture.
  • Deep sense of alienation due to the imposition of AFSPA: It has led to human rights violations and excesses by the security forces. 
  • Difficult terrain and weak infrastructure facilitate insurgents involved in a conflict.
  • The geography and terrain of a particular place are critical for the continuation of insurgent movements. Without supportive terrain, insurgent cadres stand little chance against the army.
  • The backlash against the continuous influx of outsiders from Bangladesh and Indians from other states into the Northeast. North-Eastern People consider this to be a threat to their distinct culture and an unbearable strain on their limited resources. 

Insurgent Groups active in North-East

A large number of insurgent groups are active in the Northeast. Their demands vary, ranging from a separate state to an independent homeland to better conditions for the ethnic groups they claim to represent.

1. Assam

  • ULFA (demanding independent sovereign nation-state of Assam) 
  • NDFB (creation of the separate sovereign state of Bodoland)
  • Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO)

2. Nagaland

Several factions of NSCN are active. These include

  1. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah)
  2. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang)
  3. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khole-Kitovi )
  4. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Reformation)

3. Mizoram

  • Mizo National Front (MNF)
  • Bru National Liberation Front (Protecting the rights of the Reang community against Mizos by the creation of a separate state)

4. Manipur

  • Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) (create an independent country and protect Meitei culture)
  • People’s Liberation Army of Kangleipak (PREPAK) (expel outsiders from Manipur)
  • People’s United Liberation Front (protect Muslim interests)
  • Kuki National Army (demanding Zalengam consisting of areas of India & Myanmar)
  • Manipur Peoples’ Liberation Front (MPLF)
  • Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF)

5. Tripura

  • All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) (to expel outsiders and restore the land to natives)
  • National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) (independence from the Indian Union)

6. Meghalaya

  • Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC)
  • Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA)

Impact of Insurgencies on North East

  • Lack of investment in the region due to lack of security and governance deficit.
  • The economy is severely affected due to the extortion of “taxes” by various factions on local people, businesses, officials etc.
  • Narcotic trade has boomed due to its position in the vicinity of the Golden Triangle.
  • High levels of unemployment in the region as no company is ready to invest in an insurgency-prone region.
  • It allows enemy neighbours (read Pakistan and China) to spur unrest in India by using these insurgent groups as their pawns. 

Strategy to contain Insurgency in the North-East

Government has to adopt a strategy consisting of a mix of development, military power, governance, dialogue and ceasefire to contain insurgency in the Northeast.

1. Development

  • Act East Policy: As many South Asian independent countries surround the North-Eastern States, they could act as India’s gateway to the Southeast Asian market. India can economically integrate its northeast into the south Asian market. In this pursuit, India is already building Kaladan Multimodal Project, IMT highway etc.
  • India is building infrastructure in the Northeast, like bridges & tunnels, at a great pace.   Japan is also interested in funding these projects.
  • The government has started North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (NESIDS) and Hill Area Development Program to develop infrastructure in the North East. 
  • The government is trying to develop tourism in the North-East.
  • Provide jobs to people in the Northeast, especially in the BPO sector, as North-Easterners are proficient in English. Indian Government is already running North East BPO Promotion Scheme.
  • The government is promoting Organic food in these areas as it could fetch them good prices for their products. 

2. Governance

  • Tribal Areas of the North-East are placed in Schedule 6 of the Indian Constitution.
  • North East Council was established in 1971 for cooperation and sorting the issues between these seven north-eastern states.
  • In many core schemes, the Centre and State share the finances in a ratio of 90:10 (whereas in a normal state ratio is 60:40).
  • Inner Line Permit is required to travel a large part of the area in the North-East.

3. Dialogue

  • The government should dialogue with the insurgents and try to bring them back into the political fold. The aim of the government should be to encourage insurgents to fight through ballots instead of bullets. E.g., the Indian Government is in constant dialogue with NSCN and other Naga groups and is on the verge of signing the accord.

4. Surrender and Rehabilitation

The government is already running a Scheme for Surrender-cum-Rehabilitation of militants in the North-East, intending to wean away the hard-core militants and misguided youth who have taken the path of militancy and later themselves trapped into that net.

The terms of the scheme include

  1. An immediate grant of Rs. 4 lakhs to each surrenderee.
  2. Payment of stipend of Rs. 6000/- per month to each surrenderee for 3 years.
  3. Incentives for weapons/ammunition surrendered by the militants.
  4. Vocational training to the surrenderee for self-employment.

5. Military Power

  • The government should show the state’s might and try to curb the militancy with a heavy hand. In this regard, the government has already imposed AFSPA in the insurgency-hit North-East States.

6. End Racial Discrimination with North-Easterners in the mainland

  • Government should adopt the provisions of the Bezbaruah Committee to achieve this objective.

Side Topic: Bezbaruah Committee Report

  • Bezbaruah Committee was set up in February 2014 in the aftermath of Nido Tania’s death (a North-East student who was murdered in a racial attack in New Delhi). 
  • Mandate: To address the issues raised by people from North East, especially in the metro cities.
  • It suggested the following measures which the government of India could implement to end discrimination faced by the North-Easterners. 
    1. Enact new laws against discrimination and make it a cognizable and non-bailable offence.
    2. Create Fast-track Courts for handling the cases of racially motivated heinous crimes against North East people.
    3. Educate the children about North-East through education.
    4. Sports Ministry should take steps to hold regular national and international events in the North East as such events will create greater harmony and a better understanding of North-East culture.

Inner Line Permit Issue (ILP)

  • The Inner Line Permit regulates the entry of non-domicile citizens into a restricted region for a limited period.
  • British introduced the ILP system via The Bengal Frontier Regulation of 1873 to safeguard their revenue-generating regions in the Northeast against raiding tribal communities from the hills. 
  • The conditions and restrictions vary from state to state. 
  • It can be issued for travel purposes only. Visitors are not allowed to buy property.
  • Today, ILP is seen as a way to protect the demographic, cultural, political and social integrity of the small tribal populations in the hill states and reduce the competition for employment and access to resources between natives and non-natives.
  • Presently, it is applicable in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur (added in 2022). Meghalaya is also demanding inclusion into the ILP regime.

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