By M.A. Athul*
On December 13, 2019, student of two educational institutions – Rajiv Gandhi University (RGU) and the North Eastern Regional Institute of Science & Technology (NERIST) – protesting against the newly enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, marched towards Raj Bhavan (the Governor’s residence) in State Capital Itanagar in Papum Pare District, Arunachal Pradesh. The representatives of the protesters submitted a letter to the Governor, Brigadier (Retd.) B. D. Mishra, demanding immediate withdrawal of CAA.
On December 10, 2019, a general shut down enforced by the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) and supported by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU), was witnessed across the State. Government offices, educational institutes and business establishments remained shut, although no violence was reported. NESO is an umbrella organisation of eight students’ organisations of the Northeast region. These include the All Assam Students Union (AASU) of Assam; AAPSU of Arunachal Pradesh; Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) of Mizoram; Khasi Students Union (KSU) and Garo Students Union (GSU), both of Meghalaya; Twipra Student’s Federation (TSF) of Tripura; Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) of Nagaland; and All Manipur Students Union (AMSU) of Manipur.
On November 19, 2019, AAPSU had protested against the then Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Itanagar.
Earlier, on October 3, 2019, protests against CAB were recorded across Arunachal Pradesh. The protests were organised by the North East Forum of Indigenous People (NEFIP), which came into being in April 2019.
CAB 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) on December 9, 2019, and subsequently by the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) on December 11, 2019. It became an Act, CAA, after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent on December 12.
Arunachal Pradesh has an Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in existence (regulating the movement of all outsiders, including Indian citizens from other States, in Arunachal Pradesh) and is consequently out of the ambit of CAA, and it is, consequently, not surprising that protests have not been as intense and violent as in other parts of the Northeast, particularly Assam. The State is, however, against the introduction of the CAA in principal. ILP applies to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur, under Section 2 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
Meanwhile, Arunachal Pradesh recorded the highest number of insurgency related fatalities for any State in the Northeast region in 2019. 17 persons were killed in the State in 2019 (11 civilians, three Security Force (SF) personnel, and three militants), followed by Manipur (nine fatalities), Nagaland (three fatalities), Assam (three fatalities), Meghalaya (one fatality). This is the highest figure for fatalities in the State since 2011, when the toll stood at 41 (all militants).
Civilian fatalities, an important indicator of the prevailing security situation in any specific region, were the highest ever, at 11, in 2019.
The previous high of six fatalities in this category was recorded way back in 2007. No civilian fatality was registered between 2008 and 2013. 2014 recorded three fatalities, which went down to two in 2015. Again, no fatalities were recorded in 2016 and 2017, while 2018 saw a single insurgency-linked fatality. The sudden jump in 2019 is a matter of grave concern.
Incidentally, the State had not witnessed any major insurgent attack (involving three or more fatalities) targeting civilians prior to 2019 [SATP started compiling data on insurgency in Arunachal Pradesh from March 6, 2000], but recorded a single incident that was responsible for nine of the 11 civilian fatalities in 2019. On May 21, 2019, 11 people, including Member of State Legislative Assembly (MLA), Tirong Aboh, his son Longgem Aboh, and two of his Personal Security Officers (PSOs), were killed in an ambush by suspected militants of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) at 12th mile on the Khonsa-Deomali road in Tirap District, since he was a vocal opponent of NSCN-IM.
The number of SF fatalities increased from two in 2018 to three in 2019. No fatality in this category was recorded in 2017. On the other hand, the number of insurgents killed came down from 11 in 2018 to three in 2019.
In 2019, insurgency related fatalities were reported from three of Arunachal Pradesh’s 25 Districts – Tirap (12 fatalities), Changlang (three fatalities) and Longding (one fatality). The location of one fatality remains unspecified. In 2018 fatalities were reported from four Districts – Tirap (six fatalities), Longding (five fatalities), Changlang (two fatalities), and Namsai (one fatality). Tirap Changlang and Longding Districts, which border Myanmar, have been the worst affected in the State. Between March 6, 2000, and December 31, 2019, these three Districts accounted for 160 fatalities (23 civilians, 25 SF personnel and 112 militants) out of the 217 (24 civilians, 34 SF personnel and 159 militants) reported across the State. Of these, Tirap accounted for 101 fatalities (15 civilians, 16 SF personnel, and 70 militants), followed by Changlang, 45 (eight civilians, eight SF personnel and 30 militants), and Longding, 14 (one civilian, one SF trooper and 12 militants).
Moreover, according to available Arunachal Pradesh Police records, between January and June 2019 the State recorded 59 incidents of abduction for ransom. In the corresponding period in 2018, there were 70 such incidents in the State. There were a total of 126 incidents of abduction for ransom incidents in the State through 2018. No such incident has been reported since July 1, 2019, as per SATP data.
The number of overall insurgency-related incidents in 2019 was 55, almost the same as 2018, at 56. Changlang accounted for the maximum number of incidents, 31, in 2019, followed by Tirap, 10; Longding, four; Papum Pare and Lohit, two each; and East Siang and Kurung Kumey, one each. The location of four incidents was unspecified. The number of overall insurgency-related incidents has been increasing since 2016, when it more than doubled to 44 from 20 such incidents recorded in 2015. It increased further to 55 in 2017.
It is significant, here, that Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t have any currently active indigenous insurgent groups and most of the violence in the State is inflicted by groups from neighbouring Nagaland and Assam, particularly factions of NSCN and the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I). For instance, all 17 killings reported in 2019 were linked to NSCN-IM. In 2019, 72 insurgents were arrested in 37 incidents. Of these, 18 belonged to the NSCN-R, followed by Arunachal Pradesh Deprived People’s Front (APDPF), an insurgent group formed in Arunachal Pradesh in 2014, 10; ULFA-I, nine; NSCN-K, six; NSCN-IM, five; four each from Coordination Committee (CorCom), Manipur based group, and the Eastern Naga National Government (ENNG), a Naga insurgent group formed on January 14, 2016 in Arunachal Pradesh; two each from Manipur groups People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL); one each from Manipur’s Kangliepak Communist Party (KCP) and Assam’s National Democratic Front of Bodoland-NDFB-Saoraigwra (NDFB-S), one NSCN-U. Group affiliation of nine insurgents were not ascertained.
Given the continued insurgent activity in Tirap Changlang and Longding, the Government of India (GoI) on October 1, 2019, extended the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the three Districts as well as in four Police Station areas bordering Assam, for six months. The affected Police Stations include Namsai and Mahadevpur in Namsai District, Roing in Lower Dibang Valley District, and Sunpura in Lohit District.
However, in a positive development in April 2019, GoI had lifted AFSPA from four Police Station areas – Balemu and Bhalukpong in West Kameng District, Seijosa in East Kameng District and Balijan in Papum Pare District. According to an unnamed Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) official, AFSPA was withdrawn from the four Police Station areas due to improvements in the law and order situation in those areas.
Meanwhile, apart from the ongoing anti-CAA protests, which have limited impact in Arunachal Pradesh unlike some of the other States in the region, the outcome of the lingering Naga peace talks may have wider impact in the state. On October 29, 2019, AAPSU had stated that the proposed agreement to resolve the Naga problem should not affect Arunachal and its people in any way. AAPSU also opposed any attempt to change territorial jurisdictions.
Inter-tribal tensions are also visible in Arunachal Pradesh. On November 5, 2019, AAPSU set a deadline for the State Government to identify the offspring of non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribe (non-APST) men who, according to AAPSU, have been availing benefits meant for Scheduled Tribe communities. Also, between October 12 and 15, 2019, unidentified assailants torched 14 houses belonging to the Adi community in a new settlement in the Mabira area of Namsai District. It was alleged that assailants from the Thai-Khamti community, who allege that the Adi community had encroached on their land, were involved in the incidents of arson. Later, on October 25, 2019, protesters clashed with Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel at Jengthu Bridge in Namsai District. Prohibitory orders were issued in the District after the incident. Earlier, between February 22 and 24, 2019, at least three people were killed and 150 vehicles burnt in three days of protest after the Joint High-Power Committee (JHPC) submitted a recommendation to the State Government for Permanent Resident Certificates (PRC) to be provided to six non-APSTs.
According to Arunachal Pradesh Police data, between January 1, 2019, and June 30, 2019 (July to December data is not available), there were 65 incidents of rioting in the State. By comparison, throughout 2018, only 18 incidents of rioting were recorded. In 2017, between January and November, there just 13 such incidents.
The State’s law and order challenges are worsened as a result of the lack of capacities in its Police Force. Despite the boastful statement by Arunachal Pradesh Home Minster on June 6, 2019, when he declared that the Government would not tolerate violence in any form, recent events demonstrate that the Police Force has been ineffective in countering and containing incidents of mob violence. Police capacities are unlikely to record a turnaround in the immediate future, as there is little appetite for investment in Police modernisation, with allocations, dipping from 47.9 million in 2017-18 to 39.2 million in 2019-20.
With insurgency related fatalities across the Northeast region falling to 33 in 2019 from 73 in 2018, and from a peak of 1,165 in 2003, insurgency in the region is on its last legs. As this threat recedes, popular resentment and local frictions are articulated in different forms, most noticeably as ‘law and order’ problems. Police modernisation and augmentation of Police capacities and capabilities is an urgent imperative. The pattern of calling in Central Forces, including CAPFs and the Army, to contain law and order issues, needs to be ended. The problems faced by Arunachal Pradesh assume a particularly critical importance due to the geo-strategic location of the state – bordering three countries (Bhutan China and Myanmar). The glacial pace of reforms in India can only mean that tensions will continue to fester over coming years.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management