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Nailing the Militant-Politician Nexus

POSTED ON JUNE 10, 2009

RANI PATHAK DAS
RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE STUDIES

Detention of an elected politician in Assam on charges of directly funding a militant group to purchase weapons has once again brought to focus the politician-militant nexus in the Northeast. The case has assumed much significance because for the first time the central government has turned its attention to a case relating to a possible politician-militant nexus. New Delhi has entrusted the newly set up National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the case.

On May 30, 2009, the Assam Police detained Mohit Hojai, Chief Executive Member of the NC Hills Autonomous District Council from his residence in Haflong, headquarter of the district, on charges of arranging money to the tune of Rs 1 crore for the separatist rebel group Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel Garlossa faction). The money was apparently meant for the group’s arms purchase. The DHD (Jewel), a rag-tag militant group pushing for a separate Dimasa homeland in Assam, is creating havoc in the North Cachar Hills district of Assam since March 2009. The police had also detained R H Khan, Deputy Director of the Department of Social Welfare of the Council in the same connection.

Charges of politician-militant nexus in the Northeast are not new. In Assam itself, different political parties and leaders have made such charges against each other. For instance, charges like the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) helping certain political parties during elections, or politicians paying cash to the insurgent groups for different reasons have hogged media limelight in the past. But no investigation as such was carried out until now when the NIA has been asked to probe the Mohit Hojai case.

Way back in 1995, the then governor of Manipur Lt. Gen.(retd) V K Nayyar specifically mentioned in a report to the President about two senior politicians in the insurgency-hit State maintaining links with insurgent outfits. But no action was taken.

In the case of Manipur, the Central Government took an unprecedented stand in October 2007 when the Cabinet decided to initiate action by withdrawing security cover for MLAs found to be harbouring militants. But the authorities preferred to remain silent on the four sitting and two former MLAs from whose official residences, as many as 14 suspected militants were picked up in three earlier raids. Even in 2000, the Centre instituted an inquiry against the alleged nexus between certain politicians, bureaucrats and banned militant groups following intelligence reports. But there were, however, no detail investigation about the identities or numbers of such politicians with militant linkages.

At this juncture, the current development regarding the Centre’s initiative to carry out a serious investigation into the sensitive issue of militant-politician nexus demonstrates New Delhi’s resolve to crack down on terror. The one month deadline set by the Centre for the NIA for the probe into the terror cases related to the NC Hills district of Assam only shows that New Delhi means business.

Authorities have admitted flow of funds to militants’ coffers. “It's a fact that money has gone to the extremists. There's no doubt about such leakages,” Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi remaked recently.

Significantly, this is the first case of terror taken over by the NIA for an investigation. The NIA was formed after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. It was set up after the enactment of the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008. Its mandate includes, among other things, to investigate and prosecute offences affecting the sovereignty, integrity and security of India and the security of the State.

The detention of Mohit Hojai took place following disclosures from the two DHD (J) militants – Brojen Hojai and Babul Kemprai — who were arrested by the police on April 2 near the Assam-Meghalaya border along with Rs 1 crore in cash. According to a Home Ministry statement, two cases were registered by the Assam Police in which cash amounting to over Rs.100 million, weapons and mobile phones had been recovered and a number of persons arrested.

DHD (J) is a breakaway faction of the Dimasa outfit DHD, which had entered with a ceasefire with the Central Government on January 1, 2003. Opposed to the truce of the parent group, the DHD, rebel commander Jewel Garlossa broke away to float the DHD (J) and has since been engaged in extortion and abduction for ransom. The main group, the DHD, operating in Cachar, N C Hills, Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts of Assam, was formed following the 1995 mass surrender of the Dimasa National Security Force (DNSF) with the objective of establishing a separate State for the Damasa tribe in the North Cachar Hills (NC Hills) and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam and parts of Dimapur district in Nagaland.

DHD (Jewel) chief, Jewel Garlossa, was meanwhile arrested by a pursuing Assam Police team on June 3, 2009 from a hotel in Bangalore. It is likely that the police got clues about the elusive Garlossa from the arrested politician or the two members of the group arrested in April. The arrest of both the politician Mohit Hojai and the DHD (Jewel) chief Garlossa could not have been better timed for the NIA sleuths. In case the NIA manages to establish Hojai’s links with the DHD (Jewel), it will act as a deterrent for other politicians in the region hobnobbing with insurgents.