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Ethnic autonomy no panacea for Northeast


wasbir hussain
director, centre for development and peace studies

Some new turn of events in the Northeast and some more examples to conclude that ethnic autonomy or autonomy on ethnic lines is no panacea for the region. On the 9th of October, the Government signed a peace accord with both factions of the Dima Halam Daogah in New Delhi, which was supposed to have ended the more than a decade-long insurgency in the hill district of Dima Hasao (formerly North Cachar Hills) in southern Assam.

The agreement led to the so-called upgradation of the Autonomous District Council, which has been in existence since 1952, to a ‘territorial council’ named the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council. A section of non-Dimasas are not happy with the deal because they feel their interests have not been taken care of by the agreement. The sentiments of the non-Dimasas cannot be ignored as they comprise more than 50 per cent of the area’s population.

That is not the main problem facing the Government in the wake of the brand new peace accord. On September 25th, as the Centre and the Assam Government were giving the final touches to the accord with the DHD factions, a new Dimasa insurgent group was taking shape in the Dima Hasao hills. The new outfit has named itself the Dima Jadi Naiso Army (DJNA). This is obviously a rag-tag band of people, but its objective is familiar—to fight for a separate ‘Dimaraji’ state, and to ‘protect, promote and develop the Dimasa Kachari’ people.

What the new outfit is demanding is not the issue. What is, however, is the fact that a new rebel outfit has sprung up even before the DHD had clinched a deal. Now, the DHD factions have not even disbanded themselves. It is another matter that they are still not on cordial terms and could actually fight each other at the forthcoming Council elections.

What does the emergence of the new outfit mean? It could mean that a section of Dimasas are not happy with what the two DHD factions could extract from the Government, and, therefore, have come up to continue fighting for a separate ‘Dimaraji’ state. If this is the case, serious doubts arise over the Government’s wisdom in continuing to grant autonomy to communities in the Northeast on ethnic lines. This is because aspirations of ethnic groups can perhaps never be satisfied with the granting of a certain form of autonomy and their hopes would continue to soar for more. Otherwise, why would forces like the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) clamour for more autonomy for the Bodos even after their leaders had signed the Bodo Accord in 2003?

The thoughts of a section of people from the security establishment in Assam at this point sound ominous. They say DHD factions could themselves have set up some of these new so-called rebel groups. It is difficult to conclude just now but the story in Dima Hasao has just about begun. Again, security sources say the NSCN-IM is also trying to prop up a few outfits to push the case of the Nagas in the area. If this is so, the area could once again turn into a flashpoint.

This is exactly the reason why one has been impressing upon the need to do away with the practice of granting autonomy on ethnic lines and adopting a policy to grant regional autonomy to comparatively under-developed areas or a contiguous stretch of territory in the region. That way, both the areas in question and the people who live there, irrespective of communities, would come to benefit. More importantly, it would not open newer fronts for the Government every time they come and do a patch-up job in its quest for peace.


(courtesy: The Sentinel)