Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 136, 5 August 2020

In Manipur, a militant ambush revives the fears of insurgency in India's Northeast
Vaishali Handique

In the news
On 29 July 2020, there was an encounter between the insurgents and the Indian security forces, along the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur ( in Chandel district bordering Myanmar). 
Three personnel of the Assam Rifles were killed and five others injured. A joint statement was released subsequently by three separatist groups of North-East India - the PLA, the Manipur Naga People's Front (MNPF) and the United Liberation Front of Asom- Independent (ULFA-I) taking responsibility of the attack. They claimed to be fighting "against colonial ruler of India for (our) independence" and urged the people of Northeast "to withdraw from Indian forces" and fight for independence.

The Chief Ministers of Assam and Manipur condemning the incident expressed their concerns. The CM of Manipur "vowed" to not let the sacrifice of the Jawans go in vain and has taken immediate steps of rehabilitating the families of the victims. He remarked that "perpetrators would be hunted" while his Assamese counterpart has named a road in Barpeta district of Assam after one of the demised Assam Rifles Jawan.
Issues at large
First, the return of insurgency over the last five years. Claims of the federal government over restoring complete peace by 2022, is a long way to go, especially amidst a pandemic. With the recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the entire North-East, the insurgent groups have found it easier to create a narrative justifying their fight against India.

Secondly, the groups share ideological similarities with the People's Liberation Army of China. There has been speculation that these groups are in touch with the Chinese and involved in active training sessions in batches. At a time, when India is on the verge of a possible war with China, unrest in north-east India associated with PLA Manipur can be an indicator of infiltration and decoy according to various think tanks.

Thirdly, the Indo-Myanmar border being porous, scattered with hilly terrains and jungles, is poorly guarded. Various insurgent groups along the border have their hideout camps and training facilities in the neighbouring country and can easily travel back and forth from India. 

Fourthly, as mentioned in the recent joint statement, "Indian expansionism" has been the most critical issue of the insurgents. They prefer to identify themselves as people of "Western South-East Asia" (WeSEA) over India. Hence, either individually or in a joint military offensive, they have tried to reiterate their point with situations of unrest and violence. Their dream of independence from India has been their priority.
In perspective
The recent ambush was expected because the Northeast has always been on the radar of violence and insurgency. The presence of security forces over the four decades, fuel an anti-Indian narrative, that is cashed by the insurgent groups.

Second, the speculation of China's involvement with the Northeast insurgent groups is important. If confirmed, it will make the situation complex, and provide space for China to counter India with a direct face-off. 

Third, given the friendly Myanmar-China relations, the chances are that Myanmar will favour the Chinese over India and help the insurgent groups gain momentum for their resurgence in North-East India.  Fourth, if the resurgence gains strength, some fractions of the youth from the states of Manipur, Nagaland and Assam can come in support of it. The young population, being exasperated with the federal government over issues of racial violence and discrimination, have taken to social media pouring out separatist emotions. This can see a new influx of youth into the insurgency.

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