Internal Security Issues 104 – The Northeast Insurgency | Part 1

In this article series we focus on understanding the insurgency in North-East India.

The North-East region:

The Northeast region of India comprises eight states – the Himalayan state of Sikkim and the contiguous seven Sister States (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura).




North East India is connected to the Indian mainland by a small corridor – Silghuri Corridor (also known as Chicken Neck – with a narrow width of only 23 kilometers.)

Strategic Importance of the region: About 99% of the 6387 km border of this Region is international border along Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Bhutan. It makes up close to 40% of India’s land borders with its neighbours. It thus has an extraordinarily important international strategic dimension and is a vital part of the nation’s defence architecture.

Bridge to South East Asia: The region is a bridgehead between India and the vibrant economies of Southeast Asia, including southern China.

Economic Significance: North East is endowed with huge natural resources (oil, gas, coal, hydro, fertile land, etc) which can be harnessed for nation development.

A historical background of the North-East

Pre-independence era: During the British era, the tribal groups constituted an overwhelming majority of the population in most of the areas they inhabited. Outsiders were not allowed to acquire land in the tribal areas. At the same time, the British government supported the Christian missionaries to move in and establish schools, hospitals and churches.

There was a virtual absence of any political, cultural, social, geographical, religious or business contact of the tribals in the North-East with the rest of the India. So India’s freedom struggle had very little impact on the tribals.

Post-independence era: The sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution provided for self rule, autonomy and decentralisation in the region. Thus district and regional councils were created.

Initially, there was only one state of Assam and one Union Territory NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) covering the whole of north-east.

While NEFA was developing comfortably and in harmony with the rest of the country, problems developed in other tribal areas which were a part of Assam administratively. The tribals were afraid of losing their identity and being assimilated by the policy of Assamization in government jobs and other professions.

There were demonstrations and a major agitation developed. In 1969, Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as a ‘state within a state’. Finally, Meghalaya, Manipur, and Tripura were granted statehood in 1972.

Meanwhile, secessionist movements developed in Nagaland and Mizoram. Nagaland was granted statehood in 1963 itself, while Mizoram became a state in 1987. Also, NEFA was renamed as Arunachal Pradesh and granted the status of a separate state in 1987.

Difference between insurgency, terrorism, militancy and extremism

Before we move further, it is important to understand the difference between the terms ‘insurgency’, ‘terrorism’, ‘militancy’ and ‘extremism’. [Recall the previous article series on Cross Border Terrorism, Left wing Extremism (Naxalism)]

Militancy is a condition which experiences the use of violence, being combative or predisposed to fight. Militants can include any individual or group which takes to violence. This need not only include terrorists and insurgents, but also religious groups which take to violence to further their beliefs.

Extremism is a state wherein a person or an organisation holds extreme political or religious views.

If one were to compare these terms, an extremist may not necessarily be committing a crime under the law. A number of groups, political and religious, fall under this category, for instance, the separatists in Kashmir and Maoist supporters.

Insurgency: The Indian Sub Conventional Doctrine defines insurgency as “an organised armed struggle by a section of the population against the state, usually with foreign support. Possible causes of an insurgency including ideological, ethnic or linguistic differences; or politico-socio-economic reasons and/or fundamentalism and extremism.”

An insurgency may have within its fold both militant groups supporting it as also extremists who propagate its ideology. But, insurgents are our own citizens, whereas terrorists may not always be our own citizens.

Present Situation of insurgency in the North-East

The security situation in some of the north-eastern states has remained complex for a long time because of a number of militant outfits and their diverse demands. Assam, Manipur and Nagaland have continuously been a point of worry.

The Government has steadily followed a policy of dialogue and negotiations with any outfit which agrees to forego the path of violence and come forward for peace talks within the constitutional framework of India. In general, the security situation in most of the north-eastern states has shown considerable improvement during the last 5 years.

State wise status and reasons behind the insurgency:


The Nagas believe that they were not part of India, whether through conquest or consent. The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) is a Naga nationalist group operating in North-east India. The main aim of the organisation is to establish a soverign state, “Nagalim” unifying all the areas inhabited by the Naga people in Northeast India and Burma. (See the backgrounder section here for a brief history of the Naga movement)


  • Clashes among different tribal groups and factions
  • Presence of underground groups that deal in extortion, arms, drugs, smuggling etc.
  • Parallel government

Recent developments:

The govt of India and Naga insurgent group NSCN (IM) signed a peace accord on 3 August 2016. However, this is only a framework agreement. The details of the accord are yet to be fleshed out. It is likely to be followed by more detailed agreements and negotiations.


The perceived threat to the political identity of the Assamese people from the illegal migrants from Bangladesh lies at the core of the Assam problem. The indigenous people of Assam feel that in future the illegal migrants will become the majority population and they will lose political power.

Statehood demands in Assam:

  1. Bodoland
  2. Karbi Anglong
  3. Dimaraji
  4. Kamtapur

Recent developments:

In July 2012, violence broke out with riots between indigenous Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims (who were suspected to be illegal Bangladeshi muslims). Violence in Assam later had its repercussions in other parts of India, Azad maidan riots in Mumbai, Rumour mongering (via sinisterSMSs) triggered exodus of NE Indians.

[Related reading: Assam Riots and Demand of Bodoland]


The people of Manipur include the Meitei tribe, the Kuki tribe and the Naga tribe. Meitei tribe forms about 60% of the total population and lives in the plains while Nagas and Kukis live in the hill districts.


  • There are more militant groups in the states than anywhere else and the rivalry between these outfits often leads to greater violence.
  • The situation is further complicated because insurgent groups are not united for the same cause. The Nagas wish to annex a part of Manipur and merge with a greater Nagaland or Nagalim, which is in conflict with Meitei insurgents’ demands for an independent state.
  • Unlike other conflict theatres of the Northeast, not many ‘surrenders’ have been reported from Manipur, thus indicating the tight control that the outfits have maintained over their cadres.
  • Also, non-Manipuris are being targeted increasingly in Manipur.

Recent developments:

In June 2015, 18 Indian Army jawans were killed and several others were injured when suspected militants ambushed their convoy in Manipur’s Chandel district. In response to the killing of 18 of its troops by militants in Manipur, the Indian Army in one of its biggest covert missions sent troops into Myanmar to strike at two camps and, according to official estimates, killed over 20 suspected militants.

For more details on the Manipur insurgency read the backgrounder section here.

Related reading: Inner Line Permit controversy in Manipur


Meghalaya is perhaps the least affected by insurgency in the north-east region.

Problems in Meghalaya arise from the divide among various tribes as well as the divide between tribal and non tribal settlers, identity issues and growing corruption, besides the sharp changes in demography due to Bangladeshi infiltrators. Also, criminal activities like extortion and drugs smuggling are a major concern in the region. The state lies in a major smuggling route between Bangladesh and India.

Mizoram and Tripura have shown remarkable success in controlling insurgency and now they are largely peaceful.

Arunachal Pradesh

The people of three eastern districts of Arunachal Pradesh, namely Tirap, Changlang and Longding live in perpetual fear due to presence of cadres of two NSCN factions in the area, who resort to kidnapping, extortion and factional feuds. These three districts are a part of NSCN-IM’s  projected state of Nagalim (Greater Nagaland).

Arunachal Pradesh has also been used as atransit rout by the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom).

The next part in this series will analyse the factors responsible for the insurgency, the challenges being faced and  the impact of insurgency on the region’s economy (click here for Part 2). This is supposed to be one of the most comprehensive series in Internal Security related Issues. Your feedback is welcome ?

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