What Threatens Peace in India’s Northeast?



(A complete diary of insurgency, extremist movements, Ethno-political scenario on Strategic alliance and cross-border links)

State and non-state elements in India’s neighbourhood have been supporting insurgency in the North-East to weaken the Indian state. In the 1960s and 1970s, insurgents from the region, particularly the Naga rebels, had received moral and material support from China. Moreover, elements in Pakistan and Bangladesh too have been aiding North-East Indian insurgents from time to time. The sanctuaries in Bhutan and Myanmar have emerged out of the inability of their governments to adequately administer the border areas or deal effectively with the hostile activities of the Indian insurgents inside their respective territories.

An introduction – North East India

Northeast India is the eastern-most region of India. It is connected to East India via a narrow corridor (Siliguri corridor) squeezed between independent nations of Bhutan and Bangladesh.  North East India comprises of seven states commonly known as the “Seven Sisters”. They are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.


Comparative status of North East




(as per Census 2011)


(Sq Km)

Percentage All India Person

(per Sq Km)

  Population Area  
Arunachal Pradesh 1382611 83743 0.11% 2.54% 16.51
Assam 3,11,69,272 78438 2.57% 2.38% 397.37
Manipur 2721756 22327 0.22% 0.67% 122.17
Meghalaya 2964007 22429 0.24% 0.68% 132.15
Mizoram 1091014 21081 0.09% 0.64% 51.75
Nagaland 1980602 16579 0.16% 0.50% 119.46
Sikkim 6,07,688 7096 0.05% 0.21% 85.63
Tripura 36,17,032 10486 0.29% 0.31% 344.93
Total NE 4,55,33,982 262179 3.07% 7.97% 173.67
All India 121,00,00,000 32,87,263   374.17

Strategic Importance

Northeast India has an extraordinarily important international strategic dimension and is a vital part of the nation’s defence architecture. These states share their borders with other countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China.

  1. International border

It makes up close to 40% of India’s land borders with its neighbours.

  1. Bridge to South East Asia

The region is at the crossroads of India and Southeast Asia. It is a bridgehead between India and the vibrant economies of Southeast Asia, including southern China.


  1. Economic Significance

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

The conflict in North East India – overview

In the brief “overviews” of conflicts in the different northeastern States, the aim seems to be to present a quick take on the northeast, without entering into the cardinal factors that have sustained the militant movements over several decades. But the fact is that the region has had, for centuries, a wonderful mix of peoples and civilisations.  A cursory look at the demographic mosaic of northeastern India would show that this region is home to a curious amalgam of cross-cutting societies. What compounds the problem of this plurality is the fact that the tendency for ethno-political assertion is high among almost all the groups. This is primarily because the political boundaries in most cases do not coincide with the existing social boundaries. The northeastern units of the Indian federation, in spite of several political permutations and combinations have not been able to cater to the demands of all the ethnic categories clamouring for recognition of their distinctive identity.

National conflicts: It involves concept of a distinct ‘homeland’ as a separate nation and pursuit of the realization of that goal by use of various methods both violent as well as non-violent. Ex: ULFA demand for sovereign Asom, NSCN for Greater Nagaland.

Ethnic conflicts: It involves assertion of numerically smaller and less dominant tribal groups against the political and cultural hold of the dominant tribal group. In Assam, this also takes the form of tension between local and migrant communities.

Sub-regional conflicts: It involves movements which ask for recognition of sub-regional aspirations and often come in direct conflict with the State Governments or even the autonomous Councils. Ex: UPDS in Assam.

Major insurgent groups in North East India


1. United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)
2. National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)
3. Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO)***
1. Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC)
2. Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA)***
1. All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF)
2. National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT)
1. People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
2. United National Liberation Front (UNLF)
3. People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK)
4. Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)
5. KangleiYaolKannaLup (KYKL)
6. Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF)
7. Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF)
8. Coordination committee Cor-Com

Conglomerate of Six valley base UG outfit

1. The National Socialist Council ofNagaland (IsakMauivah) [NSCN(I/M)]
2. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) [NSCN(K)]**
3. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khole-Kitovi) [NSCN(KK)]
4. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Reformation) [NSCN(R)]
*All militant outfits mentioned above except NSCM(I/M), NSCN(KK) and NSCN(R) have been declared ‘Unlawful Associations’ under Unlawful Activities(Prevention) Act, 1967. In addition, the outfits named above in respect of Assam, Manipur and Tripura have also been listed as ‘terrorists organisation’ in the schedule to mentioned Act.

**NSCN(K) declared as ‘Unlawful association’ and terrorist organisation

***KLO and GNLA declared only as terrorist organisations.

Reasons for conflict – State wise


Assam is the first state of NE India post 1947. Radical turn in Assamese nationalism can be traced back to the influx of illegal migrants from East Pakistan after Partition in 1947 and later since 1971 onwards after the formation of Bangladesh. Massive migrant flow created immense anxiety amongst the Assamese middle classes and the rural masses and led to Violent protests. Revenues from Assam’s other famous product—tea—were also going to the head offices located in West Bengal. Most proximate cause of the Assam Agitation (1979-1985) was however malpractices in the electoral procedure in 1978. All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led an agitation demanding the 1951 National Register for Citizens be utilized to determine the citizenship of all those living in Assam. There was creation of one of the most persistent of violent ethnic movements in Assam—the United Liberation front of Assam(ULFA). On 07 April 1979, ULFA was formed on at Ranghar, in Sivasagar, a sight of historical significance since the time of the Ahom rule. ULFA wants Assam’s status to the Ahom ruled Assam, pre-1826 treaty of Yandaboo between the British and the Burmese, which brought in British rule in Assam. Recruits of the ULFA were drawn from the Asom Jatiyabadi Parishad (AJYCP)-SwadhinAsom (Independent Assam). On 03 September 2011, peace talk held and Tripartite agreement for Suspension of Operations (SoO) against ULFA was Signed between Indian Government, Assam government and ULFA. On July 2012, violence broke out with riots between indigenous Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims (who were suspected to be illegal Bangladeshi muslims. There are various Statehood demands in Assam like, Bodoland, KarbiAnglong, Dimaraji, Kamtapur. General reasons behind their demand of separate statehood are based upon preserving and promoting their ethnic identity, for rapid economic development in backward areas and to ensure control over natural resources like land.


Kingdom of Manipur was merged with the Indian Union on 15 October 1949. However, only after a protracted agitation interspersed with violence, it was declared a separate state in 1972. The emergence of insurgency in Manipur is formally traced to the emergence of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) on 24 November 1964. The alleged ‘forced’ merger of Manipur and the delay in the conferring of full-fledged statehood to it was greatly resented by the people of Manipur. Since then several other outfits, like the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), founded on September 25, 1978, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) set up on October 9, 1977 and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) that came into being in April, 1980 have emerged in the valley areas consisting of four districts of the State. All these insurgent groups have been demanding a separate independent Manipur.

From Nagaland, violence by the Naga groups has also spilled over into Manipur, a substantial part of which is claimed by the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) as part of Nagalim, the proposed unified territory of the Nagas as claimed by the Naga rebels. Several clashes between the NSCN-IM and the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) have been reported from the hill districts of the State. Kuki tribals in the early 1990s initiated their own brand of insurgency against the alleged oppression by the NSCN-IM. Following ethnic clashes between the Nagas and Kukis in the early 1990s, a number of Kuki outfits were formed. Several other tribes, such as the Paite, Vaiphei and Hmars have also established their own armed groups. Similarly, Islamist outfits like the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) have also been founded to protect the interests of the ‘Pangals’ (Manipuri Muslims). Today, Manipur is one of the worst affected states in the Northeast where at least 12 insurgent outfits are active at present. A report of the State Home department in May 2005 indicated that ‘as many as 12,650 cadres of different insurgent outfits with 8830 weapons are actively operating in the State’.

According to government sources, the strength of those concentrated in the valley districts, is assessed at around 1500 cadres for the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) and its army wing, the PLA, 2500 cadres for the UNLF and its army wing Manipur People’s Army (MPA), 500 cadres for the PREPAK and its army wing Red Army, while Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and its Yawol Lanmi army is assessed as having a strength of 600 cadres. The Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)’s strength is assessed at 100 cadres.

The UNLF, PLA, KYKL, PREPAK and the KCP have been involved in some of the serious attacks on security forces. The insurgents have an avowed policy of not targeting the state police personnel, unless circumstances demand it. The practice of directing their attack on the Army and the central para-military personnel is an attempt to create a divide between Manipur and India and to secure vital popular support.  Manipur had been declared a ‘disturbed area’ in its entirety in 1980 and the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), 1958 was imposed in the State on 8 September, 1980, which continues to be in place till now. The implementation of this Act resulted in the State witnessing an unprecedented civic uprising, including the infamous “mothers’ nude protest” and Irom Sharmila protest against the Act . The AFSPA is still embroiled in controversy and the people of Manipur are continuing their protest against the Act.

Sankar Ray

Faculty, North East Institute of Advanced Studies [NE-IAS]







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North East Institute of Advanced Studies (NE-IAS) has been founded with a vision to make high quality professional education and training available at doorstep with the guidance and assistance of nationally acclaimed trainers and mentors who have achieved benchmark in their fields by consistent success records. NE-IAS aims to develop a quality and result-oriented coaching and training institute in NE India. The institute currently offers courses for preparation of UPSC and state level civil services.

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