For the eight states in northeastern India, 2009 will go down as a year that promised to bring an end to nearly three decades of insurgency but ended with more bloodshed and misery.
Assam and Manipur continued to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons — at least 50 explosions in the two states in 2009 and more than 200 deaths besides several attacks on security forces.
And this despite the tremendous optimism at the dawn of 2009, with a firm commitment by both the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Assam government to help end one of the region’s bloodiest insurgencies.
“I wouldn’t say 2009 was a very good year but it wasn’t a bad year either,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
The only silver lining in Assam was the arrest of four top ULFA leaders — chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, deputy commander—in—chief Raju Baruah, foreign secretary Sasha Choudhury and finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika.
There are hopes that these four leaders may be able to push the deadlocked peace process forward from within Guwahati jail.
“It is for the government to create a congenial atmosphere for peace talks,” rights leader Lachit Bordoloi said. But despite the gloom, there is a ray of hope in Assam.
There is nothing of the sort in Manipur. Anarchy overtook the state of 2.4 million people.
Militants killed government officials and Hindi-speakers, triggered explosions, kidnapped people for ransom, and extorted money even from temples. Educational institutions have been shut since September.
Attacks on people from outside the state, most of them Hindi-speaking daily wage earners or doing petty business, are on the rise. Twentynine people have been killed in 2009 including three in separate incidents in the last week of the year.
Educational institutions have remained closed since Sep 9 with students on the brink of losing a vital academic session.
The indefinite closure of all schools and colleges was called by the All Manipur Students Union (AMSU), demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh following the alleged extra judicial killing of a youth in July.
Nearly four months down the line, the Manipur government has failed to break the impasse.
In Nagaland, the peace talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) made no progress in 2009. Clashes between the two rival NSCN factions (one led by guerrilla leader S.S. Khaplang and the other by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah) claimed at least 25 lives in 2009.
“There is a general sense of despondency in Nagaland with no forward movement in peace talks,” said T. Ao, a church leader.
Malaria and meningitis proved deadlier than militants in the three states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
Malaria claimed over 600 lives in the three states while meningococcal meningitis virus killed 285 in Meghalaya and Tripura. Close to 2,000 people became victims of this viral disease in the two states.
Meghalaya topped the list in malaria deaths with 325 casualties followed by Mizoram (119) and Tripura (62). There were also scores of malaria deaths in Assam and the other states in the region.
Apart from infectious diseases, the controversy over uranium mining in Meghalaya hogged the headlines this year. Following a series of protests by green groups and political parties, the state government has put on hold infrastructure development work in the area where uranium is proposed to be mined.
The powerful Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) had been leading the movement against the state government’s decision to allow the Uranium Corp of India Ltd (UCIL) to carry out Rs.209 crore development projects in 422 hectares of the uranium-rich areas of West Khasi Hills in southern Meghalaya.
The Tripura government was able to tame to a large extent three decades of violent insurgency, and did well in the hustings too. Despite huge setbacks in Lok Sabha elections in its other strongholds West Bengal and Kerala, the state’s ruling Left Front in Tripura retained both seats in parliament, and did well in panchayat polls.
But the much-awaited repatriation of about 35,000 refugees of the Reang tribe from Tripura to Mizoram remained in limbo. The refugees are unwilling to return to their homes in Mizoram until they are assured security and are given financial assistance by the Mizoram government.
Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla could only say: “A ‘road map’ for the repatriation has been prepared and it was approved by the union home ministry.”
Over 35,000 Reangs have been sheltered in six north Tripura camps since 1997 after they fled Mizoram following ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos.
The visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama was the highpoint in Arunachal Pradesh, with the high profile visit heightening tensions between India and China.
Meanwhile, trade between India and China at the Mathu La border point in Sikkim saw business worth Rs.9 million. In 2009, trade was the highest since the border point reopened in 2006, after being closed for 42 years.