A pattern of mobilisations and terror campaigns by groups to demarcate exclusive areas for themselves and establish territorial recognition has been a marked feature of Assam’s political scene in recent decades. Others living in that space who fear being excluded — often, despite the historicity of their own presence — consequently resort to their own devices to defeat these moves. The memorandum of settlement that the Union government and Assam government signed in New Delhi with the twin factions of the Dima Halam Daogah, the DHD-J and the DHD-N, runs the risk of going the same way unless implemented with care and sensitivity. Supported by a violent campaign, the militants were demanding a state for the Dimasa tribe. But they went through a process of weakening and surrender, and negotiations followed. Under the terms of the settlement, the two factions are to dissolve themselves within six months and a time-bound process is to be initiated to bring about greater devolution of power in Dima Hasao district. The North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council is to be renamed the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council. The State government will reorganise the district into three administrative units for development management. A Rs.200-crore economic package will be provided to the DHATC over the next five years. The hope has been expressed that all this would help bring the DHDs into the democratic mainstream.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde cheerfully claimed that the settlement “has sent out a message to the entire nation that if one district demands peace, then there is no way it cannot happen.” How the other sections of the population in the region would respond to the move, is a matter of some concern. The non-Dimasa population — which includes Zeme Nagas, Kukis and Hmars — has opposed the settlement and demanded bifurcation of the district. Discontent over the proposed deal has been brewing for some time, and on the evening before the settlement was signed, three explosions rocked the district headquarters of Haflong. The Indigenous People’s Forum representing non-Dimasa groups wants areas inhabited by them to be kept outside the purview of the proposed Territorial Council. One Naga leader has held out the prospect of “turmoil and civil war” in the event of the Dimasas’ demand being accepted. The prospect of real peace in the region will depend on the sense of realism with which the non-Dimasa groups approach the issue, the degree to which the Dimasa factions are able to ensure inclusive collaboration — and the government’s ability to keep the peace. The settlement should not end up creating problems while solving old issues.