The decades-long insurgency movements in the north-eastern parts of India have always been a sort of abstraction for the rest of India. Even New Delhi’s handling of the violence — uninterrupted since the early ’90s, was, at best, incremental, and at worst, using a fly swat to take on something nastier. But over the last year, with the Union government paying more attention to a North-east under militant siege, things have changed for the better. Much of this has been possible due to the new relationship that has been forged and nurtured with Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.
The arrests of top leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) such as Arabinda Rajkhowa this week show that the outfit’s traditional ‘breathing grounds’ in Bangladesh have now become unwelcome to such insurgent groups. Ms Hasina has had reasons of her own to make a U-turn from Dhaka’s earlier adversarial policies against Big Brother India. For one, Islamic fundamentalists, with whom her predecessor Khaleda Zia politically flirted with quite openly, have turned into a veritable bugbear for Bangladesh since the regime change in Dhaka. With one common adversary, it makes ample sense for Dhaka to cooperate with India by shutting the doors to banned outfits like Ulfa.
New Delhi has also shown a more mature and nuanced approach in playing the Ulfa card. Taking advantage of the schism(s) within the insurgent group, the Government of India has been playing good cop-bad cop to its advantage. Rajkhowa’s handover to the Indian authorities should lead to talks between the ‘Real Ulfa’ and New Delhi and the subsequent crackdown on the more extremist elements of the outfit. The Ulfa, clearly, is a broken force. It is at this juncture that New Delhi can play an important ameliorative part in ‘reclaiming the North-east’ by enhancing governance and infrastructure across this neglected part of India. And let New Delhi not dither anymore over repealing the much misused Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the region. Demolishing the Ulfa automatically allows — indeed, demands — such a move being taken, which, in turn, will make other insurgent groups redundant.