Assam, Mizoram defuse border row
The political standoff between Assam and Mizoram over a violent showdown at their disputed border that killed seven people and injured 41 others last Monday appeared to abate on Sunday after chief ministers of both the states agreed to resolve the issue through talks.
Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga urged the people of his state to “avoid posting sensitive messages” on social media, as his Assam counterpart, Himanta Biswa Sarma, spoke of keeping “the spirit of the North-east alive”.
“…we agreed to resolve the Mizoram-Assam border issue amicably through meaningful dialogue. In the meantime, in order to prevent any possible escalation of the situation, I request the people of Mizoram to avoid posting sensitive messages and make judicious use of their social media platform,” Zoramthanga, who is in quarantine after contact with a Covid-19-infected person, said on Twitter.
Sarma, in his tweet, said that the chief ministers are likely to hold another round of discussions after Zoramthanga is out of quarantine.
“Our main focus is on keeping the spirit of North-East alive. What happened along the Assam-Mizoram border is unacceptable to the people of both states. Honble CM Zoramthanga has promised to call me post his quarantine,” Sarma said.
“Border disputes can only be resolved through discussion,” he said, a day after seeking a probe into the clashes by a “neutral agency”.
The Mizoram police filed an FIR against Sarma and six Assam officials in Kolasib district, under various charges including those related to attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy.
Mizoram chief secretary Lalnunmawia Chuango, however, on Sunday said the state’s chief minister has frowned upon charges levelled against Sarma, and indicated these are likely to be withdrawn.
“I will discuss with the concerned police officer who filed the FIR and if there’s no legal fit in that, we would like to remove name of Assam chief minister from the FIR,” Chuango told reporters in Aizawl.
Kolasib superintendent of police Vanlalfaka Ralte said that the police will not proceed with the case against Sarma. “The case is not withdrawn, but we are not going to investigate matter against Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma in order to have a peaceful atmosphere,” Ralte said.
Later in the day, Sarma said he is ready to report to Mizoram Police if summoned and faced arrest but will not allow state government officials whose name appeared in the FIR along with his to face any probe by the neighbouring state.
“If I am served a summon, I will go on a padyatra from Silchar to Vairengte and join the probe. If they (Mizoram Police) arrest me and that brings the situation to normal, I am ready for that. I will not seek bail from Gauhati High Court,” he told reporters.
“I have to protect my officers. I cannot allow them to be investigated by Mizoram Police for an incident which occurred in Assam. We will not accept the summons issued to them,” Sarma added.
The Assam Police have also issued summons to six officials of the Mizoram government, including the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police of Kolasib district.
Newly appointed Cachar district superintendent of police Ramandeep Kaur said none of the Mizoram officials had appeared to record their statements so far. “None of them has come today. We will send notices to them again and if they fail to appear, we will send summons through court. The situation on the ground is normal, but while our security personnel have withdrawn from the border areas and it is being manned by CRPF personnel, Mizoram is yet to call back their forces,” she said.
Sunday’s development came after Union home minister Amit Shah spoke to Sarma and Zoramthanga telephonically earlier in the day to defuse the border tension between the two North-eastern neighbours.
The situation on the ground, however, remained tense, with Mizoram alleging that Assam was imposing a blockade in the Barak Valley region, and blocking medical supplies.
“As per our information, a state-sponsored economic blockade has been clamped in Assam. Vehicles carrying consignments of essential commodities and life-saving medicines are stranded in the Dholai-Lailapur area in Assam. We will approach the Centre again to take the initiative for resumption of movement of traffic,” Mizoram health minister R Lalthangliana said. Assam has refuted reports of an economic blockade.
The gunbattle at the border on Monday came two days after the chief ministers shared a stage with Shah and spoke of resolving the border dispute amicably. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in Assam and Mizoram is ruled by the Mizo National Front, a part of the North East Democratic Alliance headed by the BJP.
Assam’s Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi share a 164.6km-long border with Mizoram’s Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit districts. Mizoram was a part of Assam till 1972 when it became a Union Territory. It became a state in 1987. The territorial dispute has festered since then and fuelled sporadic clashes, the latest of which rocked the region in August 2020 and February 2021.
The dispute stems primarily from a difference in perception. Mizoram goes by an 1875 border agreement but Assam follows a 1933 demarcation.
(With agency inputs)