Assam raises pitch in Mizoram border row

Updated on Jul 28, 2021 04:04 AM IST

Assam said it will deploy 4,000 commandoes to guard the 164.6km border and approach the Supreme Court to stop Mizoram from building roads on its side. In response, Mizoram said it bolstered its security forces.

Police personnel during a clash at the Assam-Mizoram border at Lailapur in Cachar district, Monday. (PTI)(HT_PRINT)
Police personnel during a clash at the Assam-Mizoram border at Lailapur in Cachar district, Monday. (PTI)(HT_PRINT)
ByBiswa Kalyan Purkayastha and Neeraj Chauhan, Silchar/new Delhi

Assam and Mizoram were locked in a political standoff on Tuesday over a violent showdown at the interstate border that killed seven people and injured 41 others as the Union home ministry rushed troops to the troubled region and called an urgent meeting to defuse tensions.

Assam said it will deploy 4,000 commandoes to guard the 164.6km border and approach the Supreme Court to stop Mizoram from building roads on its side. In response, Mizoram said it bolstered its security forces and blamed Assam Police for the 30-minute-long gunbattle on Monday .

“People have sacrificed their lives but the boundary has been protected which we will continue to do at any cost. There is very strong deployment of police inside our border and not an inch of land will be allowed to be encroached,” Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

Mizoram rejected the allegations. “Yesterday’s incident was unfortunate, but Assam Police should not have entered Mizoram forcibly and remove residents,” said state home minister Lalchamliana.

Uneasy peace prevailed at the border between Cachar district’s Lailapur village and Kolasib district’s Vairengte town on Tuesday as central forces patrolled the area. “Five companies (close to 500 personnel) have been deployed and another two are on standby...the current situation is peaceful,” said Central Reserve Police Force director general Kuldiep Singh.

The border checkposts are manned by central forces as they fall in the no man’s land between the two states. While there were attempts by some locals on the Assam side to block NH 306 that leads to Mizoram, the border between both states was open during the day.

In Delhi, Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla summoned top bureaucrats and police officers of both states in his office in Delhi on Wednesday, said ministry officials on condition of anonymity. Other senior officers of the MHA as well as intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces are expected to attend the meeting.

“North East MPs Forum has made an appeal to people of Mizoram and Assam, particularly people living in border areas, to maintain peace and harmony. We must ensure complete peace all along with border areas. Home ministry is looking into it,” Union law minister Kiren Rijiju said.

The decades-old border dispute sparked violent clashes on Monday morning, prompting a public spat between the two chief ministers and an intervention by Union home minister Amit Shah.

Violence broke out around 11.30am on Monday over allegations of encroachment. Thousands of civilians on either side of the border hurled stones and charged at each other and security personnel with sticks and rods. Visuals showed policemen firing tear-gas shell and air pellets as people torched vehicles and huts.

The gunbattle 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.

Assam declared three-day state mourning and announced an assistance of 50 lakh each to the kin of the deceased. “I called Mizoram CM six times when firing was taking place. He said ‘sorry’ and invited me for talks in Aizawl. No one can take even an inch of our land. We’re committed to securing our territory. Police are on the border,” Sarma told reporters in Silchar.

He alleged Mizoram was encroaching on its forests, constructing roads and clearing vegetation for cultivation. and said Assam will move the apex court to protect forests.

“We can’t do what Mizoram has done yesterday. Assam will never use bullets against any Indian citizen, this is not in our DNA. We don’t have political fight with Mizoram but there is a reason behind yesterday’s incident. We have discussed the matter and asked Mizoram to investigate properly,” Sarma said.

Lalchamliana rejected Sarma’s claim. “We have been carrying out developmental activities in our territory, whereas people from Assam are regularly entering our area and trying to block the works,” he said.

On Tuesday, Lalchamliana visited Vairengte . A Mizoram government statement said state police was deployed at three places along the border where “tension surged up recently due to incursion by Assam Police”.

Mizoram didn’t mention the number of injuries due to Monday’s violence but a staffer at the Mizoram CM’s office told HT over phone that three people had sustained injuries.

When asked about the reasons for the violence, Sarma alleged that the Assam government stopped illegal activities like drugs, cattle smuggling and infiltration from Mizoram in the past few months. “People who have entered Mizoram from Myanmar are trying to come to Assam and stay in Dima Hasao district. But we did not allow them,” he said.

Lalchamliana dismissed the allegations. “One shouldn’t believe all statements made by the Assam chief minister. It was Assam Police personnel and civilians who entered Mizoram’s territory on Monday and created problems. When Assam Police started firing, our forces had to retaliate to save themselves,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Sarma visited Silchar Medical College and Hospital (SMCH) and met the injured police personnel and civilians. He also paid a floral tribute to the police personnel killed and announced compensation of 50 lakhs and a government job for a family member.

“The moment firing started, senior police officers of Assam and Mizoram were sitting and discussing the dispute. Home minister Amit Shah spoke to Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga and me several times since yesterday. We have assured that there will be no violence from our side but we will not let Mizoram to encroach one more inch from Assam’s territory,” Sarma said.

Stating that it is a boundary dispute between states and not a political issue between parties, Sarma said that there were conflicts between Mizoram and Assam even when Congress was in power in both states.

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