The death of at least five Assam policemen in firing by their Mizoram counterparts is a classic case of the government sleeping at the wheels. The root cause of the boundary dispute between the two Northeastern states dates back to about 150 years. The fact that this vexed problem continues to fester only underlines that successive governments have chosen to simply sweep the issue under the carpet, attempting only half-baked measures to resolve it.
That the dispute had the potential to go out of hand has been clear for years as intermittent violence has taken place in the Lailapur (Assam)-Vairengte (Mizoram) belt. Even Monday’s clash between the police and civilians of both sides did not come without warning signs, as the days preceding the bloody confrontation were marked by stray incidents of stone throwing and even allegations of grenade attacks. These portents should have prompted the two states and the Union government to take preemptive steps, but they unfortunately did not.
Assam shares its boundaries with all the six states in the region and it has disputed borders with four of them: Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Several attempts have been made in the past by the governments to find a solution, but they have not succeeded. Even the Supreme Court’s intervention has failed as the recommendations of the boundary commissions, set up on the court’s orders, were not acceptable to the squabbling states.
Given this past experience, the Union government’s stand in Parliament on Tuesday that it will only play the role of a facilitator is rather unfortunate as it is almost akin to being a mute spectator even as blood is spilt. Inter-state disputes, especially over water, are nothing new. Most of them have either been resolved by the courts or through tribunals. In the case of the territorial disputes in the Northeast, if judicial mechanisms have failed in the past, it is incumbent on the Central government to step in and become the mediator rather than remaining a facilitator only. This is more so as there is a strong government at the Centre and all the Northeastern states are currently ruled by the BJP or its allies.