top of page

North-East Insurgencies


Today, North East India (NEI) consists of eight Indian states: Sikkim and the "seven sister states" of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh (ALP), Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya. Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh border NEI. The region is rich in biodiversity and untapped natural resources. It is linked to the rest of India via the 22-kilometre-long "Siliguri Corridor." As a result, it is strategically, politically, and economically significant for India.

Since the 1950s, NEI has been plagued by insurrection, with no end in sight. Even while certain NEI states have remained quiet after terminating insurgencies, the region's general environment is not favourable to peaceful living and matching growth.

Historical Aspect

From 1228 to 1826, Assam was controlled by the Ahom kings. Due to an incursion by the then-Burmese state into Assam, the Ahom monarchs requested assistance from the British East India Company. As a result of their victory over the Burmese, the British signed the Treaty of Yandaboo on February 24, 1826, thereby terminating the reign of the Ahom Kings and incorporating Assam into British India. Following then, Assam was a British-ruled province till independence.

At the time of independence, NEI included Assam, the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which is now known as Arunachal Pradesh, and the princely states of Manipur and Tripura, which chose to join India in 1949. Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram were all created out of Assam subsequently - Nagaland in 1963, Meghalaya in 1972, and Mizoram between 1972 and 1987 as a Union Territory (UT)/state. Sikkim was a monarchy that was integrated into India following a referendum in 1975. As a result, the modern NEI is a melting pot of numerous tribes, languages, cultures, history, and ethnicity.

Increased Insurgency


The British had largely maintained a non-interference posture in the NEI. However, newly independent India in 1947 faced the enormous job of integrating the country's numerous princely states, not just NEI. Integration of NE cultures into the "mainstream" was frequently met with hostility. Insurgencies began in Naga Hills. On 14 August 1947, the Naga National Council (NNC) declared independence from India under the leadership of Phizo. Despite several leaders' attempts at political resolution, the disturbance did not abate. As a result, the Indian Army (IA) was instructed to conduct Counter-Insurgency (CI) operations in 1956, following the declaration of Naga Hills as a disturbed region by the Government of India (GoI). Following that, many regions asserted their claims for freedom/independence through insurgencies in the region.

A region with a diverse ethnic composition: NEI is India's most ethnically diversified area. Thus, each tribal sect opposes integration into mainstream India because it implies the loss of their particular identity. As the GoI employs a variety of strategies for "integration" into the "mainstream" based on a myopic view of peoples and tribes, insurgencies to maintain their own culture flourish. They are afraid of losing their identity and wish to preserve the same. Inter-tribal rivalry exacerbates the problem further by fueling tribal/ethnic insurgencies.

Underdeveloped Region: There is hilly terrain in NEI, which makes it hard for infrastructure to be built. This has made infrastructure development slow, often at a snail's pace. This has widened the rift between the NEI and the rest of India, and it has made people discontent with the GoI.

Lack of Economic Development: The Government of India's economic policies has also fueled public discontent and insecurity. Due to a variety of causes, the development of NEI has lagged, resulting in a shortage of employment opportunities. As a result, the youth are readily enticed by numerous rebel groups in search of easy money.

Feelings of Isolation, Deprivation, and Exploitation Distance from New Delhi and a lack of representation in the Lok Sabha have further limited the people’s ability to be heard in the corridors of power, leading to greater dissatisfaction with the dialogue process and making the call to arms more appealing.

Demographic Shifts. The inflow of migrants from former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) into Assam resulted in a major shift in the region's demographic landscape. This caused anger among the people of the region, resulting in an insurrection in Assam with the United National Liberation Front (ULFA), which was created on April 7, 1979, and led the mass anti-immigrant struggle.

Internal Displacement is also a persistent issue. From the 1990s until the beginning of 2011, inter-ethnic violence led over 800,000 people to evacuate their homes in western Assam, along the border between Assam and Meghalaya, and in Tripura. According to conservative estimates, over 76,000 persons remain internally displaced in NEI as a result of the ongoing armed conflict.

Outside Assistance. Insurgencies in the NEI were sponsored by erstwhile East Pakistan in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in the form of training and arming Naga Army members. Later, China provided weaponry as well as ideological support. From 1967 to 1975, when China's foreign policy encouraged the spread of'revolution' over the world, Chinese support for the insurgency in India was at an all-time high. In a 2007 article, current National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval noted that China's backing for Indian rebels likewise had a "lull" during the mid-1980s, but that there was "growing evidence" of China's resurrection of its "covert offensive" in the region recently. China and Myanmar, for example, are accused of fostering conflict in the region. Pakistan is reported to have provided training and financial assistance to extremist groups through its intelligence agency, the I.S.I. In the 1980s, China gave some help to groups such as the N.S.C.N.

Porous border exacerbates the whole issue, leading to rising illegal activities like the smuggling of arms and drugs.

Indian Army’s perceived  Excesses The passage of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the majority of the NEI has further alienated the indigenous population. Though necessary for boosting IA's hand in Counterinsurgency operations, it is frequently depicted as draconian by various Human Rights (HR) organisations and hence detested by various rebel groups.

Way Forward:

There is no escaping the fact that India's Northeast is a region marked by enormous diversity and complication. Several of the key root causes of the region's wars and insurgencies are unequal development and regional deprivation

Civil Society's Efforts Must Be Continued: Regardless of success in peace talks, efforts by civil society to reach out to rebel organisations must continue. This offers a legitimate way out for the insurgent leaders and leads to a win-win situation for all the players.

Increased Socio-Economic Development: Act East Policy (AEP). To address one of the main causes of the insurgency, the GoI must expedite its regional development initiatives. PM Modi coined the phrase "Act East Policy" in November 2014 in Myanmar. PM Modi's emphasis on AEP is thus a step in the right direction. The construction of infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools, and sanitary facilities, among other things, is critical in instilling a sense of oneness among the people of NEI.

Emphasis on identity rather than "mainstreaming." NEI is a mishmash of tribes, nationalities, religions, customs, languages, and so on. As a result, the emphasis should be on preserving these peoples' individual identities. Fear of NEI Balkanisation must not drive GoI policies. Inclusive development should be prioritised, all ethnic groups and tribes must be accommodated.

Negotiations and dialogues with insurgent leaders can help to resolve conflicts. The subject of self-determination requires appropriate attention rather than suppression; it is more than just crude violence, and as previously stated, it involves deeper socioeconomic and political issues.


Despite many efforts by the GoI to find a permanent solution, NEI insurgencies have persisted for the past seven decades. However, with the older generation passing away and the younger generation disinterested in insurgencies, the time has come to devise a long-term strategy for eliminating residual insurgencies. The NEI's cornerstones of eternal peace are a judicious mix of socioeconomic development and political settlement. Winning hearts and minds should be the cornerstone of NEI conflict resolution.

Indian Army, as an instrument of state policy in accordance with statecraft aims, plays a critical role in conducting Counter Insurgency operations to prevent insurgent organisations from intensifying violence. To that end, it has done admirably to date and must continue to do so whenever and wherever it is required. Resolving the current insurgencies in NEI will herald the arrival of peace and, with it, economic prosperity for the millions of people who live there. It is thus a step in the right way for the success of India's AEP and for India to emerge as one of the global powers in the twenty-first century's multipolar world.


bottom of page