Sunday, March 31, 2013

Defining Insurgency and Terrorism: The Case of Assam

Insurgency – the word that is used to describe the turmoil going on in the Northeast for decades. For years, this very term has been used to describe the violent activities carried out by numerous groups in this ethnically diverse region. But can the situation in this region be termed as Terrorism. Looking at what the movements turned out during its later stages, I would say, YES.

Insurgency is a movement - a political effort with a specific aim. But do the present armed movements look like a political effort to achieve some aims? No, they don’t. They have just become the tools for extorting money and spreading violence and terror. Insurgencies require the active or tacit support of some portion of the population they claim to represent whereas terrorist groups do not require and rarely has the support or sympathy of a large fraction of the population. In the case of Assam, almost all the insurgent movements that have grown in the region had received some amount of support from the common people during its initial days. The insurgent outfits were seen as representatives of the aspirations of the local people. These outfits had also taken up welfare activities in the areas of their presence. ULFA, for example, had created a ‘Robin hood’-type image for itself in its initial years with the type of work in was doing. But the image of a ‘revolutionary’ outfit did not last long for the ULFA as its tactics deviated from those of a revolutionary group. With increased killings, kidnappings, bomb blasts, extortions it no longer remained the outfit it was considered during its initial years. The same has been the case with all the armed outfits in the state. Now none of these groups have support from the very people who they claim to represent.

A surrendered senior ULFA leader from upper Assam had once told me that when an insurgent movement continues for a long time, it faces the risk of turning into a terrorist movement. That is exactly what has become in the case of Assam as well as the Northeast.

ULFA, during its initial years, had a strong political wing which indoctrinated its new recruits with ideas of socialism and anti-imperialism. It taught them the teaching of Marx, Lenin and similar ideologues. They were given lessons on revolutionary movements led by people like Castro and Che Guevara.  The requisites for becoming a revolutionary were incorporated into the cadres. But such a wing no longer exists in the outfit. It has completely become a military outfit with most of the cadres having no ideas why and what are they fighting for. The very requisite for continuing a political struggle is having a strong political wing. Without it how can an outfit propagate its ideologies among the common people who they claim to represent?

The thin line dividing insurgency and terrorism has already blurred in this region. We no longer are witness to insurgent violence in the state but are looking at terror tactics employed by the various armed groups. Bringing peace back in this region is not so easy but slowly and steadily the region is coming back to normal. At present, we are witnessing a relative calm in the region and we sincerely hope it stays such and may we see the end of this vicious cycle of violence.

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