ndia’s Northeast has been the land of thousand mutinies. Starting with the Naga insurgency since India’s independence in 1947, several insurgency movements have sprung up in most of the constituent states of the region. At one point of time, about 120 insurgent groups carried out their activities in the seven states of the Northeast (Sikkim was bracketed under Northeast in 2003). Demands of the insurgent groups have been wide-ranging. While groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland: Isak-Muivah group) aim at establishing independent states, outfits such as the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) demanded separate states for their tribal constituency. Fringe outfits, such as the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), confining their activities to the geographical limits of separate districts in Assam, have fought for maximum autonomy, within the purview of the Indian constitution. Reasons behind dissent against the Indian state too have been diverse. The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) insurgencies in Tripura are rooted in the sense of alienation of the indigenous tribals as a result of the unhindered migration from Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal / East Pakistan). The ULFA, too started highlighting among others, Assam’s sorry plight as a result of Bangladeshi migration. Several outfits operating in the valley areas of Manipur protest against the forcible accession of the state to the Indian union and subsequent neglect of their language and the delayed statehood conferred on the state. Apathy shown by the central government to the population suffering from a famine triggered the militancy in Mizoram spearheaded by the Mizo National Front (MNF).

Insurgency in different states often overflowed into the neighbouring states and contiguous regions. Tribal populations belonging to the same stock/ clan are often found on both sides of the boundaries between various states and hence, the militant outfits find it convenient to expand their activities to both the sides. For example, the Hmar insurgency is noticed in all the Hmar inhabited areas of Mizoram, Assam and Manipur. In addition, states like Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are used by the insurgents to set up safe houses and also as transit routes. Thus, both these states have been affected by activities of ULFA, NDFB, NSCN cadres.

Numerical cadre strength of the outfits has varied between 50 to few thousands. This, too, has undergone constant change as a result of military operations, desertions and recruitment patterns. Irrespective of the numerical strength, however, the potency of the insurgents is continuously sourced from popular support. All most all the insurgency movements, to begin with, have started off their campaign espousing popular causes and have been seen by separate constituencies as a natural by-product of the long-held grievances of the tribe/ people against the administration. It is a different matter, altogether, that such popular support has eroded as insurgency gradually bordered on the extremes of mindless violence. The NLFT and ATTF in Tripura, today, can hardly claim to represent the tribal population in the state and have often targeted the latter with extortion, abduction and killings. Similarly, the ULFA, which had at one time almost ran a parallel government in Assam and administered speedy justice, today finds its support base only in few pockets of the state.

Insurgency related fatalities in the region are quite alarming. Between 1992 and 2010 (till September 5), the northeastern states of India recorded at least 19,379 fatalities. Maximum fatalities, within the said period, have been recorded in Assam. The State, ravaged by about 38 insurgent outfits (at present about seven are active) recorded at least 7,476 fatalities during this period. Assam was followed by Manipur, where 35 militant outfits (at present about 9 are active) accounted for at least 5,647 fatalities. (Source:

On June 24, 2008, the Alfa and Charlie companies of the ULFA's Myanmar-based 28th battalion declared a unilateral ceasefire and came over-ground seeking a negotiated settlement to their three-decade-old problem. They declared that they would have no links with the ULFA and they would be called as the “pro-talk ULFA faction”. They also gave up the demand for sovereignty or independence and said that they want to work towards achieving greater autonomy for Assam. Other militant groups in Assam like NDFB and DHD have also split up into pro-talk and anti-talk factions. While the anti-talk faction of the DHD (DHD-J) have laid down its arms on October 2, 2009, the anti-talk factions of NDFB is still carrying on with extortion, killings and other illegal activities in the region. However, the leader of the anti-talk faction of NDFB, Ranjan Daimari is in custody of the government since May 1, 2010.

In Bangladesh, the crackdown against Indian militant outfits by the Awami League Government brought in great results towards the end of 2009, with arrests of top leaders of the ULFA. On November 6, 2009, ULFA's 'foreign secretary' Sashadhar Choudhury and 'finance secretary' Chitraban Hazarika were handed over to the Indian authorities. Within a month of these arrests, on December 4, 2009, ULFA 'Chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa and 'Deputy commander-in-chief' Raju Baruah were handed over to the Indian authorities. These arrests have weakened the outfit to a great extent and Paresh Baruah, ULFA’s ‘commander-in-chief’, is the sole remaining top leader in the outfit.

The region also saw quite a few major militant attacks in recent times. On October 1, 2008, four blasts took place in a span of 45 minutes in Radha Nagar, Gol Bazaar, GB Bazaar and Krishna Nagar localities in Tripura’s capital Agartala, injuring 74 persons. On October 30, 2008, nine bomb blasts rocked four towns across Assam, killing 89 persons and injuring more than 300 people. On July 8, 2010 the anti-talk faction of NDFB triggered a powerful blast that flung the locomotive and two coaches of Kolkata-bound Garib Rath Express from the tracks, killing a six-year-old boy and injuring 23 others at Gossaigaon in Kokrajhar district. On 26 July, 2010 the same outfit killed four jawans of the Sashastra Seema Bal and injured two others in an ambush at Amlaiguri in Chirang district bordering Bhutan. On 30 July, 2010 ULFA triggered a landmine blast at Bhalukdubi in Goalpara district, killing 5 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers and injuring 40 others. In Manipur, there were incidents in which militants targeted VIPs, including the Chief Minister. The anti-talk faction of the NDFB then carried out a violent attack between November 8 and November 10, 2010 killing 23 people in 11 separate attacks across five Bodo dominated districts of Assam. The killings were in retaliation to the killing of a NDFB anti-talk faction cadre on November 8, 2010 by the 51 Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army. Earlier, on November 1, 2010 the 'Deputy Chief' of the anti-talk faction, 'Lieutenant' B Jwngkhang, had issued a warning to the State Government that if any NDFB cadre was killed by the Indian Army in the name of fake encounter, the armed wing of the NDFB will take action against any Indian.

There are also various incidents of ethnic tension in the Northeast. In July 2008, clashes took place between the Bodo tribe and the Muslim migrant settlers in Assam. Again there was ethnic tension between the Zemi Naga tribe and the Dimasas in N.C.Hills district in Assam during March 2009. The internecine clashes in Nagaland between the different factions of NSCN are still continuing.

Unemployment problem in the region stands as a major cause for sustained insurgency. Thus lots of the unemployed youths become easy target for recruitment for the insurgent outfits. Extortion activities are also on a rise in the region, with militants collecting extortion money from almost everywhere, including educational institutions and religious places. The extortion activities have also disrupted the work of many important development projects in the region.

Trans-national linkages have remained a crucial force-multiplier for the insurgents in Northeast India. While the Naga insurgents received patronage from the Chinese in the 1960s and 1970s, safe bases in countries including Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar have been used by the outfits to sustain themselves. In December 2003, Bhutan launched a military crackdown targeting the ULFA, NDFB and Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) militants. Such maneuvers remain unrepeated in either Myanmar or Bangladesh. Myanmar, since the 1980s, has conducted periodic onslaughts against the militants, with only transitory results. The NSCN-K (Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland) and a number of outfits operating in Manipur continue to maintain their facilities in that country. In December 2001, 192 UNLF cadres, including the outfit’s chairman Sana Yaima, were arrested by the Myanmarese Army, but all of them were set free by February 2002. According to Indian army sources, UNLF today supplies arms and ammunition to various militant groups in the Northeast with active connivance of Myanmar’s security forces. Sana Yaima was again arrested on November 31, 2010 from Motihari in East Champaran district of Bihar.

Bangladesh has been accused by the Indian authorities of housing about 190 camps of the northeastern Indian insurgents. Many top leaders of a number of outfits, including the ULFA, NLFT, ATTF and KLO were based in Dhaka, Chittagong and other cities. Their presence in Bangladesh facilitated strategic and operational nexus with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI, is not only known to have trained ULFA cadres, but also has been accused by the Indian security agencies, of having a decisive say over their activities in Assam. However, after the Awami League Government came to power in Bangladesh it initiated a crackdown on the Indian insurgent outfits based in Bangladeshi soils. It has led to the fleeing of top leaders of these outfits from Bangladesh and trying to set up their bases at newer areas, especially China.

Similarly, some of the outfits in the region have also tried to wage their struggle in the international level by associating themselves with international organisations. Since, 1996, the ULFA has attended meetings of an international organisation representing indigenous and minority groups called the Unrepresented Nations People’s Organisation ( and the United Nations Group on Human Rights (UNWGIP). The NSCN-IM, too, is a member of the UNPO. The ULFA too has attended UNPO sessions. The NSCN-IM maintains its office in Thailand and Netherlands. Such attempts have provided the outfits with international publicity, although the overall attempt of bringing international pressure on New Delhi for resolving the ongoing conflicts as per the wishes of the outfits has been limited.

Easy availability of small arms in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar has been another factor behind the sustenance of insurgency in the region. Arms have entered India’s Northeast from the Southeast Asian markets through the region’s porous borders with these countries. Inter-linkages between the outfits have ensured the smooth transfer of military hardware and the technology to use them. As a result, even the weakest of the outfits, have access to sophisticated arms and explosives. The NSCN has trained armed cadres of several outfits active in different states in the region. ULFA cadres, even today, continue to use the NSCN-K facilities in Myanmar’s Sagaing division.

In a bid to sustain themselves and augment their firepower, insurgent outfits have entered into several collaborations among themselves. In Manipur, on March 1, 1999 the UNLF, PREPAK and PLA formed the Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF), which exists even today. The NSCN-IM, formed the United Liberation Front of Seven Sisters (ULFSS) in 1993 and the Self-Defence United Front of the South-East Himalayan Region (SDUFSEHR) in November 1994. These two groupings are not active. Prior to that on 22 May 1990, the UNLF, along with the NSCN-K and the ULFA floated a pan-Mongoloid coalition called the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front (IBRF) to wage a "united struggle for the independence of Indo-Burma". The IBRF remained defunct for a number of years, although reports in November 2007 indicate attempts at reviving it.

However, during the last few years, there has been a decline in insurgency in the region. In Tripura, effective counter-insurgency measures have reduced the insurgency problem to a great extent. Mizoram, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are also quite peaceful and have witnessed only stray insurgency-related incidents. In Assam, the situation has been comparatively peaceful since 2009 after the arrests of top leaders of the ULFA and lying down of arms by DHD-J and KLNLF. However, the situation in Manipur is yet problematic and worrisome. In Nagaland, even though there are not much violent incidents, both the NSCN factions (NSCN-IM and NSCN-K) are still carrying on with its unlawful activities. Both these factions are in ceasefire with the Central Government but are still involved in clashes between themselves.

State response to insurgency movements in the Northeast has been a complex mix of military operations, developmental packages, surrender schemes, peace overtures and emphasis on harnessing the economic potential of the region. While military operations formed a crucial component of the counter-insurgency campaigns in Mizoram and Nagaland in the period between 1950s and 1970s, New Delhi, starting in the 1990s, was inclined to dole out economic largesse for the region in a bid to win away insurgency through developmental schemes. The ability of the state police forces to match the insurgents, with access to sophisticated weapons, has been found wanting. As a result, it has been a trend on the part of each of the states to depend on the deployment of the army and para-military forces. Three states, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, have set up the unified command structure (UCS) mechanism, to coordinate the activities of the police, para-military and army personnel. While Assam set up the UCS in 1997, Manipur replicated the mechanism in 2004 and Arunachal Pradesh in 2008.

Success of such attempts has remained rare. With the exception of the Mizo National Front (MNF) rebellion that ended in 1986 and the BLT uprising that culminated in a peace deal in 2003, insurgency in India’s Northeast has continued unabated, with or without transient dips in violence.

(Updated till 26 January, 2011)