The Fragility of the Northeast’s Integration : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-3: Linkages between development and spread of extremism. Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security. Security challenges and their management in border areas.

Key Phrases: National Integration, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), Sixth Schedule, Fragility of the North East’ integration, North Eastern Council.


  • The year 2022 marks completion of 75 years since India got independence from British rule.
  • While celebrating our achievements, it is also time to look into the issues that have been in existence for a very long period. Integration of North East being one among them.


  • The integration of Northeast India into mainstream Indian life has been on the national agenda from the very start of India’s journey as an independent nation.
  • The region has always been seen to be somewhat alien and needing assimilation, which finds reflection in administrative terms too.
  • Two such measures should characterize this predicament:
    • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution introduced in 1949 and
    • The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), promulgated in 1958.
  • Seventy-five years after Independence, the question is how successful has this integration been?

Excluded areas during the British Era:

  • The British had also considered leaving this “Mongolian Fringe” (a term coined by British India Foreign Secretary in 1940) as a Crown Colony. This entity was to be a combination of hill regions of the Northeast and Upper Burma.
  • The Governor of Assam (in 1937) said that neither racially, historically, culturally, nor linguistically had any affinity with the rest of India.
  • These “Excluded” and “Partially Excluded” areas were constituted largely of the unadministered hills of Assam separated from its revenue plains by an “Inner Line” created by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873.
  • Assam was annexed into British Bengal after the First Anglo-Burmese War 1824-26 and the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo.

The Sixth Schedule and related developments in the North East:

  • British Assam was virtually the entire Northeast of today, excluding two kingdoms, Tripura and Manipur.
  • Though no Inner Line was introduced in these kingdoms, the British brought in similar administrative mechanisms separating “excluded” hills from the revenue plains.
  • In Tripura, the plains of Chakla Roshnabad were annexed to British Bengal and the Tripura kings were allowed to be landowners there but not claim sovereignty over them.
  • In Manipur, the hills and the central revenue plains of the Imphal valley came to be treated as separate administrative regions in 1907.
  • The Sixth Schedule was India's first administrative instrument post-independence for undivided Assam’s tribal belt. The Schedules mandated the formation of Autonomous District Councils in which, among others, tribal customary laws were given legitimacy.
  • The Naga Hills refused the Sixth Schedule and would have nothing less than sovereignty. A powerful insurgency resulted, and in its wake, AFSPA, with sweeping powers given to the armed forces.
  • As an overture of pacification, the Naga Hills district was merged with the adjacent Mon and Tuensang subdivision of the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), or today’s Arunachal Pradesh, to form a separate Nagaland State in 1963.
  • Naga insurgency, however, raged on in different avatars. A peace negotiation has been in progress for the last 25 years, and the hope is that this would culminate in a lasting settlement.

Bifurcation of Assam : Emergence of new states

  • In 1972, most of these autonomous regions were bifurcated from Assam.
  • Meghalaya became a State, while Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were made Union Territories. The latter two were upgraded to States in 1987.
  • Tripura and Manipur, which were made Part-C States after merger with India in 1949, were also upgraded to States in 1972.
  • Amidst these, the national identity question remained incompletely resolved and insurgencies spawned and spread even in States such as Assam and Manipur where the emotional gulf with mainstream India had seemingly narrowed.
  • The hegemonic suspicion of the Indian state of the “Mongolian Fringe”, and reciprocal fear of the latter of being forced out of their traditional worlds to be overwhelmed by a cultural and population deluge from the mainstream, persisted.
  • Every deviation from national norms in the region came to be attributed to machinations by unseen “foreign hands”; likewise, every nationalizing project tended to see on the other side as insidious cultural aggression.

Inclusion by accommodation:

  • As India gained confidence and shed its insecurities of further balkanisation after its traumatic Partition experience, the outlook towards national identity and nationalism underwent moderations, inclining towards a constitutional definition of these understandings rather than it being cultural.
  • National integration also came to be more about the mainstream broadening to accommodate all other streams within the national territory, rather than requiring the latter to leave their streams to join the mainstream.
  • The changes the North Eastern Council (NEC) went through can be read as a demonstration of this.
  • DoNER was created by the Union Government in 2001, and in 2004 it was upgraded to a full-fledged Ministry.
  • The paranoid suspicion of a “foreign hand” too has all but disappeared, and, earlier, in 1991, India’s Look East Policy was born with the stated objective of linking the Northeast with the vibrant economies of Southeast Asia.
  • In 2010, a protected area regime that had restricted visits to Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram by foreigners was relaxed.
  • Although unsuccessful, there was even a judicial commission constituted in 2004 to recommend a way to repeal or else “humanize” AFSPA. The new optimism was palpable.

North Eastern Council

  • The institution was founded in 1971 as an advisory body.
  • Initially, its members were Governors of the Northeast States, thereby remaining as the ears and eyes of the Center.
  • Its original pledge too made security the primary concern.
  • In 2002, the act that brought NEC to life was amended. From an advisory role, it became an infrastructure planning body for the region.
  • Sikkim was also brought into its fold. Significantly, its executive structure expanded to include Chief Ministers of these States, linking it to the aspirations of local electorates.

An unsettling question that remains:

  • The idea of India is transforming again indicating a return to a rigid understanding by the Indian mainstream.
  • The unsettling question is would this mean a return to the mainstream versus sub-stream friction?
  • At the center as well as in most of the states in North East have the same party in power at present. The electoral politics in the region has been less about ideology and more about aligning with the party in power at the Center.
  • Grass-root sentiments do not always reflect it as Assam vehemently opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, yet the electorate returned the same government to power.
  • In Manipur, AFSPA remains an emotive issue, yet the same government which did not even mention AFSPA in its election manifesto was voted back.


  • The government at the Center must be vigilant about the developments in the region and take steps towards integrating North East India into the mainstream.
  • Various stakeholders, the political parties, the citizens’ organizations, student groups, civil society etc. must work synergistically towards nation building activities.

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:

Q.The integration of Northeast India into mainstream Indian life has been on the national agenda from the very start of India’s journey as an independent nation. Comment. [150 Words].