The Garo Hills region of Meghalaya has faced turmoil for years with multiple militant groups fighting what are essentially turf wars, their eyes primarily on the spoils from the extortion of coal mine operators. Among the 10 groups at work, the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), less than five years old, has been particularly brutal in its actions. In the third such attack within a year targeting police personnel, GNLA militants killed two policemen in a blast in the South Garo Hills district last week. The GNLA’s patently unrealistic demand has been for the creation of a separate state of Garoland. The claim put forward by the GNLA’s parent outfit, the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC), which was born in 1995, and its splinter group, the ANVC (B), was the creation of ‘Achik Land’, comprising the Garo Hills region and parts of Assam.
Eventually, they scaled it down to the strengthening of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC). An agreement signed in New Delhi on September 24 in the presence of Home Minister Rajnath Singh and State Chief Minister Mukul Sangma — that the GNLA opposed — has now laid the ground for the disbanding by next month of the ANVC and ANVC (B): the former had signed a tripartite ceasefire agreement with the State and the Centre in 2004.
The latest agreement, which provides for enhanced autonomy for an expanded GHADC — elections to its current number of 29 seats are due to take place early in 2015 — goes some way in meeting regional aspirations. Among other things, it seeks to ensure enhanced autonomy and powers for the body. The Centre has agreed to extend a special package for the socio-economic and educational development of the area and the rehabilitation of surrendering militants. But this represents only partial progress, and nobody expects the low-intensity run of militancy to wind down so easily. Yet, with one significant chunk of militants out of the way, based on a coordinated approach with and active support from the Centre the State should move vigorously to deal decisively with the remaining terror-mongers in a time-bound manner.
Over the last few weeks, several cadres belonging to different outfits have either surrendered or been nabbed, following stepped-up operations by the security forces. Putting down the militancy in Meghalaya — which has a 445-km boundary with Bangladesh — with a firm yet sensitive hand should serve as a strong message to all insurgent groups in northeastern India. This message should be that negotiations over reasonable demands will be their only option. At the same time, any nexus between politicians and militants to gain political mileage — as has often been alleged by some leaders — should be rooted out, so militancy gets no leeway in the sensitive region.