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'Nobody expected Mizoram police to attack'

July 31, 2021 14:18 IST
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'I thought that the days of firing between two police forces (belonging to states of the Union of India) were over.'

IMAGE: Locals during a clash with police personnel at the Assam-Mizoram border at Lailapur in Cachar district, Monday, July 26, 2021. Photograph: PTI Photo

Assam Chief Secretary Jishnu Barua -- who has a post graduate degree in history from St Stephen's College, Delhi -- explains to Prasanna D Zore/ about the origin of the border dispute between Assam and Mizoram that, on July 26, led to the killing of six police personnel and a civilian from Assam.

Could you tell us about the historical background of the boundary dispute between Assam and Mizoram?

For Assam there is no dispute. Let me explain the historical claim.

Our position is very clear. We go by the Constitutional boundary as determined by the State of Mizoram Act of 1986 (external pdf file); Mizoram came into being in 1987 (February 20).

The boundary determined by Parliament and the Constitution is the legitimate boundary of Assam and whatever action that happened has happened within the Constitutional boundary of Assam. That has happened three-four kilometres inside Assam.

What's the source of the boundary dispute between Assam and Mizoram?

The question (problem) is Mizoram did not accept the Constitutional boundary and they believe in what used to be once according to them, the ethnic boundary of the Lushai people. That ethnic boundary was apparently fixed in 1875.

This original 1875 boundary got revised in 1933, but before that the 1875 notification was declared null and void (by the British India administration) and it was dispensed with and does not exist in the statute (as of today).

The 1875 boundary was set at the Inner Line Boundary, but that was never meant to be the (actual) boundary (between Assam and Mizoram).

The Inner Line Boundary only indicated the (jurisdiction and) extent of civil administration in any district. So, in Cachar district the normal jurisdiction of civil administration and judiciary is extended only up to the limits of the revenue areas of Cachar district and that stops at the Inner Line Reserved Forest.

The Inner Line Boundary was therefore not a boundary, but simply an indication that normal administration (administrative jurisdiction) stops there and the rule of the law, as it existed in the rest of British India, did not go beyond this line.

The basic purpose of the Inner Line Boundary was simply to discourage British India subjects from outside the ILB areas to go and create complications for the (British) empire.

The Inner Line Boundary was created to stop the kidnappings of many traders from outside the ILB who went into the tribal areas and had a business relationship (with tribes inside the ILB).

The line could be crossed only after taking specific permissions (and this practice is still followed till this day in many north eastern states).

So, to begin with the Inner Line Boundary was not a boundary, and therefore it has got no legal basis because it was done away with between 1930-1933, which set the boundary between Lushai Hills and Cachar district.

More interestingly, you will find that Lushai Hills as an entity only came into being in 1898. So, when the purported boundary of 1875, according to them, came into being, Mizoram did not even exist at that time. Even the Lushai Hills did not exist.

They (the Mizoram side) claim that there was some agreement among local tribes (regarding the 1875 boundary), which I have been checking, but to which I have found no historical basis.

If there were colonial wrongs, they cannot be righted now. These things happened in the past. All that happened during colonial times, during medieval times is our past. They are trying to shift course of history.

At one stage even the Lushai Hills were not part of the Mizo Hills. The Lushais only came into Mizo Hills and up to the boundary of today's Assam-Mizoram as late as 1849. That is recorded history.

Before that you had the Kukis in what is today known as the Mizo Hills. They (the Kukis) were displaced by the Lushais.

Going back into ethnic history doesn't serve any purpose. How far can you go back?

There are boundary disputes between neighbouring states all over the country. Only the north east don't have boundary disputes. There is (a boundary) dispute between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, between Maharashtra and Karnataka, but does it mean that Maharashtra will go and open offices in Belgaum, or, deploy armed police?

It has not happened in those states. It has happened only here.

Mizoram has deployed armed police within the Constitutional boundary of Assam?

That has been done by all the north eastern states (adjoining Assam) into what is indisputably the Constitutional boundary of Assam. That is not peculiar to only Mizoram. But the recent issue is they (Mizoram) have adopted a very aggressive posture against Assam.

What explains this recent aggressive posture against Assam by Mizoram?

That I don't know. You have to ask them.

Despite being part of the National Democratic Alliance, both state governments are fighting each other?

That is a political question and that is not for me to answer. But what prompted them to do all this, you have to ask them (the Mizoram government).

What is Assam's version of the firing that took place on July 26, and, in which Assam policemen were killed?

There was an LMG (light machine gun) barrage from 4:30 to 5 o'clock (on July 26). That took everyone by surprise. Nobody expected the (Mizoram) state police to attack in this manner.

We could have lost our entire top brass had it not been for some Lady Luck intervening.

But according to the Mizoram police they retaliated only against firing from the Assam police side.

I have already explained to you what is Assam's Constitutional boundary. The question is what were they (the Mizoram police) doing inside Assam?

I was not present at the ground, but it (the firing) must have been surely started by the Mizoram police. There is no casualty on the Mizoram side (but Assam has lost six police personnel) and that tells the story.

Why didn't the Assam police retaliate if they were fired upon?

The Assam police was taken completely by surprise. No one expected them to fire on the police and since they were at vantage points up in the Ridges. Nobody expected that, nobody expected that.

In this age, I thought that the days of firing between two police forces (belonging to states of the Union of India) were already over. It has happened in the past; those were the days in the 1970s and early 1980s. But for a good many years no firing has ever taken place between two police forces.

The Mizoram police has filed an FIR against Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for attempt to murder. How is the Assam government responding to it?

That's not for me to comment. But as far as I know the Assam government has not even taken note of it.

Was this FIR filed in retaliation to the Assam police going to the home of Mizoram's Rajya Sabha MP Vanlalvena in New Delhi and seeking Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu's permission to interrogate him?

Don't put words in my mouth.

Why are you asking these questions to me? Ask these to the Assam police, the DGP.

But you are also the chief secretary of Assam.

No, we don't know everything that the police does. The police is autonomous. They don't take permission from the government for doing all that.

Do you believe the situation between the two neighbouring states is likely to escalate in the days ahead?

I am sure the situation is only going to de-escalate going ahead. We have already reached the zenith, the climax. So there is little likelihood of a further escalation for the time being in my opinion.

Is there movement of people between the two states after Assam issued an advisory to its people to not go to Mizoram?

The movement didn't stop completely. But the advisory says that people may move on their own risk.

There are reports of trucks from Mizoram coming into Assam being checked for smuggling of drugs. Is that true?

... into Assam from Mizoram? I don't think a single truck has come from Mizoram (into Assam). If it has, then obviously it will be checked, like in other cases, which is the normal procedure.

Has Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma reacted to the FIR of attempt to murder against him by the Mizoram police?

You will have to check in on his tweets. That is not for me to answer.

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