When the newly sworn-in Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma protested against fencing of the Indo-Myanmar border as he called on the central leadership including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, many were taken aback. His basic argument is that the Chin-Mizo people had never accepted the border drawn in colonial times and there should not be any kind of restrictions in movement of their kith and kin from across the border.
Lalduhoma told PM Modi that the border with Myanmar was forced upon them without consent, and so it is unacceptable for people of the same ethnic groups on both sides of the border. Lalduhoma's predecessor Zoramthanga had objected to the Centre's instruction to deport Myanmar nationals. The former chief minister had said they won't deport Myanmar nationals as they belong to the same ethnic group, and Mizoram would continue sheltering them on humanitarian grounds.
Mizoram in September decided it will no longer collect biometrics data of people coming from violence-hit Myanmar, especially Chin State bordering India. Next, Nagaland’s Deputy Chief minister who himself is a BJP leader expressed the same sentiment during his visit to Mizoram. The Naga underground had been voicing the same statement of Nagas being forcefully separated by a border drawn by the British. A Greater Nagaland sans borders had long been a rallying call for the Naga nationalists and the aspiration still exists, even though it has somewhat dimmed after the multiple splits in the Naga underground in recent times.
Everyone and every person has a right to dream, howsoever unrealistic it might be. But one must congratulate the courage of their leaders in boldly expressing their aspirations and dreams to the Indian establishment instead of being cowed down by dictates. So far, the Manipur government seems to be the only one in the Indo-Myanmar belt which has agreed to border fencing and biometric registration of aliens from across the border. Arunachal Pradesh, which has a BJP government, has not said anything till now. Manipur’s case, however, is different from others.
It is a strategic border state from where the Indian mainland is planning its economic ties with the Southeast Asian countries including neighbouring Myanmar and the Asian Highway or Trans-border railway line passes through it. The Indian government might have developed some border trading posts in the other states, but the route passing through Manipur via Moreh is the traditional highway. So, control of Moreh is paramount to any stakeholder. The opening of the border trade and free movement regime comes along with risks particularly drug smuggling and cross border activities of insurgents.
In recent times, the impact of free movement regime has come out in the open with Myanmarese aliens of the same racial stock of some communities here coming in waves from across the border and from establishing new villages to capturing power bases in the adjoining hill districts of Churachandpur and Chandel besides poppy cultivation, drugs and arms smuggling, Myanmarese rebel groups establishing bases. Hence, the advent of narco-terrorism in an already complex environment of inter-communal relations.
Coming back to the issue of opposition against border fencing and abolition of the free movement regime, one must say much more is at stake than the argument of communities of same racial stock being separated by an arbitrary border. It is not only a case of how many more the country is going to welcome or give shelter to, given the war-like conditions across the border.
Even with the fighting going on, there is no let up in smuggling activities not only of drugs and alien crossings. For example, timber and betel nuts besides other items are in high demand among the barons of smuggling and the little that has been seized and compounded is only the tip of the iceberg. And, so many stakeholders are involved in this smuggling business. Like drug smuggling finds a new route through the state of Mizoram due to ethnic tension in Manipur, there is no use in fencing the Manipur sector only if the Nagaland and Mizoram sector is laid wide open.