Corruption as a factor in Northeast Insurgencies

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The British East India Company ruled Assam and the hill states of the Northeast, except Manipur and Tripura where the control was indirect as they were Princely States. They began their rule in early 19th century after they defeated the invading Burmese forces from Upper Assam and Manipur. When they found that tea grows in Assam and subsequently set up tea gardens and established their administration over Assam and Manipur, they found that there was no trading community in Assam and Manipur. The two states had an economy of barter. The EIC had come for trading and finding no traders in both Assam and Manipur, they brought the Marwari from Calcutta (now Kolkata) where they had already been established. In Manipur, the Marwari established themselves in the heart of Imphal and took over the trade in rice and other commodities. In Assam, the Marwari’s opened shops in each of the tea gardens and in all the major towns. In a sense, we can say that this also saw the institution of corruption being grounded in the Northeast.

The first agitation because of corruption was during theNupi Lan. This was an agitation by women Meithei traders’ in Imphal town against the Marwari traders for hoarding and diverting rice outside Manipur when there was a shortage of rice in Manipur.

rebels in a hideout

rebels in a hideout

In 1857, the British Government took over control from the EIC and ruled this area directly except of course for Manipur and Tripura. Corruption did exist in the directly ruled States but mainly among the petty bureaucracy. In Manipur the Raja’s rule was not as clean as the directly ruled States. Tripura was better off. In 1949, the Government of India took over Manipur by forcing the Raja to sign the instrument of accession. The Central Government declared Manipur as a Union Territory and very soon a number of unfeeling bureaucrats from the Government of India took over the administration. The Central bureaucrats took over from the Raja’s administration and corruption took a quantum leap in Manipur.

The situation really became exacerbated when the Naga Hills District was given Statehood in 1963, after the Nagas there started a bush war in 1955, after the Central Government managed to win over a section of the Naga National Council. Administrators came from the Centre. The Central Government granted generous funds to the new State. With it, they also sent a group of unholy contractors to the Northeast who managed to corner all the contracts for supply of stores to the new State. By now the Head Quarters of all the main Central Government departments had come up in Shillong. The HQs of the old North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) had also been located in Shillong. The party in power in Delhi and also in some of the northeastern states was the Congress. Very soon the contractors who came from Delhi earned the dubious nomenclature of the Delhi Durbar. This was in reference to their favoured status in getting all the supply contracts for the northeastern states. They also established their HQs in Shillong.

If a 100 kilometer road was to be built, the materials would be shown supplied for 100 kilometres. Very often no road was built at all but it would be shown in the books as built

The method of looting the State was simple and direct. Any commodity being supplied be it CGI sheets, bricks, cement, medicines, hospital equipment, civil supplies like rice, sugar was always shown over invoiced. If 100 numbers of an item was supplied the bill was invariably for 1000 numbers and the charge taken report would naturally show 1000 numbers. This was a standard method.  If a 100 kilometer road was to be built, the materials would be shown supplied for 100 kilometres. Very often no road was built at all but it would be shown in the books as built. In all the hill areas of the Northeast hundreds of roads have been built on paper.

I worked for a short time as the Superintendent of Police in Central Bureau of Investigation based in Shillong, looking after all states of the northeast except Tripura. It was Childs play to find out cases of corruption and register cases in the branch from all the six States.  However it was extremely difficult to get a case charge sheeted. If the contractor was a member of the Delhi Durbar, it was hundred percent certain that the case would be closed on orders from the CBI HQs. From the time of the Emergency declared in 1975, the CGBI has been a hand maiden of the party in power!

It is but a natural corollary that the extraordinary volume of corruption fuelled insurgencies in all the states of the northeast. The cause of the insurgency in any one of these states may have been different, but its continuation was invariably initiated by this factor.

army on a combing operation

army on a combing operation

The Naga insurgency was initiated because many of the Naga people felt that they were different culturally, socially and genetically from mainland India. They felt that they would not be comfortable under the laws framed for India in general. This was true to a very great extent. However, the leaders of the tribal people in the entire hill states adapted very well indeed to the culture of corruption. The indigenous political parties operating in these states as also the national parties were equally adept at swiping money from any project set up for the Northeast. It was also interesting to see how some of the regional parties adapted to this almost umbilical link with the party in power in Delhi! If the Congress lost and another party formed the Government in Delhi, the ruling party in some of the Northeastern States immediately switched to the new party! I was once the Advisor to the Governor of Manipur in 2002. When it was known, that the elections would be called for soon, some of the regional party MLAs met me and asked me whether, the Congress was likely to win. I told them that this was not material. If the AIDMK a Tamil regional party would come to power all of them would join this party, without knowing what AIDMK stood for! They were not ashamed at my contemptuous remark, but asked me what AIDMK stood for. I did not enlighten them.

As far as corruption goes, it is Manipur that lead the race for the first prize in the scale of corruption. They correspondingly have the largest number of militant groups. While the hard core PLA and the UNLF have remained intact, most of the other insurgent groups have split into factions, so numerous that it is difficult to keep pace with them.

fake LOCs were in lakhs. It surprised me when it was finally detected, how this scam could not be detected. The LOC copy goes to the SDO, the Treasury Officer and the SBI manager

Some of the biggest scams have happened in Assam. This was the scam in the Veterinary Department at Demow, a small town, a Sub Division of Sibsagar. The scam was started during the AGP period in 1985-90, by sending fake Letters of Credit (LOC) to the Demow Veterinary office and getting fake bills passed by them. The fake LOCs were in lakhs. It surprised me when it was finally detected, how this scam could not be detected. The LOC copy goes to the SDO, the Treasury Officer and the SBI manager. Besides reconciliation is to be done from time to time with the Accountant General. Obviously no one touched it in the State Government as Political leaders were involved! The most interesting feature was that when the AGP Government was replaced by the Congress in the next election, there was a handing/taking over of the scam! It was an alert young Deputy Commissioner of Sibsagar who detected this and reported it to the Chief Secretary. It is also to the credit of the Additional Chief Secretary, that he enquired into the case and revealed the whole scam. Ultimately the CBI took over the investigation but the case was closed as one accused died, while there were all kinds of rumours how another accused got round the CBI in closing the case!This scam had nothing to do with insurgency. It neither spawned an insurgency nor did it indirectly start one. One thing is certain however. This is that the continual siphoning of funds from the Northeastern States has indirectly spawned insurgencies in Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Garo Hills and the North Cachar Hills.

One of the biggest scams that are forever continuing in the Northeast is the diversion of civil supplies from the railheads there. Regularly, rice, wheat, sugar are downloaded at the rail heads in Dimapur, Tinsukhia, New Guwahati and Bongaigaon. These are diverted to the black-market. To add insult to injury, fake transport bills for the civil supplies diverted are claimed from the capitals at Kohima, Imphal etc.  This is how the PLA landed up at the SBI when five transport contractors were about to cash their bills for fake transportation.  The insurgents asked the contractors to sign the receipts for the amounts and then took the cash and disappeared!

EN Rammohan is former Director General of BSF


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