The face-off between Assam and Mizoram on the border was a dangerous escalation of a simmering border dispute. The police forces of two states figuring in such a conflagration is the closest India may have ever come to a civil war. Such an assault on Assam police by Mizoram cops using submachine guns was owed to the whipping up of passions by both chief ministers — Zoramathanga of Mizoram and Himanta Biswa Sharma of Assam — who were engaged in a public spat over Twitter. For a politician once seen as the BJP pointsperson for the Northeast, Himanta seems to have allowed his inclusive vision to be cramped by his heading one state.
The loss of lives of six Assam policemen and a civilian is a regrettable event that cannot be brushed away in the usual fashion of announcing compensation with money. The CMs must own moral responsibility for stoking tensions and causing loss of lives. The immediate task on hand would be for the chief ministers to declare a kind of ceasefire which any disciplined state police force should not find hard to maintain. This is the minimum that must be done to rein in police forces so that civil ways of inter-state dispute-solving methods can be exercised quickly with the Centre acting as the honest broker even as Central forces take a more active hand at maintaining vigil on the border areas and curbing any misadventure of the type that led to the conflagration.
It would seem states that share common bonds, as in the BJP ruling in Assam and its ally Mizo National Front ruling in Mizoram, would have little difficulty in keeping talks going to settle even a legacy issue like a contested border that is 165 km long. If things took a dangerous turn just a couple of days after a meeting of northeastern states initiated by the home minister, Amit Shah, it does reflect that rivalries embedded in the region after Assam was historically broken up into smaller states are not easily resolved. Given the economic profile of the region with the capacity for jobs generation being limited, land becomes an even more valuable resource, which is why disputed borders can lead to such acrimony as to allow people to believe they should be confrontational over their perceived rights to land use. To bring development is no simple task though central funds are big enough to foster livelihoods.
Past failure at negotiating settlements over complex equations along borders already demarcated in a region that is extra sensitive because of its proximity to other countries, including China and Bangladesh, should not deter efforts to find working arrangements for people who live close to inter-state borders and may be accustomed to crossing over for work, etc. A larger Central commission consisting of retired judges may have to go over the legacy disputes, some of which date back to notifications as far back as 1875 and 1933, might be the way forward out of all disputes that Assam suffers with more than one neighbouring state. “Give and take” may have become unfashionable because of chauvinism but leaders must be prepared lest Assamese and Mizos clash again.