Wednesday, July 28 2021

Dive In

It's been really stressful, this Olympic Games... It's been a long week, it's been a long Olympic process, it's been a long year. We're just a little bit too stressed out. We should be out here having fun and sometimes that's not [the] case.

That’s the world’s best gymnast, Simone Biles, explaining why she abruptly withdrew from the women's gymnastics team final on Tuesday at the Olympics. She said that she was “still struggling with some things”—and believed it was better for her and her team for her to withdraw, and not risk their chances of a medal. Read her extended remarks here. Associated Press has more on the support her decision has received.

Big Story

Big border clashes… inside India!

The TLDR: This isn’t about Indian forces clashing with foreign troops in Ladakh or Punjab, but two sets of state police—who fired shots at one another on the border between Assam and Mizoram. We explain why two states are behaving like enemy nations in the Northeast. 


What happened here?

On Monday, two sets of state police clashed along the border between the states—right between Lailapur in Assam and Vairengte in Mizoram. See map below:


Five members of the Assam force were killed and at least fifty others were injured.


There are two versions of what happened.


Mizoram’s version: According to Mizoram home minister Lalchamliana, this is how it went down. First, 200 members of the Assam police descended in Vairengte on Monday morning. They then “forcibly crossed” a duty post manned by CRPF and “overran” another post manned by the Mizoram police—and damaged several vehicles travelling along the highway. When residents of Vairengte arrived to see what was happening, they were met with lathis and teargas by the Assam police—who then attacked the Mizoram police in the late afternoon, forcing them to defend themselves. To sum up


“The Assam police damaged some Mizoram-bound vehicles on the national highway and committed arson. They did not listen to our officials who tried to resolve the issue and lobbed tear gas shells and grenades and started firing at around 4.30 p.m… Mizoram police responded spontaneously by firing back at the Assam police. The aggression of the Assam police started the unfortunate development.”


Assam’s version: The state government’s version goes something like this:


  • In “breach of existing agreements,” Mizoram began constructing a road on the border, destroying parts of the reserved forest area in Lailapur—which is in Assam. 
  • The Mizoram government also set up an armed camp next to a “neutral” Central Reserve Police Force camp in the area.
  • A team of Assam officials—including senior police officers—went to the area “to request the Mizoram side not to disturb the status quo.”
  • Then this happened: “Sadly, however, they were surrounded and attacked by a mob of miscreants from the Mizoram side, which was visibly supported by the Mizoram Police”—who also fired tear gas on the Assamese officials.
  • Then in the afternoon, “the Mizoram police opened fire on the Assam officials and civilians, who had by then gathered there… with automatic weapons including LMGs [light machine guns].”


Point to note: The rhetoric in the aftermath mirrored that of an international conflict. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted: “I am deeply pained to inform that six [actually five] brave jawans of Assam Police have sacrificed their lives while defending constitutional boundary of our state at the Assam-Mizoram border.” He later added: “People have sacrificed their lives but the boundary has been protected which we will continue to do at any cost.” FYI: The Assam government is now planning to deploy three commando battalions in border districts to “strengthen security.” Yup, it’s that crazy. 


Another key point: The union government has long deployed the CRPF as “a neutral force” along the disputed stretch of the 164.6 km Assam-Mizoram border. So yeah, this is like an international jhagda. 


The political angle: What’s embarrassing for the government is that the Mizoram government belongs to its national NDA alliance, while the BJP rules Assam. Yet that has not stopped Mizo leaders from blaming the newly anointed CM Sarma—handpicked by the BJP leadership—for the escalation. Sarma in turn is making allegations about “civilians in battle fatigues and bulletproof vests” attacking “our policemen.”


So this isn’t something new...

No, the border dispute has been bubbling since 1994—when there was another armed confrontation between the two sides in Vairengte. That’s when the Home Ministry intervened to play peacemaker—and a border dispute was officially acknowledged. There have been sporadic conflicts since, but things heated up again in October when residents clashed at the border:


“At the heart of the matter was an ‘eviction drive’ carried out by Assam along a contested part of the border... The Mizoram government responded by deploying troops in areas which Assam claims is part of its territory. Residents from both states also blocked key highways, bringing all traffic to a halt for almost three weeks until the [union] government intervened to defuse tensions.”


New Delhi also had to station CRPF forces along the Lailapur-Vairengte highway to keep the peace. But tempers along the border have been fraying once again since June. 


Point to note: The latest conflict occurred barely 48 hours after a meeting of chief ministers of Northeast states with Home Minister Amit Shah on interstate border disputes. The government has now called a meeting of the Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police of Assam and Mizoram on Wednesday to find a “peace formula.”


Explain this border dispute to me



In today’s edition

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