Insurgency in Northeast India

Map of India with northeastern states highlighted red
(69 years)
Status Ongoing (Low level insurgency)
Human rights violations by both sides[11]


Supported by :

Separatist groups:

Supported by:
Commanders and leaders
G Bidai
Arabinda Rajkhowa (POW)
Paresh Baruah
Anup Chetia (POW)
Kalalung Kamei
Arambam Samerendra 
Angami Zapu Phizo 
I. K. Songbijit Surrendered
Biswamohan Debbarma (POW)
Durga Minz Surrendered
Xabrias Khakha Surrendered
Prem Brahma Surrendered
Milton Burman (POW)
Tom Adhikary (POW)
Men Sing Takbi 
Pradip Terang Surrendered
Ranjit Debbarma (POW)
India 200,000 in Nagaland (1995)[12]
Bangladesh 70,000 (1992)[12]
Bhutan 8,634 (2008)[13]
Myanmar Unknown
1,500 (2010)[14]
2,000 (2005)[15]
4,500 (2007)[16]
225 (2008)[17]
850 (2004)[18]
ACF: 350 (2005)[19]
Casualties and losses
Since 1992: 2,762 killed[20]
13–36 killed, 43–68 injured[a][21][22][23][24][excessive citations]
Since 1992: 8,554 killed in India[20]
485–650 killed or captured in Bhutan[21][25]
40,000 civilians killed overall[26]

The Insurgency in Northeast India involves multiple separatist militant groups operating in some of India's northeastern states, which are connected to the rest of India by the Siliguri Corridor, a strip of land as narrow as 14.29 miles (23.00 km) wide.

Northeastern India consists of seven states (also known as the Seven Sister States): Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland. Tensions existed between insurgents in these states and the central government as well as amongst their native indigenous people and migrants from other parts of India and illegal immigrants.

In recent years, insurgency in the region has seen rapid decline, with a 70% reduction in insurgency incidents and an 80% drop in civilian deaths in 2019 compared to 2013.[27]

The 2014 Indian general election had an 80% voter turnout in all northeastern states, the highest among all states of India according to Indian government. Indian authorities claim that this shows the faith of the northeastern people in Indian democracy.[28] Indian Chief of Defence Staff Gen Anil Chauhan then Eastern Army Commander had stated that as of 2020, the area of violence in the entire North-East has shrunk primarily to an area which is the tri-junction between Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and north Nagaland.[29]

Reasons for Insurgency in North-East India


Ethnic Diversity

North-East India is India’s most ethnically diversified area. Around 40 million people live there, including 213 of India’s 635 tribal groups. These tribes each have their own distinct culture, each tribal group disagrees with being combined into mainstream India because it means losing their unique identity, giving rise to insurgency.

Lack of Representation

The long distance between mainland India and the northeast, as well as a lack of representation for the region in the Indian Parliament, has contributed to the northeast being more neglected in the political framework of the country, which has served as a major reason behind the insurgencies occurring in the region.

East Bengali refugees

During the Bangladesh Liberation War, an estimated 10 million people from East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) fled the country and took refuge in India, particularly in the Indian states of West Bengal and the Indian northeast, especially Tripura and Assam. This changed the demography of the area, resulting in greater competition between locals and refugees, which further contributed to the insurgency in the area.


The northeast has been traditionally neglected economically in India, with the region receiving low levels of investment from both the Indian government and other investors.


Main article: Zomi nationalism

Mizo uprising (1966)

See also: March 1966 Mizo National Front uprising

The Mizo National Front uprising was a revolt against the government of India aimed at establishing a sovereign nation state for the Mizo people, which started on 28 February 1966.

MNF insurgency (1966–1986)

Mizoram's tensions were largely due to the simmering Assamese domination and the neglect of the Mizo people. In 1986, the Mizo accord ended the main secessionist movement led by the Mizo National Front, bringing peace to the region.[citation needed] Insurgency status is classified as partially active, due to secessionist/autonomy demands by the Chakmas and Brus. The Chakma and Reang tribes complain of religious and ethnic persecution, and complain that the dominant Mizo ethnic group, almost entirely Christian, wants to convert them to Christianity.[31]


Main articles: Insurgency in Manipur and Meitei nationalism

Manipur's long tradition of independence can be traced to the foundation of the Kangleipak State in 33 A.D. The Kingdom of Manipur was conquered by Great Britain following the brief Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891, becoming a British protectorate.[32]

Manipur became part of the Indian Union on 15 October 1949. Manipur's incorporation into the Indian state soon led to the formation of a number of insurgent organisations, seeking the creation of an independent state within the borders of Manipur, and dismissing the merger with India as involuntary.[33]

Despite the fact that Manipur became a separate state of the Indian Union on 21 January 1972, the insurgency continued.[32] On 8 September 1980, Manipur was declared an area of disturbance, when the Indian government imposed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 on the region; the act currently remains in force.[33]

The parallel rise of Naga nationalism in neighbouring Nagaland led to the emergence of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) activities in Manipur. Clashes between the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the NSCN further aggravated tensions, as Kuki tribals began creating their own guerrilla groups in order to protect their interests from alleged Naga violations. Skirmishes between the two ethnic groups took place during the 1990s. Other ethnic groups such as the Paite, Vaiphei, Pangals and Hmars followed suit establishing militant groups.[33]

The Kuki National Army also maintains one armed wing in Manipur.

UNLF (1964–2023)

The first separatist faction known as the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) was founded on 24 November 1964.

Marxist & Maoist groups (1977–present)

Between 1977 and 1980, the People's Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA), the People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), were formed, immediately joining the war.[33]


Main articles: Naga nationalism and Ethnic conflict in Nagaland

Nagaland was created in 1963 as the 16th state of the Indian Union, before which it was a district of Assam. Active Naga-Kuki insurgent groups mainly demand full independence. The Naga National Council led by Phizo was the first group to dissent in 1947 and in 1956 they went underground.[citation needed]

NSCN insurgency (1980–present)

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland was formed in 1980 to establish a Greater Nagaland, encompassing parts of Manipur, Nagaland, and the north Cachar hills (Assam). The NSCN split in 1988 to form two groups, NSCN(IM) and NSCN(K). As of 2015, both groups have observed a ceasefire truce with the Indian government.[34]

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland—Khaplang is the second faction with the same aim of a Greater Nagaland and was formed in 1988.[35][36][37][38]

Tripura (1978–2019)

Main article: Insurgency in Tripura

Further information: Tripuri nationalism

The insurgent groups in Tripura emerged at the end of the 1970s, as ethnic tensions between perceived Bangladeshi infiltration and the tribal native population who were outnumbered by the former, hailing from other parts of India and nearby Bangladesh, which resulted in their being reduced to minority status even threatening them economically, socially, culturally; this resulted in a clarion call for safeguarding tribal rights and cultures. Such being the extent of desperation, this naturally resulted in hatred and suspicion and their status is classified as active.

The first militant outfit to form was Tripura National Volunteers (TNV), which was active until 1988.

The National Liberation Front of Tripura was formed in March 1989. During the period 1992 to 2001, a total of 764 civilians and 184 members of the security forces were killed in NLFT attacks. In 2019, it signed the Tripura Peace Accord to end the insurgency.

The All Tripura Tiger Force was formed by local aboriginal tribes in 1990, who were gradually outnumbered both directly and indirectly, even at the cost of being threatened for their survival economically and culturally, not to speak of their being reduced to minority population-wise; their sole aim is the expulsion of all Bangladeshi infiltration nearby Bangladesh.


Main articles: Assam separatist movements and Bodo nationalism

Assam has been a refuge for militants for a number of years, due to its porous borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan and also due to its very close proximity to Burma. The main causes of the friction include anti-foreigner agitation in the 1980s, and the simmering indigenous-migrant tensions. The government of Bangladesh has arrested and extradited senior leaders of the ULFA.[39]


ULFA (1990–present)

The United Liberation Front of Assam was formed in April 1979 to establish a sovereign state of Assam for the indigenous people of Assam through an armed struggle. In recent times the organisation has lost its middle rung leaders after most of them were arrested.[39]

KLO (1995–present)

The objective of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) is to carve out a separate Kamtapur Nation. The proposed state is to comprise six districts in West Bengal and four contiguous districts of Assam which are Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur and Malda of West Bengal and four contiguous districts of Assam – Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Goalpara. The KLO, in the beginning, was an unconcealed organisation, which was formed to address problems of the Koch Rajbongshi people, such as large-scale unemployment, land alienation, perceived neglect of Kamtapuri language, identity, and grievances of economic deprivation.[41]


Main article: Insurgency in Meghalaya

The state of Meghalaya was separated from the state of Assam in 1971, in order to satisfy the Khasi, Synteng and Garo for a separate state. The decision was initially praised as an example of successful national integration into the wider Indian state.[42]

This, however, failed to prevent the rise of national consciousness among the local tribal populations, later leading to a direct confrontation between Indian nationalism and the newly created Garo and Khasi nationalisms. A parallel rise of nationalism in the other members of the Seven Sister States further complicated the situation, resulting in occasional clashes between rebel groups.[42]

The state wealth distribution system further fueled the rising separatist movements, as funding is practised through per-capita transfers, which largely benefits the leading ethnic group.[42]

The first militant outfit to emerge in the region was the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC). It was formed in 1992, aiming to protect the interests of Meghalaya's indigenous population from the rise of non-tribal ("Dkhar") immigration.[43]

A conflict of interest soon led to a split of the HALC. The Garo members formed the Achik Matgrik Liberation Army (AMLA) while the joint Jaintia-Khasi alliance of Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) was formed in 1993. The HNLC claims to represent the KhasiJaintia people, and its aim is to free Meghalaya from the alleged domination of the Garos and the outsiders (the "Dkhars").

The AMLA passed into obscurity, while the Achik National Volunteers Council (ANVC) took its place. The Garo-Khasi drift persisted as the HNLC had set up the goal of turning Meghalaya into an exclusively Khasi region; the ANVC, on the other hand, sought the creation of an independent state in the Garo Hills.[43]

A number of non-Meghalayan separatist groups have also operated in the region, including the United Liberation Front of Assam and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland among others.[44]

GNLA insurgency (2010–present)

The most active outfit in the state is the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), which was formed in 2009.[45]

Other insurgent groups

In Assam


Zomi is an umbrella term encompassing nine tribes in the state of Manipur. In 1993, the Zomi Re-Unification Organization (ZRO) and its armed wing, the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), were established in 1997 with the aim of safeguarding and protecting the interests of the Zomi people. Presently, the ZRA is engaged in a Suspension of Operation (SoO) with the Indian government, seeking a political resolution for the Zo community, which has long suffered neglect and suppression at the hands of the dominant tribe in Manipur.


The Hmar People's Convention-Democracy (HPC-D) is an armed insurgency group formed in 1995 to create an independent Hmar State in North East India. It is the offspring of the Hmar People's Convention (HPC), which entered into an agreement with the Government of Mizoram in 1994 resulting in the formation of the Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC) in North Mizoram. Their recruited cadres are from the States where the Hmar people are spread – Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. The HPC(D) is demanding a separate administrative unit under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India.[citation needed]


Main article: Insurgency in Arunachal Pradesh

The National Liberation Council of Taniland (NLCT) was active along the Assam – Arunachal Pradesh border, and its members belong to the Tani groups of people which are demanding Taniland. The group enjoys no support from the local population of Arunachal Pradesh who are fiercely pro-India and the group is all but defunct now.[49][50] The Tani groups are one of the ethnic groups of northeast India (variously known as Mising in Assam and Adi, Nyishi, Galo, Apatani, Tagin, in Arunachal Pradesh) in India as well as the Lhoba in China who live along the frontier of India.[51]

Spillover in Bhutan

Main article: Operation All Clear

Following the 1990 Operations Rhino and Bajrang, Assamese separatist groups relocated their camps to Bhutan.[52] In 1996 the Bhutan government became aware of a large number of camps on its southern border with India. The camps were set up by four Assamese separatist movements: the ULFA, NDFB, Bodo Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF) and Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO). The camps also harboured separatists belonging to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF).[53]

India then exerted diplomatic pressure on Bhutan, offering support in removing the rebel organisations from its soil. The government of Bhutan initially pursued a peaceful solution, opening dialogue with the militant groups on 1998. Five rounds of talks were held with ULFA, three rounds with DNFB, with KLO ignoring all invitations sent by the government. In June 2001 ULFA agreed to close down four of its camps; however, the Bhutanese government soon realized that the camps had simply been relocated.[52]

By 2003 the talks had failed to produce any significant result. On 14 July 2003, military intervention was approved by the National Assembly.[52] On 13 December 2003, the Bhutanese government issued a two-day ultimatum to the rebels. On 15 December 2003, after the ultimatum had expired, Operation All Clear – the first operation ever conducted by the Royal Bhutan Army – was launched.[54]

By 3 January 2004, the Royal Bhutan Army had killed about 120 militants. They managed to capture several senior ULFA commanders. Large numbers of rebels fled to Bangladesh and India. Militants also were dislodged from all 30 camps and 35 observation posts, with the camps burned and razed to the ground.[53][55]

Between 2008 and 2011, Royal Bhutan Police and Royal Bhutan Army personnel undertook numerous actions against alleged north Indian militants. Several firefights occurred while Bhutan military personnel were required to dispose of several explosive devices and destroyed a number of guerrilla camps.[56]

Spillover in Myanmar

Main articles: Internal conflict in Myanmar and 2015 Indian counter-insurgency operation in Myanmar

The Indo-Burmese border was drawn over the homeland of many ethnic groups, such as the Mizos/Chins and the Nagas, with communities with strong ethnic ties living on both sides of the border. Several separatist groups have operated out of Myanmar, crossing into India via the porous border.[57]

India-Myanmar military cooperation dates back to the 1960s when the Tatmadaw intercepted Naga and Mizo rebels heading to China for training. Indian support for the pro-democracy movement in the 1980s had caused the Tatmadaw to stop their operations against the northeastern rebel groups.[58]

After the 2015 Manipur ambush, India conducted surgical strikes against NSCN-K camps inside Myanmar, and inflicted significant casualties.[59]

In February and June 2019, Indian army and the Burmese Tatmadaw carried out joint operations Sunrise and Sunrise II, targeting in co-ordination several militant groups along the Indo-Burma border including the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), the NSCN-K, the United Liberation Front of Assam (I) and the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB).[60] In February, Burmese troops stormed the NSCN-K headquarters at Taga. The Indian army reciprocated by starting a major operation against the Arakan Army in south Mizoram.[58]



In Manipur the following militant groups have come together as the CorCOM[61][62] which is a short name for Coordination Committee.[63]

CorCom is on the extremist organisations list of the Government of India, and is responsible for many bombings usually associated with Indian holidays and elections.[64]


Some of the above-mentioned militant groups have formed an alliance to fight against the governments of India, Bhutan and Myanmar. They use the term "Western Southeast Asia" (WESEA)[65][66] to describe the region in which they operate: Northeast India, Bhutan, North Bengal and Myanmar. These groups include:[67][68]

United National Liberation Front of WESEA

Nine militant groups of the northeast, including the NSCN (Khaplang) and the ULFA faction led by Paresh Baruah, have come together to form a new unified front known as UNLFW during a meeting held in Myanmar in early 2015.[69][70] Besides the NSCN (K) and ULFA-Independent, other groups that participated in the meeting held at Taga in Sagaing division of Myanmar earlier this month were the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup (KYKL), the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit faction) (NDFB).

All Muslim United Liberation Forum of Assam

The MULTA is said to be part of the AMULFA, an organization that rejects separatism in favor of sharia law.[48]


In 1955, an order of the day from the then Chief of Army Staff Rajendrasinhji Jadeja to troops fighting insurgency in the north-east read,[71]

You must remember that all the people of the area in which you are operating are fellow-Indians... and the very fact that they are different and yet part of India is a reflection of India’s greatness. Some of these people are misguided and have taken to arms against their own people, and are disrupting the peace in this area. You are to protect the mass of the people from these disruptive elements. You are not there to fight the people in the area, but to protect them. You are fighting only those who threaten the people and who are a danger to the lives and properties of the people. You must therefore, do everything possible to win their confidence and respect and to help them feel that they belong to India.

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ At least 39 Bhutanese soldiers, 4 Bhutanese police officers


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Works cited

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Post–Cold War conflicts in Asia