MHS-4 “NORTH EAST: IS THE ASSAM RIFLES REDUNDANT?”
The Sentinels of the North-East: the Assam Rifles
The second day of Valley of Words Literature festival carried an air of patriotism and military colors. At 1210 hrs in the Blue Star hall the fourth session of the Military History and Strategy took place. The panellists of the session were lt General Praveen Bakshi, lt General Rakesh Loomba and lt General Shokin Chauhan. The session was on whether the Assam Rifles is redundant.
It was opened by the narration of a poem written by maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo. The speaker introduced the panellists after which the coversation was initiated. Gen. Loomba initiated the conversation by giving a milutary history of India in general and came to the Assam Rifles in particular. He bought to the ffore the topic at hand ‘is the Assam Rifles redundant?’. Loomba calls the North East am enigma because the people living in the cow belt and down south had very little knowledge about the region. There are more than a hundred fifty tribes and more than three hundred languages. Thhe region is home to fourty six million people or 3.8% of the population of the country. 68% of them live in Assam. The diversity of the region is a representation of the diversity of the country itself.
This amalgamation is primarily through migration. Migratiin has ccontrubuted to the diversity and plurality of the region. However, in present scenario migration has proven to be a bane. Alarming rates of migration into the region has upset the demographic balance. The rising population of migrants has resulted in them having an increasingly greater say in the election turnouts.
States like manipur, nagaland and arunachal pradesh have had a continuous hiistory of militancy and insurgency. Security situation in the region is a very sensitive and fickle topic. These ebbs and crests with regards to securitt have demanded a stable force to ensure peace and order. Assam Rifles has played this role as a permanent stabilising factor in the region.v
Chauhan elaborated om the philosophy which governs a force. He said that there is a prevalent, ‘mad’ theory that people believe that forces can be created without leadership, traditions and ethos. The Assam Rifles was raised im 1835 during the colonial experience. It fought for India in the first and second World War. Bakshi narrated an anecdote about how Assam Rifles were responsible for helping the 14th Dalai Lama find refuge in India. On a later date when he met Dalai Lama the latter had given him a grateful hug as he said “your forces had saved my life”.
The merging of the Assam Rifles with the Indian Tibetan Border Police had been doing the rounds of politicans and bureaucrsts. All the panellists had vehemently rejected such a proposition. Bakshi reiterated the topic and rephrased it by asking whether the Assam Rifles is redundant or the question itself is redundant. The importance of the Assam Rifles was adequately elucidated by all the panellists. The panel further clarified that such a merger would not have been in the interest of national security but is rather a matter of turf building.
The imprudence of this prospect did not taake into account the rich history of the paramilitary force. In more instances than one can remember, the Assam Rifles have proved thheir mettle, both in times f conflict and peace. To dissolve this force would be to put an end of a distinct military history of what Bakshi says ‘the most values and perhaps the oldest paramilitary fforce in the world. Addditionally the role of Assam Rifles is slowing down Japanese during World War Two, thus giving the British time enough to prepare for battle, led to the halt of the Japenese army which culminated in the battle of Kohima. Veteran memebrs of the audience also stood up and testified about the Assam Rifles.
There was much poignant response both from the audience as well as the panel alike. A disagreement broke out between a veteran and a retired District Collector. Such disagreements speak volumes about the emotional attachment people have with the force. Many more questions were raised by the audience members and the session concluded with a comment by Bakshi. He declared that the Assaam Rifles are a fine force and narrated an anecdote where the force lost six of its men to insurgents in Joupi, Manipur due to a mistake. However the fallen were quickly avenged by their brother-in-arms.
The telling of such rich history and narratives of the Assam Rifles give us a direct response to fhe question posed in the beginning is the session. As the speaker said, ‘the question is not redundant but was posed to reaffirm that the answer is in the negative’. The Assam Rifles are an integral part to the security of this country, specifically the North-Eastern region.
~Samson S Haokip, St Stephens College