Militancy and forest have a unique relation, across the world. Militants – be it Columbia, Bolivia, Chattisgarh or North-east – take shelter in forests and mountains. In Africa and Middle-East, their hide-outs are deserts and barren mountains. Inaccessibility is what they want. The jungles of Bolivia and Cuba must have contributed towards making Che Guevara one of the greatest revolutionaries and guerilla fighters of all time. The Naxal movement (or terror) too had deep roots in the forests of Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. The NSCN top duo – Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah – spent their heydays in the forests of Nagaland and Myanmar. The other NSCN faction led by SS Khaplang still operates from the Patkai hill range of Myanmar. Assam’s ULFA once had huge camps in the forests of Upper Assam. Its most wanted man Paresh Baruah was seen in TV videos as dancing Bihu with cadres in the jungles of Myanmar last year.

Thus, in a way, forests and rough terrains can be seen as fuels of militancy. Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma, it seems, too feels it that way. He almost blamed the nature the other day for rise in militancy. There is no dispute that forests fuel life, in many ways. But militancy? Is it not outrageous to label forests and mountains as factors of rising crime graph at the behest of militants and vested interests? In other words, the chief minister was blaming the mother earth for a happening, which is entirely in human hand and none else. Then what is the solution? Should we fell the trees and flatten the mountains? Mind it, Iraq has little forests. Ironically, there was a report about locals in East Garo Hills claiming crime rates going down after clearing of some forests near NH-62 that connects Williamnagar with Goalpara in Assam.

But, had mountains and forests have any role to play in militancy, Switzerland crisscrossed by the Alps would not have been the world’s most favoured tourist destination. Similar is the case with Himalayan states like Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. Look at neighbouring Bhutan – the most peaceful nation and yet to be infected by ills of India. No government should try to establish any relation between insurgency and geography and topography of a region. It is entirely a man made menace and the solution is in their hand too, without disturbing the nature.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on June 21, 2014)

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