Going strictly by numbers, Assam continues to bleed most. Till end-September, over 300 people had been killed this year. But numbers can be deceptive. Unlike the mid-’90s, insurgency no longer dominates headlines or people’s lives, which must be worrying for the two big outfits here, the ULFA and the NDFB. The Bodos are trapped in a seemingly intractable turf war against mainstream Assamese and ‘outsiders’ such as the Bengalis and even tea estate labourers from Jharkhand. The ULFA, formed in 1979 around the idea of homeland Ahom, virtually ran a parallel regime in ’88-90 but over the years was seen to degenerate into mere extortionism: the latest instance came last week when it demanded Rs 2 crore from HLL. The company refused, and upped security. CM Tarun Gogoi says his regime’s biggest plus is this changed mindset: "There used to be an uproar when a militant was shot down earlier. Now, the people themselves catch militants." Still, there are over 3,000 cadre of both outfits hiding in the jungles of south Bhutan believing their ilk can only prosper outside the Indian Union.
Manipur, in a qualitative sense, is the worst-hit state. There are at least 18 prominent militant groups. Rivalries often lead to greater violence—kidnappings, killings are commonplace. The militants run a ‘parallel government’ levying ‘taxes’ on people, government officials and businessmen. Some groups like KYKL have become vigilantes in their attempt to ‘cleanse’ Manipuri society of ills like the drugs-AIDS complex and to preserve the state’s unique culture.