Defying Militants’ Diktat, Northeast Celebrates India’s Republic Day

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As mainland India observed the 59th Republic Day with fun fare, the trouble torn northeastern region of the country celebrated the Day with utmost conviction. Comprising eight States, the land locked region had been witnessing a regular ban on the celebration of both the Independence and Republic Day of India by the outlawed militant outfits as a mark of their protest against New Delhi for many decades. But amazingly, the public support and participation increased in the last few years, where the citizens have made it a habit to defy the diktat of the insurgents and celebrate the Days with great fervour.

The Republic Day, this year, too witnessed the participation of citizens, students and journalists, who had joined both the government and public celebrations on January 26. The official R-Day functions in the capital cities of the region was thronged by the local people in considerable number. The celebration was peaceful at large in the region, where the banned outfits called for boycotting the Day. The underground groups also called for 17 hours General Strike to prevent the celebration, but it had little impact in the region except in Manipur, where the R-Day was observed with tight security.

While the President of India, Pratibha Devi Singh Patil unfurled the National flag and took salute of the armed forces at the Rajpath in New Delhi, thousands arrived at the venue with fun fare. The Television channels beamed visuals of the celebration, where the French President Nicolas Sarkozy was present as the chief guest of this year’s Republic Day. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice President Hamid Ansari with many other dignitaries attended the programme, where the Defence forces showcased their striking arsenal during the R-Day parade.

Incredible spirit and strength was shown by the residents of the Northeast, the land that nurtures nearly 30 militant outfits, who are fighting New Delhi for demands ranging from self-rule to sovereignty. Defying the diktat of militants, the people had come forward to participate in the Republic Day programmes. From Itanagar to Aizwal and Gangtok to Shillong and Kohima, the R-Day celebration was added with enthusiasm by the indigenous population. For Imphal, Agartala and Guwahati, the observations were largely loomed over by the militants’ threat.

The citizens of Guwahati, the prime city in the Northeast, not only joined the government programme at the Judges Field, a group of senior citizens and journalists assembled in Guwahati Press Club to observe the Republic Day. After hoisting the National flag at the press club premises, the participants in the programme took out a procession which paraded the main streets of the city chanting patriotic slogans like Bande Mataram, Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Jai Ai Asom.

Hoisting the Tricolour, veteran journalist DN Chakrabarty called upon the people to remember the 5,000 martyrs and their sacrifices in the 1757 Battle of Plassey, the 10,000 martyrs of 1857 Sepoy Mutiny and the martyrs of the 1942-46 movement against British colonialism. “We should also remember the 150 martyrs who had to go to the gallows for the sack of India’s Independence. Of them, seven including Piyali Phukan, Piyali Barua, Maniram Dewan, Kushal Konwar belonged to Assam,” added Chakrabarty. He also criticized the militants for the path of violence, who were demanding the sovereignty of Assam. Mr Chakrabarty claimed that Independent Asom was an absurd idea.

This year, the insurgent groups of Northeast namely the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF) and Tripura People’s Democratic Front (TPDF) issued a joint call to boycott Republic Day. In a statement, signed by the ULFA chief Arabinda Rajkhowa, the banned armed groups also called for a general strike beginning from the midnight of January 25 till 6 pm next day and made plea to the revolutionary people of the region to prevent celebration of the day.

“The imposed Indian constitution has undermined the basic unity of the region by fragmenting it on ethnic lines as part of India’s colonial policy of divide and rule”, the statement claimed. We have reiterated time and again that the destiny of the region lies only in interdependent unity and coexistence with sovereign independence among the fraternal peoples of the region, it added.

But the boycott call was hit back by a group of writers and working journalists, who had appealed the people of the region to defy the diktat and hoist the National Flag atop their houses and in their localities on the occasion of the 59th Republic Day. “The Republic Day of the country should be celebrated by the citizens in recognition to the sacrifices made by the martyrs, who accepted martyrdom to wrest liberty for their compatriots. Many of their colleagues also under underwent tremendous hardship to free the country from the colonial yoke,” said in a press statement issued by the groups of writer-journalists.

In Kumarpara and Athgaon localities of Guwahati also witnessed the hoisting of National flag, where distinguished personalities like the former Gauhati High Court judge Jitendranath Sarma, eminent educationist KM Pathak attend the programme. Similarly, in Dhemaji of eastern Assam, where the ULFA engineered explosions during the 2004 Independence Day celebration had killed 13 people including 10 children, the Republic Day observation was a major show. Leaving aside all fears, the general people including the school students had joined the celebration, where they paid floral tributes to those killed in the 2004 I-Day blast and later the children performed various cultural programmes.

Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Northeast India) based journalist, who contributes to NewsBlaze and various media outlets throughout the world.