Hundreds of trucks are seen plying again the busy highway no 306 that connects Mizoram to the rest of India .
600 trucks carrying essential supplies including medicines have crossed this checkpoint into Mizoram, a hilly state of 1.3 million people, wedged between Myanmar and Bangladesh and linked to Indian mainland through the neighbouring Assam.
The trucks started plying after the economic blockade on the Assam side was lifted this week following talks between ministers of two states.
Tensions escalated on 26 July after clashes erupted between police on either side of a contentious border point.
Police forces belonging to the two states fired at each other, leaving seven dead and 60 people injured. Six of those killed were policemen from Assam.
Mizoram officials alleged that 200 policemen from Assam, led by a senior officer, overran one of their police outposts at the border town of Vairengte. The post was manned by barely 20 of their own policemen.
Locals say the evicted local policemen, joined by reinforcements, took position on the hills overlooking the camp and retaliated.
Buses that had carried the Assam policemen to the border were burnt down by local Mizos, who clashed with villagers from Assam backing up their force.
“For the a while, this was like a war between two countries,” said Pu Gilbert, a village worker in Vairengte.
The regional Mizo National Front (MNF) rules Mizoram and is part of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance.
Neighbouring Assam is also ruled by a BJP government. But that did not prevent leaders on both sides from accusing each other of provoking the violence.
Assam blamed Mizoram for the violence, filed murder cases against senior officials and advised locals against travelling to Mizoram. Mizoram blamed Assam for the provocation and filed similar cases against Assamese officials.
“I have to defend my territory and people, I cannot take their aggression lying down. We have a right to self defence,” said H Laltlangliana, a senior official of Vairengte.
Mizoram complained of facing an “economic blockade” with Assam preventing vehicles to travel to Mizoram.
Mizoram depends on supplies from Assam (population: 30 million). Battling a raging Covid-19 pandemic, the state says it is also running out of medicines, oxygen cylinders and testing kits.
“Assam police has been stopping trucks bound for Mizoram, and their villagers have uprooted the only rail link to the state,” Mizoram Health Minister R.Lalthangliana said.
Assam had denied any such blockade. A senior official, who preferred to remain unnamed, said that truckers are not carrying supplies as they were worried over the violence on the border.
Under colonial rule, Lushai Hills, as Mizoram was then known, was part of Assam. It was carved out as a centrally administered territory in 1972 and later upgraded to a full fledged state following an agreement between Delhi and the separatist MNF, which waged a 20-year-long guerrilla campaign against India.
Assam and Mizoram share a 165km-long border.
At the root of the dispute is a 1,318 sq km ( 509 square miles) area of hills and forests that Mizoram claims as its own. This is on the basis of a 1875 British law. But Assam insists this area is part of its “constitutional boundary”.
Since June this year, Mizo villagers living in this disputed area have complained that Assam police backed by hundreds of villagers moving forward to push them out.
Lalthanpuii, a Mizo villager, says she left behind her entire crop of areca nuts after Assam police and villagers stormed her settlement on 10 July.
“They attacked our village, and pushed us out. They took away our areca nuts. Later they drained the water in our ponds and took away all our fishes,” said Ms Lathanpuii.
A small river flowing through the area separates the police camps of Mizoram and Assam , with federal forces deployed between them to maintain peace.
A local palm oil processing project is in doldrums because the Mizo farmers are pulling back from the plantations due to the spiralling border tensions.
In the neighbouring mountains on I-Tlang, Mizo farmers complain that Assam police have been destroying their crops from early June. Population pressure on both sides have aggravated a vicious conflict over land.
Assam has similar border disputes with Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, all of which were also carved out of Assam for fulfilling ethnic tribal aspirations. A fire-fight between Assam and Nagaland police at Merapani, a town in Nagaland, in 1985 had left 41 people, including Assam policemen, dead.
A panel in Mizoram backed by all political parties has asked Delhi to institute a commission to demarcate the border to the satisfaction of both states.
“But the history of such initiatives in India’s northeast has not been encouraging,” says Mizoram home minister Pu Lalchamliana.
“Only a spirit of give and take can help resolve this issue.”
Maybe the process has just began with the two sides agreeing not to send their armed policemen for patrolling the disputed points.
The Indian government has deployed central para-military forces as buffer in those areas.