Sharjeel Imam’s attempt to incite the Indian Muslim community to overrun the Chicken-Neck and 'break' the region from India deserves as serious attention as the Maoist movement has received from the policymakers and security apparatus of India
No other event related to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has attracted as much media attention as did the arrest of Sharjeel Imam in the last week of January. Not when mindless mobs smashed, overturned and burnt public and private vehicles in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and many other parts of India and brought civic life to a near halt for so many days at a stretch. Not even when invisible hands and unidentifiable organisers could successfully attract hundreds of Muslim women and their kids to shout anti-Modi slogans non-stop at the innumerable sit-in demonstrations in so many parts of states as diverse as Delhi, UP, MP, West Bengal or you just name it across India which have thrown daily life of millions of other citizens out of gear for over a month.
Sharjeel Imam in Police custody after he was arrested from a mosque in Jahanabad, Bihar
People were surprised to see police and undercover agents of many security agencies running all over India in search of this innocent-looking Ph.D. scholar of Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU). They were further amazed to see that police of at least five states namely Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh slapping charges of sedition, rioting, etc. against him before he was picked up from his home village in the Maoist-infested Jehanabad district of Bihar on January 28. Sharjeel was a core organiser of the anti-CAA sit-in protests in Shaheen Bagh of South Delhi and a star speaker at JNU, Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh University. The Enforcement Directorate and other agencies, probing the financial sources of the anti-CAA movement had already stumbled upon mind-blowing money transactions worth over Rs 120 crore to the Popular Front of India, an organisation committed to pan-Islamic agenda and Sharjeel’s links with this NGO.
Sharjeel Imam is said to be the mastermind of Saheen Bagh protest in Delhi
The reason, which puts Sharjeel apart from the rest of opponents of CAA, was his special focus on channelising country’s Muslim anger towards overwhelming the ‘Chicken Neck’ corridor of West Bengal in order to break entire North Eastern India away from the rest of India. Also known as the Siliguri-Corridor this ‘Chicken-Neck’ is just 24 km in width which lies between Nepal and Bangladesh and happens to be the only geographic link between the NE states and rest of India.
No surprise ‘Chicken-Neck’ has become the most sensitive word in the dictionary of Indian defence and security agencies. Since the India-China war of 1962, China has made innumerable efforts to get its foothold in this region so that it could break India's links with its NE region and occupy it at a time of its choice. The 74-day long Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese armies in 2017 was China’s latest attempt in this series of efforts.
Protest march by IIT Bombay Students in support of Sharjeel Imam and Maoists’ supporters Alan Suhaib and Taha Fasal
Indian security agencies were taken by surprise when Sharjeel suddenly started shifting the focus of anti-CAA movement towards the ‘Chicken-Neck’ in order to make it the new common agenda of Indian Muslims. In a video clip, going viral on the social media he is seen calling upon the Muslims of India, “If we have five lakh organised people then we can cut off the Northeast and India permanently. If not, at least for a month or half a month...”. “Our responsibility is to cut off Assam from India....”, he declares in one such meeting. These speeches of Sharjeel alerted the security agencies who were getting used to seeing the entire anti-CAA and anti-NRC movement going around the idea of getting ‘justice’ for the Muslim community in a secular India.
It was for the first time in the past six decades when a call to dismember India and break the North-Eastern states from the rest of India was issued publicly. Although this Chinese agenda was well known to the security agencies and observers of India-China relations but none from the Chinese side or its supporters in India had ever uttered it in public. The very first Chinese attempt in this direction was the Naxalbari movement, which China sponsored in the post-1962 war era. Interestingly, the Naxalite movement originated from and drew its name from the Naxalbari village of West Bengal which is located at the heart of the Siliguri-corridor. But thanks to two Congress leaders namely, Siddharth Shankar Ray, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and his close associate Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, the Naxal movement was crushed and brought to its knees before it could acquire a too dangerous dimension to control.
China has been trying to achieve the same goal through a host of separatist and militant groups from Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura etc. whom it supported with money, arms, shelter and training. But New Delhi proved smarter in the long run. However, the Naxal movement has been able to revive itself in many states of India in its new avatar as the ‘Maoist’ movement over the past two decades. Spread between Pashupatinath in Nepal and Tirupati in the South, this movement has been successful in spreading its tentacles in many states, especially in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. This ‘red corridor’ clearly looks like a ‘Naxal Wall of China’ with the ominous potential of stopping India’s defence forces from effectively reaching North-Eastern states in the event of serious Chinese action in Eastern sector.
This potential of the Maoists became abundantly clear in June 2007 when they blasted five high tension electricity towers on 1st June and another three towers four days later in the jungles of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. These blasts plunged a major part of the state into darkness and almost all schools, hospitals, government offices, industry and even mobile network came to a grinding halt in a major part of the state for nearly a month. This was an obvious dress rehearsal of the real things to come. For the national defence apparatus of India too it was a clarion call to get ready for the Maoists’ potential of playing similar havoc in the Chicken-Neck area on any day convenient to China.
This spread of Maoist menace along the ‘Naxal Wall of China’ in India and China’s ongoing military preparations on the Tibetan side of the Himalayan borders finally encouraged the Central government to adopt a two-pronged strategy. One was to take on the Maoists in an effective and decisive manner and the other was to develop an autonomous defence structure for the Indian Army and the Air Force in the North East region which can independently defend Indian territory even in the event of ‘Chicken-Neck’ being overrun by India’s adversaries. Sharjeel’s attempt to incite the Indian Muslim community to overrun the Chicken-Neck and ‘break’ the region from India deserves as serious attention as the Maoist movement has received from the policymakers and security apparatus of India.
(The writer is a senior journalist and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement)