Daily violence, pervades India's northeast state of Tripura, which last month saw the worst massacres in this country since the blood baths that accompanied its partition almost 33 years ago.
More than 15,000 houses in two districts alone have been burned down during the past 30 days, bus traffic has been crippled and supply trucks only run in convoys as protection against hit-and-run raids by rebelling tribesmen who Wednesday night battled with government security forces. In all, the government has arrested more than 1,500 persons in the state over the past month.
In the neighboring state of Asam, which produces one-third of India's oil, mass picketing by Assamese nationalists since Monday has reduced government activities to a standstill. Authorities have arrested more than 3,000 picketers in four days, but all have been released since there is not enough room in the jails.
No oil has flowed to the rest of the country for six months, and India -- already feeling a pinch in foreign reserves because of last year's drought -- has spent between $750 million and $1 billion to import oil to replace what it usually gets from Assam.
The strikes and picketing in Assam, which started last fall over the issue of who should be eligible to vote in January national elections, have turned into India's largest mass demostration since the "quit India movement" that ended with this country gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947.
In domino fashion, violence has spilled over from Assam to some of the other seven states and union territories, including Tripura, in India's northeast.It is an ethnically and culturally different area that makes up a 100,000- square-mile parrot's beak of land connected to India's heartland by a narrow neck and surrounded on three sides by China, Burma, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
In the state of Nagaland, for instance, the Indian Express newspaper this week reported that an underground movement has called for a long war with the Indian authorities to gain "the liberation of Nagaland."
Similarly, in Mizoram, the Mizo Liberation Front has claimed it assassinated seven persons, including four soldiers, in recent weeks. Unrest in Manipur has forced 10,000 persons to flee the state.
Things are so unsettled in the northeast that the Indian government refuses to allow foreign correspondents to visit there.
Now the situation has become even more complicated by charges that "a foreign hand" -- generally unspecified but often cited in press accounts as the CIA -- has stirred up the situation there in an effort to destabilize the Indian government.
One published account here accused by name a diplomat in the American Consulate in Calcutta, John S. Nolton Jr., of being a CIA agent who visited the northeast frequently. Nolton denied ever going there.
Other American diplomats called allegations of U.S. interference in the northeast "ludicrous" and said the Indians are seeking "an outside bogeyman" to blame for their serious problems there.
Senior Home Ministry officials said they had no specific information about foreign interference in the northeast, but cited the allegations as a reason for keeping foreign journalists out.
In all, the problems of the northeast are among the trickiest confronting the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the ones least amenable to a quick-fix solution.
She is so obviously concerned with the northeast's problems that she surprised national leaders by continually bringing it up when they paid condolence calls immediately after the death of her son and political heir, Sanjay Gandhi, last month.
An attempt to use force against the Assam picketers failed in April when 300,000 women and children forced the government to lift a curfew order by simply defying it en masse.
"It's like fishing," explained one senior Home Ministry official."When the fish pulls, you have to let up on the line."
Now it appears the Gandhi government is taking a go-slow approach, trying to keep the peace and protect minorities in the hope the northeast region will cool down enough so it can deal with the specific demands.
But the All Assam Students Group, generally acclaimed as the leader of the movement there, Wednesday night refused a request from Prime Minister Gandhi to end the strike and resume talks with the government.
The student leaders said the strikes would continue until the government presented a program that would guarantee the separate identity of the Assamese people and chided the prime minister for failing to stop what they called "repressive measures" in the state.
The demands center around the desire of the northeast states to preserve their separate cultural and ethnic identities against the encroachment of people they consider foreigners, many of whom are Indian citizens, from neighboring sections of the country.
The sparsely populated northeast, on the other hand, looks to much of overcrowded India like a land of opportunity especially to those in the densely populated neighboring state of Bengal.
In fact, Bengalis took the brunt of last month's massacres, in which tribesmen ravaged entire villages with cleavers, scythes and bows and arrows. More than 1,000 people were killed in a series of attacks on Bengali villages in Tripura.
The bulk of Bengalis came to Tripura as refugees at the time of partition from the newly created Islamic East Pakistan, now the independent nation of Bangladesh. They have been joined by other Bengalis from India's state of Bengal who were attracted by the abundant, fertile land of Tripura.
In a country of 675 million where every inch of land is availble for planting or grazing livestock to feed the hungry masses, residents of the northeast were seen as being exceptionally wasteful with their resources. The tribesmen in Tripura lived a semi-nomadic life, following a slash-and-burn style of agriculture in which they would farm forest land cleared by burning until it became unproductive and then move elsewhere.
Tripura, where the native tribesmen were quickly outnumbered by Bengalis, was cited by other residents of India's northeast as an example of what would happen to them if they did not rid their states of "Foreigners."
In Assam, for instance, an estimated 5 million of the state's 19 million residents are not Assamese. Many of them have been accused of infiltrating from Bangladesh.
Students who are leading the demonstrations in Assam are continuing to demand that everyone -- including other Indian citizens -- who entered the state after 1951 be deported.
Meeting those demands -- and there is no indication that the Gandhi government intends to give in -- would mean a massive population upheaval and strains on India's relations with Bangladesh, which claims that under the terms of a secret treaty signed by Gandhi it is not obligated to take back any of its nationals who crossed into Assam before 1971.
Moreover, none of the other already overcrowded areas of India would willingly accept the resettlement of millions of Bengalis from the northeast.