17 August 2012: The fleeing of north-easterners from southern and western cities exposes India's vulnerabilities in the manner that the November 2008 Pakistani terror attack on Bombay did. If one was a frontal assault on the Indian state, the other takes the nature of a psychological war. And both have threatened the nation's unity and integrity in unprecedented ways. The prime minister did not speak a day sooner when he gave voice to similar apprehension in the face of the forced exodus of people of the North East from Bangalore and elsewhere.

By any measure, the 2008 Bombay attack was audacious. But it fell in the pattern of Pakistan's incremental jihad against India since it provoked the Kargil limited war under a nuclear overhang. The attack on the XV corps headquarters in Srinagar, the Kandahar hijack, the Parliament attack of December 2001, and terror strikes in Bombay, Delhi and elsewhere were high points of that incremental jihadi campaign. Pakistan was testing the threshold of India's tolerance before it went for war.

With the Parliament attack, Pakistan seemed almost to have lost it. But the impotence of Operation Parakram and Pakistan's growing daring on account of its deterrent propelled it to take greater risks with India, the Bombay carnage of 2008 capping its effort. A terrorist organization cannot launch an amphibious assault on the first city of a major military power without state support, and the Bombay attack couldn't have happened without the involvement of Pakistan's army, navy and ISI. The military footprint is all over the attack architecture, tactic and hold-out strategy.

Even so, the 2008 attack was a frontal aggression. It was meant to shock and awe India. India is too well-knit to crumble under such attack, but its point was served by targeting the economic hub of the country, and in no other place than the costliest real estate territory in all the nation. To that extent, the attack succeeded. And since the attack extended to prized hotels of South Bombay, with Westerners being chosen as targets in addition to Indians, it was clear what Pakistan was aiming at: to hurt India's growth with terror attacks.

Now cut to the post-Assam violence first in Bombay and then taking the dimension of a psyche war against north-easterners living and working outside their home states. To start with, the Assam violence has roots in illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrations which have been encouraged by the votebank politics of Congress. The Assam violence provided a handle to radicals to organize more violence in Bombay (where an unprepared, outnumbered police force was put to bloody flight), with the alleged violence against Muslims in Burma lending more ammunition. After this came the psychological war against north-easterners, whose panic reaction has advertized a key strategic weakness of India for enemy use.

The employment of multi-media to provoke the Bombay violence was cleverly refashioned to terrify north-easterners. The same mind is revealed in both savageries, although the faces and methodologies may be different. Already, some of the doctored footage to provoke Muslim violence has been traced to Pakistan, but more substantial evidence of a Pakistani role in Bombay's violence and the subsequent psyche war against north-easterners will be revealed, provided Indian investigators look for it.

To be sure, there are fault-lines being exploited by enemies within and outside. North-easterners have never been made to feel at home outside of their states. In a dramatic way, Mary Kom has changed that. She is beginning to enjoy cult status within the country. The outpouring of sympathy for the fleeing north-easterners will, once the present trauma is overcome, go a long way to heal old wounds.

But at the same time, India's vulnerability with respect to its multi-cultural, multi-lingual population has been exposed. To the enemy, the arranged repetition of what has happened in the past two days would be a prelude to war. If Pakistan-inspired jihadis have managed the present turmoil, it wouldn't come as a better gift to China, which has already conceived of a civil-war situation in India ahead of formal hostilities.

In sum, it would be perilous to underplay the post-Assam violence in Bombay and the coercion of north-easterners. If Bangladeshi Muslims are indeed behind the Bombay violence, they should be swiftly deported. Multi-media traffic must be monitored for psychological war against the Indian state. Because it has succeeded once, it will be repeated. Psyche-warriors in such cases must be exemplarily punished. Whilst working with Muslim communities and particularly elders (and especially mothers) to ensure an end to such happenings, the Indian state must also come down with an iron hand on Pakistan-inspired jihadis.