The treatment of the North-East
has been one of a self-defeating paradox. There is
socio-economic exploitation of the region, on one hand, and
socio-economic neglect of its hapless populace, on the other. It
is an incongruity that never was in the first place.
Exploitation and neglect go hand-in-hand -- they complement and
supplement each other. You utilise the region's human and
natural resources and then leave the people at the mercy of the
Lord. It is the plunder and dereliction syndrome that not only
has a cumulative alienation after-effect; it also comes bag and
baggage with socio-political turbulence. Complex ethnic
equations only make matters worse. Exploitation pays for the
politicians and business interests; neglect warrants that the
people do not have to be paid back. It pays off both ways. The
process has carried on for primarily one reason -- the
unimportance of the North-East. The region never mattered when
it came to parliamentary elections (though things are a-changing
vis-à-vis hung Parliaments, albeit circumstantially so) and,
hence, the disdainful disposition. And how could the North-East
as a bloc matter when seven states could send together only 24
members to the 535 member Lok Sabha? The central governments
never paid a price, it has been the state governments which have
tumbling as they have every now and then.
never get away with dismissive attitudes unless the national
media and the non-North-East regional media too tag along.
Barring the sensational stories, the North-East remains eclipsed
from the vision of the mainland India. In the bargain, national
level politicians have thus a chance and justification to get
away with whatever games they play.
pervading naivete about the North-East persists among Indians.
Explore still more and what it all boils down to is that of
mentalities and attitudes. It is fashionable to find people
talking about the North-East in such condescending a fashion
-"oh, it is such an exotic, serene place; but look what
politicians and terrorists have done to the region." Yes,
the problem lies with the people who have created and in the
days that supervened, made a mess of the system.
But the problem
also lies with many other people who are part of the same system
-- the media for letting politicians propagate their own school
of thought and the citizenry for not demanding their right to
right from the Aryans and the Huns to Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah
Abdali had always intruded from the North-West frontier of
India. The treat always came from one direction. After
independence not much has changed . With Pakistan remaining the
bete noire, any imperilment could only come from that direction.
That was what was discerned and foreseen by India's leaders.
That was, equally, one of the many explanations why the Chinese
aggression of 1962 jolted India. After all, the peril lay on the
north-western side. India did learn a lesson from the 1962
skirmish, but it has always been the Indo-Pak border which has
had to be firmly guarded. And not without reason though.
In the Pokhran-II
aftermath, with Union Minister for Defence George Fernandes
going hammer and tongs at the Chinese, the focus did shift,
albeit for a short while, from the northwest frontier to the
North-East. Whatever might have been the Minister's compulsions
in launching his harangue against China; the Northeast is one
region whose international borders far exceed those with the
rest of India. The North-East has international borders with as
many as four countries -- Bhutan, China, Myanmar (Burma) and
Bangladesh -- only two per cent of the total land border is with
any Indian state namely, West Bengal. Nepal too is not far away.
geopolitical strategic location of the region, it is no surprise
that international relations should have much to do with the
North-East. But the fact that it seldom does should come as a
surprise. For the sake of convenience, look at it only from the
point of view of insurgency and law and order. Cadres of almost
all underground organisations operating in the North-East have
hideouts and training camps in one or more of three of these
countries -- Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. How much of covert
or overt succour these insurgents receive from them is besides
the point. What matters is that the degree of stability in the
North-East depends on how much and how long the militants can
make the best of India's inability to convince these neighbours
into flushing out the rebels.
Why then has
India been twiddling its thumb over the North-East, given its
geopolitical, strategic location? The answer can be found in the
General's assessment: those in New Delhi have always suffered
from the Durand syndrome -- the North-East does not matter. The
Pokhran blasts were assessed from the point of view of the proxy
war between the Indian and Pakistani army in Jammu and Kashmir.
Just because China no longer patronises North-East insurgent
organisations, does not mean the region can be forgotten. But
what does this essentially boil down to? One of perceptions and
the resultant attitudes. What else?
Obscured by the
ballyhoo and babble of accusations and counter-allegations is
society's craving for peace. Lost in the din is the jeremiad of
the people. The citizenry cannot extricate the North-East from
this socio-economic-political morass -- those who can are
nihilist demagogues, rapacious bureaucrats, recalcitrant
insurgents and barbarous law-enforcers. The catch phrase for
them all ought to be the same: take care of the frontier
peoples, the travails will take care of themselves.
parameters, this book by Subir Ghosh looks at the North-East --
the result of a political mess that it has been perforce made to
be. Issues and subjects naturally overlap -- but have still been
discussed threadbare under the fewest heads possible. If the
secessionist movements and the autonomy outcries were to be just
looked at, the region would be a politico cartographer's
nightmare. The ethno-political equations are too intricate and
sensitive to be left to the politicians alone. But it is these
very Neroesque politicians, both far away at the Centre as well
as back home, who have subverted genuine aspirations, fanned
ludicrous demands, and raked in the lucre-all at the expense of
the commoners who have little to say, far less to do, with the
machinations that have decided and distorted their futures.
Travails is not an exercise in historiography book of history,
nor does it advocate a panacea for the plethora of ills that
scourage the Northeast. It is not a journalistic expose of he
events either. It does and does not fall somewhere in between.
The subject is academic, the way of looking at it is
journalistic. This book is meant to be a primer for the
uninitiated-those who know precious little about the Northeast,
but would love to know where to start from.
The author desists from making
predictions for the future, but if the present were to disregard
the past, then history would not repeat itself as a tragedy, but
a gory farce. Penned with a perspective as detached as could
have possibly been, the treatment is essentially journalistic.
But it does provide the average lay Indian with a starting
point-the Northeast is not just a Common Noun denoting a
direction, it is a Proper Noun that must be accorded the dignity
and understanding that it deserves, but is rarely accorded.