E-Pao! Feature - The predicament of India’s NE: The region as a contractors’ item

The predicament of India's NE: The region as a contractors’ item

By: Amar Yumnam *

India’s north–east continues to suffer from one predicament to another. Till recently any policy-making and development intervention in the region was marked by certain national and regional failures. This I would call the old predicament. But now when efforts are being made to get out of the old predicament, a new predicament has befallen the region. But then what are these predicaments?

The Old Predicament:

The old and lingering predicament is one which has been blinding the Government of India (GOI) to the developmental needs of the region. The policy for balanced regional development has always been suspect in so far as the State like Manipur are concerned. Besides, the GOI has always based its north-east policy on two edifices.

First, the so-called perspective of national security has been a cornerstone of GoI’s policy for the region. While it has overridden any other consideration for policy intervention in the region, it has had the unfortunate impact of blinding the GoI to the reality of the region.

It is also because of this perspective that the army has been allowed to have an unduly large space for expressing their interests while deciding on the politico-economic interventions for the region – an interest they are now doggedly trying to protect. Secondly, the security perspective was given a covering by the policy of minimal intervention in the socio-cultural scenario of the region in the name purportedly of preserving the rich cultural heritage of the region.

So practically the only basis for intervention in the region has been the one based on the national security perspective. What has been most unfortunate for the region is that this intervention and epoch was accompanied by the region’s failure to articulate its own agenda. In other words, interventions based on the security perspective were allowed to have a free run as well as an undeterred reign for well over four decades.

Realisation, Really?:

It was during the early and mid-1990s that the GoI realised that the earlier approach had failed to bear any fruit, and that time had come for devising interventions based on better understanding of the in situ realities of the region. Now is the phase of this new approach. While the perspective is right, the approach is absolutely flawed and many have started aggrandising themselves in this new atmosphere. I would call this the new predicament of the region.

The New Predicament:

Forced by historical lessons and the evolving circumstances, the GoI adopted some significant initiatives in the 1990s for a new orientation towards interventions in the region. But now it is increasingly looking like interventions on a rush order basis. With no loss of time and effort, it has tried to remove the historical scar of basing interventions in the region without knowing the region at all and by founding any new intervention on the realities of the region.

Now the developments in this phase constitute the new predicament of the region.

First, many Indian scholars of international repute have all of a sudden become experts on the region. The only knowledge they have about the region is their landing in the region some thirty-forty years back for a few days in one city of the region and occasional meeting with people from the region.

They command a large say in the national policy making of India, and are marked by the usual arrogance of Indian academia. But the least said the better about their knowledge and understanding of the region.

In a national seminar about the region, a sociologist of international repute and who had even been the president of the International Sociological Association spoke last week in his key-note address: While [Northeast].. has been recognised as a conglomeration of several culturally distinct units conceding separate politico-administrative arrangements, the Northeast was treated as one unit – the North East Frontier Agency.

This sociologist covered his ignorance by his arrogance and pretentious insight into Nehru’s vision when mildly tried to remind before dinner that NEFA is now what is called Arunachal Pradesh. Another scholar confidently spoke in the same seminar and by looking at the HIV scenario in the region of high and rising extra-marital sex.

Thank God, his was not a key-note address. So he could be immediately snubbed and corrected that the HIV route in the region is not sex. Such examples abound when it comes to the relationship between the region and the national scholars.

Secondly, there have now emerged so many institutes based elsewhere outside the region but doing such a wonderfully paying research and project on the region. These are manned by internationally reputed scholars and competently-experienced bureaucrats.

Thirdly, some people, who originated from the region but hardly belonging to the region anymore, are now doing hectic business on issues in the region.

Fourthly, both the institutes and the scholars mentioned above seem to have established a well-oiled nexus with the various ministries of the GOI to get anything in the name of Northeast not only going but profitable as well.

The Upshot:

The upshot of what I am trying to argue is that contracting in the name of the region by a nexus of pretentious intellectuals, corrupt bureaucrats and willing ministries/agencies of the GoI has now emerged as the latest predicament of the region.

It is now the responsibility of the GoI to put a halt to all these immediately so that the national interest is not compromised repeatedly in the name of the region.

Sincerity, commitment and genuine involvement should be the foundation for a sustainable policy for the region.

Paternalistic advisers and contractors have never brought any sustainable development anywhere in the world and nor will it in the case of the north-east.

* Amar Yumnam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on May 11th, 2006

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