Sovereignty Struggles in Northeast India: Where are They Going?
- Part 4 -
Speech delivered at Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture

M. S. Prabhakara *

The write up published here is the paper presented by M. S. Prabhakara on the Sixth Arambam Somorendra Singh Memorial Lecture held in Imphal on June 10, 2011

Separatist sentiments or aspirations in most parts of India whose people – always

meaning by the term 'people' about half the population or less many of whom, even while suffering from denial and oppression, have developed some stakes in the system – have little objective cause for feeling alienated or even diminished in terms of their individual or collective identities may be dead, or may only be dormant.

This is certainly not a live issue. However, they came into the public domain and stayed there for awhile before dying out – or staying dormant. The reason why Tamil nationalism and separatism are not live issues is not because such sentiments are fully dead – my own reading is that ideas do not die, ever – but that they cannot be an issue to be pursued By Whatever Means Necessary (to use that cliché), because the objective situation in the land of the Tamils does not admit such extreme manifestations of non-existent grievances.

Put simply, it is not possible to rouse the Tamil people into discontent on the ground that they are a despised and diminished minority that just does not count. The numbers, not to speak of the reality, are simply against such arguments. This is the case in the rest of India which is well integrated into the path of capitalist development that India has made its own, this despite the reality that is also routinely reiterated in the very structures created by the same Indian state (like the NAC) that inequalities too are growing.

This happy coexistence of a predatory class whose composition is too complex a subject to go into, but broadly comprising both the amoral and the modestly well-heeled 'conscience-stricken', at least for form's sake, intellectuals, writers and artists, the NGOs briskly networking with international donor agencies and so on, maybe I should also add journalists and the media, had for long been able to contain discontent taking an explicitly political direction.

The developments in recent years in what the glossies breathlessly describe as 'abujland' pose a challenge to this happy coexistence. It is not for nothing that the Prime Minister has been frequently speaking of LWE as the 'greatest threat' facing India. I am not sure this is the case.

Poverty, inequalities of income and opportunities, structural discrimination against the vulnerable and defenceless, gender and caste oppression, alienation of the religious minorities, these pose the greatest challenge to even the kind of India that this alliance is trying to build even if the partners of this alliance carry different signboards. The recent setbacks to the organised left have emboldened this predatory class even further.

Could it be, therefore, that a measure of economic development, even if it were to be very modest and benefit further the pitiful 'creamy layer', that one has to look hard to find in this region, and a reigning in of the tendencies I have mentioned in the preceding paragraph weaken what separatist sentiments that still persist in the region?

I am reluctant to make any suggestion, for I honestly do not know the ground reality even in Assam, my home for many years, let alone in Manipur where I have always been a visitor, not a resident. One is not sure of the reverse correlation between separatism and insurgency, and economic development.

As that trite wisdom says, fair economic development touching the people is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition to meet the situation. After all, Punjab, a restively prosperous state also was a fertile ground for separate insurgency.

The problem is that one knows so little about the correlations between the Indian State and the complex network of security agencies it has created to defend itself against forces committed to subvert this State. However, this very Indian State has also sometimes been found complicit in the creation of factions of such subversive forces, manufacturing grievances when necessary. Examples abound in this very region, not to speak of the by now well-known origins of the Khalistan movement.

Some friends have challenged such formulations, especially the one suggesting that separatism or insurgency is a bargaining counter, or that it is an instrumental agency cynically used (if not actually constructed) by those who have benefited from the Indian state, or that even the kind of development that this part of the country has seen would not have been possible without the separatism and insurgency, that there are strongly entrenched and powerful forces in the region well integrated into the patronage alliance of the Indian state who have developed a vested interest in the continuance of separatism and insurgency, only which can explain their persistence, despite many grievous setbacks.

Perhaps it is possible to draw such inferences from this or that rather superficially argued articles, for I am no theorist, much less a thinker, but that 'harmless hack, a mere journalist'. But certainly, some inference may be drawn from the very instructive trajectory of the Dravidian movement which in its origins had a strong separatist, if not secessionist component but whose two major political manifestations are now the two natural parties of government, vying with each other but shutting out all other players, including major players at the national level, from having any significant role in the politics of Tamilnadu.

Thou hast committed Fornication:
but that was in another country;
and besides, the wench is dead.

As a distant but friendly observer I have sometimes wondered about the persistence of the separatist mindset and sovereignty aspirations, even while bearing in mind the epigraph to the previous section.

Yes, one admits the eternal durability of ideas, but one also wonders why ignoring the all too obvious objective reality that stares one in the face, separatism not so much as an idea but as self-destructive insurgency persists.

To take the situation in this very state which I now find is utterly, totally, different from what I vaguely three or four decades ago. During my first visit to Kolara during the Puja holidays in 1963 a little over a year after I moved to Guwahati to spend some time with my mother, I was asked the strangest of questions by friends.

The family doctor, for instance, asked me if he had to put extra postage stamps on the envelope addressed to me in Guwahati. A person from Guwahati was in those days a bit of a novelty even in Bangalore.

Now people from this region are setting up businesses not merely in Bangalore but in other cities and towns as well. There are scores of stories I can tell about the strangest of encounters from persons of this region in the most unlikely of places and circumstances in Bangalore and even small towns in Karnataka.

This is only a small instance of a much larger process of integration of this region with the rest of the country, working both ways, though the influx of non-Manipuris into Manipur has been a process and enterprise going on over a much longer period, having ramifications going far beyond merely trade and investment, and having profound cultural implications. No need for me to spell these things out to this audience.

To be continued....

* M. S. Prabhakara wrote this article , which was publised at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on June 09 , 2018.

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