Modi silent on NE's core concerns

The string of announcements Prime Minister Narendra Modi made during his visit to the North-East has generated a bit of hope in the region. Besides promising funding of Rs 28,000 crore towards construction of new railway lines, he pledged improvement of the region’s hydropower infrastructure, a telecom development plan, six agricultural colleges, a national sports university etc. Improving infrastructure will not only improve the North-East’s connectivity with the ‘mainland’ but also it could boost the region’s economy.

However, there is little that is new in Modi’s announcements. Several of his predecessors too came to the region bringing generous gifts. Their development packages were expected to transform the North-East. They did not. There is little to suggest that Modi’s largesse will be any different.

Development packages for strife-torn and economically backward regions are welcome. But their efficacy in building peace and improving lives depends on the nature of development being undertaken. If in the name of development, locals lose their land or if the main beneficiaries are ‘outsiders,’ then this will trigger new conflicts and deepen existing ones. This has been the North-East’s experience so far.  Modi described the North-East as a ‘Natural Economic Zone.’ Indeed the region is rich in natural resources.

But if its oil, water and minerals are channelled to fuel growth elsewhere, it could deepen long-standing perception there that Delhi treats the North-East like its colony.

Modi was silent on the Naga peace process and the question of security, a key issue of concern to the people of the North-East. He made no mention of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which generates more insecurity than security in the region.

Indeed, this legislation did not figure on the agenda of his talks with the chief ministers and the DGPs of the North-East’s seven states. There is the question too of the growing violence against North-East people studying and working in metros. A plan to recruit youth from the North-East into the Delhi Police is welcome as it could boost confidence of North-East people in the capital’s police force if the recruitment is in sufficient numbers.

However, Modi could have announced a more comprehensive plan, one that tackles not just the symptoms of the violence but its causes. Changes in school curriculum to include the North-East’s history, culture and heritage could weaken negative stereotypes of the region. The Centre needs to be more inclusive in its  approach to the North-East and this was unfortunately lacking in Modi’s overtures to the region.

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