Hope amid unrest in North-East

Hope amid unrest in North-East

Alienation: A sense of alienation pervades the North-East despite avowed claims of efforts to end it

Hope amid unrest in North-East
Insurgency and backwardness are the twin monsters that the North-East region has been facing for decades. While  militancy has come down in some states, in others, it keeps rising its head from time to time, like in Manipur on June 4. On the other hand, the region lacks educational institutions and employment opportunities, the reasons which drive the youth towards greener pastures elsewhere. This double-edged sword of militancy and backwardness is harming North-East’s development in a big way.

One year into the office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set his priority on development of North-East India. He has pumped in funds, every month dozens of Union ministers visit the region, and Centre is closely keeping a tab on how development funds are being utilised. But the core issues of ethnic reconciliation, migration and political autonomy still remain unresolved. This has resulted in perhaps an illusion of peace that often bursts like a balloon with every militant strike like the one on June 4 when 18 Army troopers were killed. 

In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Modi had promised the region inclusive fast track development. He had termed the trouble torn territory as “Astalakshmi” (Eight goddesses of wealth).

Apart from pumping in funds worth crores or rupees, the Modi regime has decided to implement railway projects in the region, taking rail heads right to all the frontier areas given the fact that the region shares borders with five countries.

The Look East Policy was changed to Act East Policy and India is now trying to engage with eastern neighbours for better border management and trade. With more friendly neighbours like Bangladesh, New Delhi is keen to open up bus service, border haats etc. On the China frontier, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, New Delhi is keen to develop infrastructure so that the border population does not move way from the region. Modi had also ensured that his ministers keep touring the region; there are visits by senior Central bureaucrats taking stock of the situation which has given hope to the region that New Delhi is now giving new hope to the North East.

Of course, in doing so, the BJP-led government of course has politics in mind. Out of eight states in the region, including Sikkim, the Congress is in power in five states.

The BJP wants to make serious inroads. All this while, the BJP was seen in the North East as a party of the Hindi heartland but with tribal faces like minister Kiren Rijiju at the thick of action in New Delhi, that impression is fading. Still one gets the impression that Modi is missing the plot as there are grave fissures which he is avoiding that might lead the region back to square one.

In Assam, the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh is a major problem that still remains unresolved. While the “Assam Accord” was never implemented in totality, all political parties and several pressure groups perhaps don’t want it resolved since it is more of a political card.  With the BJP gaining political ground, voters in Assam are becoming more polarised. The All India United Democratic Front with mainly Muslim minority as its support base, is gaining politically from this polarisation.

The illegal migration issue has gathered wind in Manipur and Meghalaya as well and the state governments are under pressure to pass laws and impose entry restrictions. Such insecurity will prove counter productive to Centre’s idea of promoting the region as a tourism destination. Added to this is the growing demand of carving out separate states in the North East. Demands for a separate Bodoland, Kamtapur etc do have ground support.

While the BJP wants to meet the demands of the Hindu refugees who often charge that they are being harassed as illegal migrants, the political stand of the government is very sketchy.

The Centre’s vagueness has also irked the genuine Muslims who too, are tormented the same way. This has given scope for radical Islamic groups to recruit people from Assam.
The tension over the son-of-the-soil-versus-outsiders discourse in Assam gets intensified at times. The state has seen the land area shrink owing to a cycle of flood and erosion, with neither the Centre nor the state government doing almost nothing concrete on this. Many believe while the Centre is spending crores on the Ganga, it wants to tap potentials of the Brahmaputra only by building dams but spending nothing on its restoration.

In fact, there is strong opposition to mega dams in the North-East fearing severe downstream impact and ecological degradation since the region is also bestowed with one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world. Modi is seen backtracking on his promise not to take up mega dams and his government is behaving more like corporate lobbyist on this issue.

Fresh challenge

On the insurgency front, there is a fresh challenge. The North East-based banned militant groups have regrouped in Myanmar and it seems now they have strong Chinese backing as well.  There is a view that New Delhi should engage Myanmar on this issue, otherwise counter insurgency will remain the cat and mouse game and often innocents would be killed in crossfire.

The biggest Naga rebel groups – the NSCN-IM, is in talks with Centre since 1997. It has not climbed down from its demand of creating a Greater Nagaland, taking Naga inhabited areas from Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya and Arunchal Pradesh. While New Delhi seems to be complacent to solve the deadlock, the NSCN-K has withdrawn the ceasefire agreement.

Manipur presents a complex problem. The divide between the communities living in the hill districts of the state and the plains are increasing, a case of the demands of a state within a state. There are nearly 40 banned militant groups operating and running a parallel taxation regime. There is also a huge Army presence. Neither AFSPA nor military action has helped Manipur, but it seems peace in Manipur is not the prime concern of the Centre. By good governance, Tripura has fought insurgency and removed AFSPA. Sikkim has silently emerged as one of the fastest growing states in the country.

While New Delhi has reached out to the North-East, there is little effort to reduce racial discrimination of people from the region who work and study in the metros. This has given a feeling that alienation of people of the region living in the metros is not taken seriously.

There is so much expectation among the people of the region from the NDA government, thanks to the many promises which have been made. It is time the BJP-led administration takes concrete steps so that not only work happens on the ground but other issues like militancy are properly addressed.


NORTH-EAST AT A GLANCE

North-East is border to five countires-China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar
Barring Sikkim, all other seven NE states linked to the rest of India through 26 km Siliguri Corridor commonly known as Chicken's Neck
98 per cent of NE states' border is bounded by Indian's international neighbours
Infrastructure deficit in the region, particularly connectivity is a major issue
Economy is predominently agriculture-based

Key statistics

State    Population    Sex Ratio    Literacy
    (in lakh)        (per cent)
ASSAM    312    958    72.19
ARUNACHAL PRADESH    13.84    938    65.38
MANIPUR    25.70    992    79.21
MEGHALAYA    29.66    989    74.43
MIZORAM    10.97    976    91.33
NAGALAND    19.78    931    79.55
TRIPURA    36.73    960    87.22
SIKKIM    6.10    890    81.42
SOURCE: CENSUS 2011

TALKS WITH INSURGENTS

Assam

ULFA: Talks on with one faction. Suspension of Operations (SoO) continuing
NDFB (P): SoO on till June 30, 2015
NDFB (RD): SoO on till June 30, 2015
KarbiLongri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF):  SoO continuing

Manipur

SoO with KNO (Kuki National Organisation) and UPF (United Progressive Front ) till August 21, 2015

Nagaland

Three factions of NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) -- NSCN(IM), NSCN(KK) and NSCN(Khaplang).
NSCN (Khaplang) did not renew peace pact
NSCN(IM) has signed Ceasefire Agreement for an indefinite period
Source: Union Home Ministry

QUOTE/Unquote

Economic development taking place in the region will benefit not only the people of the area but also the entire country. Locational advantage and rich resource endowment of the North East makes it an ideal hub for dealing with India's eastern neighbours.
Pranab Mukherjee, President

There is no dearth of funds. But the respective state governments of the region should ensure judicious utilisation of all Central funds.
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister

THE MIGRATION STORY

There is a growing outflow of people from N-E
Reasons for migration include
better opportunities for education, sense of safety and employment
opportunities outside N-E
Preferred destinations include
Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

People from N-E work as teachers, doctors, engineers, waiters, beauticians and call centre employees

N-E people moving out of the region were 4 lakh in 1981 and it grew to 6 lakh in the next 10 years

WHAT MODI GOVT SAYS IT IS DOING FOR N-E

Modi calls the N-E states “Ashta Lakshmi”
Provision for Rs 53,000 crore in Union Budget for special focus on N-E
Rs 10,000 crore for comprehensive transmission and distribution schemes approved
Ishaan Uday scholarship scheme for students from N-E
National Sports University to be set up in Manipur
Six new Agricultural colleges to come up in N-E
n Centre for Garment Production announced for each N-E state

In 2001, number of N-E people in various parts of India was 11 lakh
4,14,850 migrated between 2005 and 2010
Mostly, those aged between 20 and 40 years migrate for private jobs or studies
(Source: Study by Centre for North Eastern Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia)





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