KAPIL ARAMBAM • In Pursuit of Freedom •

for the sake of love & living


it is hard to hold onto
gaseous eruptions inside the stomach but
it’s even harder , holding on desperately for love,
when you declare it yourself
—i might as well be prepared
the future is a smörgåsbord
of all things good and bad
when life’s calling puts a wall between us,
i can only wait
like the old shop owner expecting
the last bus to home.

i once knew a love
i saw it in a dove
it was made of a colourful dream
now almost brimming, overflowing the bad feelings steam
surely this is the sign of an impending thunderstorm
as inside me—every inch the insides start to deform
and the lightest of air is blowing me away
shouldn’t i even be worrying about the next payday?
only the morning knows what it misses 
when it is deprived of the its great toilet rushes.

—Concluded.

Tongue-twisting Time!
Text from 1st International Collection of Tongue Twisters 
Play the triple-tongue!
Image: ECML

Give me the gift of a grip-top sock,
A clip drape shipshape tip top sock.
Not your spinslick slapstick slipshod stock,
But a plastic, elastic grip-top sock.
None of your fantastic slack swap slop
From a slap dash flash cash haberdash shop.
Not a knick knack knitlock knockneed knickerbocker sock
With a mock-shot blob-mottled trick-ticker top clock.
Not a supersheet seersucker rucksack sock,
Not a spot-speckled frog-freckled cheap sheik's sock
Off a hodge-podge moss-blotched scotch-botched block.
Nothing slipshod drip drop flip flop or glip glop
Tip me to a tip top grip top sock.
—ARTICULATION WARMUP FOR ACTORS

I bought a bit of baking powder and baked a batch of biscuits. I brought a big basket of biscuits back to the bakery and baked a basket of big biscuits. Then I took the big basket of biscuits and the basket of big biscuits and mixed the big biscuits with the basket of biscuits that was next to the big basket and put a bunch of biscuits from the basket into a biscuit mixer and brought the basket of biscuits and the box of mixed biscuits and the biscuit mixer to the bakery and opened a tin of sardines.
—A DICTION TEST FOR WOULD-BE RADIO ANNOUNCERS: TO BE READ CLEARLY, WITHOUT MISTAKES, IN LESS THAN 20 SECONDS

Mid-week Life, Graceless: In Letters and Words


1⧮    Learn English the Manipuri Style Alphabets and the new vocabulary for the kids
2⧮    Unclichéing the Clichés A random collection of one liners distilled into minimal images

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Timeline Blues: Fading Lines Between Real and Unreal

If you are a fan of stories like Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front or Benjamin Bucholz’s One Hundred and One Nights, then we have an offer that you can rehear more original and realistic tales of violence and conflict, that too in real time. If you are also interested in writing a war novel, the plots are already set in a chronological order; and in the skeleton you will just need to build some meat that you can find effortlessly. All you have to do is to take a glance at a month’s headlines in newspapers published in Manipur, where diurnal lives have been reduced to an unrealistic story (see timeline below).

JANUARY 2015 ON A TIMELINE
Timeline Blues: Fading Lines Between Real and Unreal
Headlines from E-pao - The Killing Fields
 CONTINUED FROM P. 1

31 January 2015
RPF dismisses Dimapur police claim / Bandh calls off, JAC gives 15 days for probe / PLA's serial blast bid at Dimapur foiled / Kadangband incident: KIM, KSO condemn, support JAC / Lilong bodies condemn blasts / PREPAK (Pro) owns up Lilong attack

ABBREVIATIONS

CBI Central Bureau of Investigation      SIT Special Investigation Team      FIDAM Families of the Involuntarily Disappeared Association, Manipur      HRA Human Rights Alert      PIL Public Interest Litigation       UNLF United National Liberation Front      CM Chief Minister      NSCN-IM National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah)      ZUF Zeliangrong United Front      CSCHR Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights      NHRC National Human Rights Commission       IED Improvised Explosive Device      PREPAK People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak      IRB Indian Reserve Battalion      UG Underground      AR Assam Rifles      JAC Joint Action Committee      PLA People’s Liberation Army      NWUC      Naga Women Union, Chandel      KNA Kuki Naitonal Army      R-Day Republic Day      HC High Court      ULFA United Liberation Front of Asom      KNF Kuki National Front

Old Wine, New Bottle: Armed Movements and Counter-insurgency


Separatist movements are a hard meat to chew in Northeast India, barring some of the corners in this ethnically diverse and trouble-torn region. Ethno-nationalism would beat the Westphalian concept hands down. The problems persist but a lack of imagination from legal governments (for we have little to do with the outlawed ‘illegal’ organisations) is glaring. In this mess, any new political rhetoric or new government has simply vanished into thin air but not before showing us some ridiculous promises—at least this has been the case all along. Still the high-profile visit of dignitaries of the union government in the provinces in the last couple of months has instigated more questions than an answer.    

Since the beginning of this year till February 19, there were 29 bomb blasts in different parts of [Manipur].... [The] failure of Manipur police demands serious introspection.... However, the police officer refused to give any comment on the question of whether there are any lapses in the Home Department’s policy or shortage in the department’s infrastructure.
29 Bomb Blasts in Less Than Two Months, 21 Feb 2015, The Sangai Express

.... Beyond his frequent visits, Mr. Modi has engaged the region in other laudatory ways. As just one example, all union ministers—most of whom have very limited exposure to the region— have been ordered to visit it and consult with their counterparts there regularly; a mechanism has been set up and eight union ministers at least will be in the Northeast every fortnight. This measure should facilitate multi-dimensional progress in the region....Yet, despite his many efforts towards the Northeast, Mr. Modi has remained silent on terrorism there. And the three episodes above don’t even constitute all attacks in the region over the past month; many more have occurred.
Modi’s Northeast Thrust Needs to Strike At Terrorism, 22 Feb 2015, The Huffington Post

Once again these are the days of hope: ever since the National Democratic Alliance came to power in May 2014, we have been almost forced to believe that we are into a new age. Governments are like modern-day deities and they can apparently do anything, though it is altogether a different story how they do it or not at all. For starters, the recurring issues in the region have been classified under terrorism and internal law-and-order problem. And this is, to put it bluntly, the beginning of the end.

The news report on the Huffington Post concludes on a very positive note: ‘Will Mr Modi make the change? Let us hope so, and let us hope he will address terrorism during his visit this week to Arunachal Pradesh [for the meaningless statehood-day celebration, my word].’

If we go back to history, it was only after the Chinese onslaught in the Sixties that the region was reluctantly absorbed into national imagination and consciousness. For that matter, it is still yet over today and it is evident from the slew of racism issues in the heart of the nation. However, it is a tragedy that the government of the day never admits the issues are political and that to work out, it needs to think out of the box. Instead it would happily let it go while wetting the beaks, in The Godfather’s vocab, of the provincial governments as long as the latter is indebted to secure the national territory.

For instance, in the worst-hit state of Manipur, the economy is dependent on funds and grants from the union, amounting to nearly 90 per cent of the aggregate. The politicians are gladly silent, amidst their jugglers’ promises, as long as the zombie-commoners go out of their bloody comfort zones and cast their futile votes once in five year.

If the problems are not grouped under terrorism, the government always finds someone, read China, to blame for the misfortune. The only recurring theme is the voice of the military top brasses who are experts on the region when the union has to fall back to even after calling itself the largest democracy in the world. It is good for India that the Chinese don’t believe in some democratic scum.  These are not conspiracy theories but blinding facts that anyone can grasp in a few moments.
From a blast at the entrance of a fair. Photo: E-pao.net

A reliable information from one of the swashbuckling mainland think-tank organisations put it this way: ‘It is not that China or sources in China have always maintained a distance from Indian separatists. Indian insurgents had not only visited China in the past for help, but had received assistance from sources within the country. NSCN-IM “general secretary”, Thuingaleng Muivah, is on record as having said that Naga insurgents had, in the early days, obtained arms from China and Pakistan. Of course, Muivah’s claims do not match Indian media reports in 2000, that talked of a Chinese “agency” supplying machine guns and AK-47 rifles to insurgent groups in India’s Northeast. A crossed cheque of half-a-million dollars encashed by a Chinese firm in Beijing revealed the source from where the NSCN-IM was getting arms. News reports talked of NSCN-IM arms procurer, Anthony Shimray, having flown from Bangkok to Beijing in September 2000 and holding talks with the “Chinese agency” in Kunming. The report may or may not be correct, but it is undeniable that China has always been looked upon by several Northeast Indian insurgent groups as its ideological source.’ (Insurgency in Indias Northeast Cross-border Links and Strategic Alliances, by Wasbir Hussain, Insurgency in India's Northeast Cross-border Links and Strategic Alliances, South Asia Terrorism Portal, www.satp.org).

For a consolation, the South Asia Terrorism Portal admits that the problem is beyond terrorism and internal law-and-order problem. This will be a great news for the natives who consider India is our godfather, even if the only connection we have with modern-day India is with Bengali gigolos and sex workers and in the case of Manipur, not necessarily from the luxury at Sonagachi. Cultural craps are as contemptuous as the political impotency in the region.

Taking the role of a missionary father who we used to have in our high school, I’d suggest India has to work overtime for its nation-building processes. As a hint, the bloody Hindus of the region eat beef out there—they love so much that they ‘consume’ it, just like fish are a mere strict vegetarian item. Deal with it. Perhaps the ABVP has some energetic young people who can string out the right-wing ideologies. But it is highly recommendable that solving a nation-building issue is far more important than interfering with what someone is having for dinner. In an equally sensitive issue, I’d say go fuck with your motherland. For example, the Merger Agreement of 1949 was all paperwork. In return, only paperwork will solve the problem. No amount of jobless mainland people who join the army will solve the problem, neither will the natives who sustain on people’s forced charity to exist.    

Postscript      The Hindus should eat cows, and the Muslims, the pork—it is far better than inciting the Americans and gets ‘droned’. Any god has nothing to do with what you eat for dinner, neither how much patriotic you are. Go to Pakistan or Punjab if you have any. The outlet for those rebel leaders has stretched from Bangladesh to Bhutan. [Where is the communist link?!] Take a look at the overflowing sperm out of the glass. With insurgency or not, the country is predicted to be the most populous in the world by 2050.


Proverbs: ‘Praman Panthei’ Expanded in Minimal Pictures

It all started with the essays on cows and postmen. It was not necessarily on the Hindu craps about cow, neither about the ubiquitous government’s India Posts but the topics per se. We started studying English as a second language from primary school and the methods were flexible, from learning the parts of speech to essay- and précis-writing. What’s prominent, as we reached higher grades, was those elaborations on proverbs and idioms—we call them praman panthei in our mother tongue—and more notable because we were too politically correct and the teachers were amused with our lies when, for example, we wrote we had to be as prompt as much as we needed to be reasonable because early to bed and early to rise can make a man healthy, wealthy and wise. We have understood their amusement and the irony all around now because early to bed and early to rise can only make a man an early man. And that’s why now again, it makes perfect sense when we say the gun is mightier than the pen.   



‘Chinglon Maapan’: Melodies from the Mountains

I have always been obsessed with mountains. Some mysteries are hidden in the layers of green all along. The beauty is almost overflowing from the highlands and this is evident from how the surrounding areas steal the limelight now and then. For instance, in my hometown, it is romanticised in music and literature that we are circled by nine ranges of hills on all four directions, though practically it means we are a fucked-up landlocked place overburdened with the crises of modern-day living and other such ass-smacking reasons related to politics and society. However, at the end of the day, no one can deny the natural richness that we have been endowed with. These images are an artificial recreation of that raw luxury. To conclude, art does imitate life, in an equal amount of our aspiration to imitate the best positive qualities of art in our decadent living.      

Scene 1: When the sun shines

Scene 2: When the moon rises

Old Men Never Die

One old man, two, three and four
Too many dysfunctional balls raise the snore
Like a whore you are selling your stories
For the cheapest buyers to the worshipers of boobies

Surely, you did this and you did that
Those are ancient history, my old dingbat
Your funny accomplishments imply nada
Nada, old men, nada—it’s only building up dilemma

For we know not the steps back, nor those forward
Like a drunkard, it’s only one-way homeward
Old men, die, you die and give us some space
No one cares what you did in 1980; get your chaise

History’s death. Conscience’s death. Society’s dead.
Take a long breath. And die a peaceful death.
Euthanasia. India. Coma. Burma. Gonorrhoea.
Enigma. Et cetera. It’s all messed up.



Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
ROBERT CONQUEST


‘We’re in the News!’

ON GLOBAL MEDIA BECOMING MORE LOCAL YET LESS SIGNIFICANT

It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper. —JERRY SEINFELD

In communication studies, news values can be defined as the amount of significance a news story carries. Several factors, such as its timeliness, influence, prominence and human interest, among others, determine its worthiness. Nobody cares about your kids but it is always a front-page news when the son of a film star flopped in every movies. Slightly resembling this concept, media value can be defined, in this context, as the amount of a medium’s significance. In the last couple of decades, the exponential rise of satellite television, Internet and localisation of various media outlets have been the foundation on which this concept is built on.


We used to enjoy MTV but not anymore. Over the years, it had changed to MTV India and further into a reality TV channel. The unending Bollywood music 24x7 was becoming so allergic that one time, local cable TV switched it with the Indonesian edition in my hometown! We would love to blame it as a qualitative loss but the ground realities tell a different story. According to television and audience surveys, MTV India  has been achieving a growth in audience numbers at the rate of 8–10% annually. In fact, 2014 started at a high with an increase in viewership from 10 million GVMs (gross viewership in millions) in January to 15 million GVMs in July of the same year. Apparently, the new crops of viewers and their likes are more important for programme scheduling than those of the die-hard puritans.

For one of its former archrivals, Channel V, the situation has been quite different. On its website, it is mentioned that it had discontinued music programming altogether in July 2012. Now it is ‘aggressively pursuing original content through fiction dailies and hard hitting studio formats that address crucial and undermined youth issues.’ Maybe it is only nostalgia of our favourite channels that it seems the changes are undesirable.


This does not mean less people are liking newer music. If we go by the trend, the audience and reach of new pop, underground and independent music around the globe has increased manifold. The emergence of digital media has even made iPods and Walkmans redundant. Personally, I prefer Earbits and AccuRadio to YouTube, SoundCloud or ReverbNation.   In this context, music channels have little option to diversify their choice of shows. This trend is succinctly captured in one of the Washington Post’s columns, Light bulbs vs. the Internet, by Robert J Samuelson, published on 15 Feb 2015. He wrote: ‘The new obliterated the old. Railroads displaced wagons and canals—and then gave way to planes for long-distance travel. Cars eliminated buggies. Supermarket chains overwhelmed mom-and-pop groceries. Personal computers outmoded typewriters.’ Then, video killed the radio star and now the World Wide Web destroyed the music channels, reducing them to reality television channels.



There was once a time in our life when we were delighted to see local news published in national dailies. By these papers, we meant mostly Kolkata-based The Telegraph, and later Guwahati-based The Times of India—which usually reach us as eveningers, and if not, arrive in bulks if there is general strike or a transport problem. We are still missing the bus in the 21st century: here, ‘we’ refers to the native people in Manipur, where governance and administration can be best described as defunct and toothless. Meanwhile today that excitation has ceased when we read local news in the national media. Our desires are never ending.

However, these are the days of localisation, thanks to the e-revolution. Also, no media houses can afford to do without an online presence. Specifically in our hometown, the relaxation of geographical constraints has made the mainland media’s negligence as almost negligible as their entry into the territory does. Now we can access, on one hand, the Washington Posts and the Guardians before we check the Imphal Free Presses and the Sangai Expresses. On the other, we have seen the advent of global newspapers and magazines in Indian and other local editions.

In 2009, the Press Information Bureau and the Ministry of Commerce & Industry issued a press release in this regard: in their own words, their priorities deal with how the union government would be allowing foreign investments in facsimile edition of foreign newspapers. It mentions that ‘the policy for foreign direct investment (FDI) in publication of facsimile edition of foreign newspapers include permitting 100% FDI with prior approval of the Government for the publication of the facsimile edition, provided the FDI is by the owner of the original foreign newspaper whose facsimile edition is proposed to be brought out in India. The policy also specified that, the publication can be undertaken only by an entity incorporated or registered in India under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956.’ (Source: Press Information Bureau)


To take a few examples in print and online media, Reuters, Fortune, Forbes, The Economist, the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal amongst others have their Indian editions now. This course of media transformation has a two-sided consequence implying world-class publishers are hopefully taking interest in local stories for the impeccable news and views. However, it has been found that, on more than one occasion, the standard has fallen well below their former self after localisation, with apparent disregard to the former quality of their global editions—just like MTV India does by catering to a dominant local population group than doing it universally. We might be missing the point if we overlook the roles, ownership and ambitions of media giants. The only deciding factor is the return on their investment and records show they have been running a brisk business. George Orwell puts it straightforwardly, ‘All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news.’ With quality or without, it is good business as long as the foot soldiers are bringing in more glories while the big shots laugh all the ways to the bank.

Again, another prominent feature is that even after years of this phenomenon, we are stuck in the sideline far away from the mainland, both literally and geographically—and this has resulted in fomenting the cause for one of the existential crises that has been drifting us apart from the global trends. In such a condition the rhetoric on information for growth and communication for development appear to be mere hokum. Apparently we lived in a parallel universe: the only difference is that we can see the wretchedness clearly in our backyards although we are stormed by glitters and blings and razzle-dazzles a minute after we move out of our homes. 



In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky elaborated on the propaganda model of media. Their main contention is that the private interests in control of media outlets will shape news and information before it is disseminated to the public using the five information filters: (i) size, ownership, and profit orientation; (ii) advertising license to do business; (iii) sourcing mass media news; (iv) flak and the enforcers; and (v) anti-communism.


Certainly capitalism has propelled mass ownership but new media has somehow counterbalanced the one-sided tilt. The rise of Edward Snowdens and Julian Assanges has proven that the top ranking of The Times of India and Hindustan Times in every poll survey are just a part of pop culture, while deeper inside us, we still care for sensibility and rationality. Now we also know it is far better to scan through the Guardians than sink into the various English tabloids to give an example. Still the concentration of ownership to a few corporations and conglomerates is poised to narrow down the voices and opinions but all’s not lost yet. The solution lies in a rise in the strength of an educated mass and its active participation in shaping the flow of information. If the trend of new media, ranging from citizen journalism to blogging and from independent media houses to non-profit organisations continues, we can safely say that there are hopes left in humanity!   

No one can deny the loss of specialness in the media; and it has collectively become exclusive on another totally different platform. The exposure and mass publicity of local artists, the issues of native importance and the growing influence of local innovation have inherited a few positive tendencies. Never in history have we been able to access the amount of limitless information; so is our power to choose and grasp the contents of global standard. Life has become easier too. For instance, all along we had to rely on limited-stocked bookshops. Portals like Flipkart and Amazon (the latter which has been also localised) have given us abundant space and time to explore our deepest passion. The choices are unlimited: it only depends on our prudence and informed decisions. Now it does not matter how MTV is broadcasting ridiculous programmes or how many foreign media houses are entering into the market. Now it counts how much we can enhance the media values for our collective good.       

Concluded.




Image courtesy: All sourced from the Anonymous ART of Revolution, except the microphone’s from libcom.org

PS

Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron

Read
The Challenges of Democratizing News and Information: Examining Data on Social Media, Viral Patterns and Digital Influence, by John WihbeyShorenstein, Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, by Edward S Herman &
Noam Chomsky, Pantheon, available on Amazon

Save the Internet, a campaign for net neutrality, Free Press



BREAKING NEWS:





Join Magazine Secy

This is a poem by Soibam Haripriya*. Illustrated for this blog.

In red
Deep left red
On the straw stuffed mud wall
He wrote:
Join RPF
Another
Crossed it out
and wrote KYKL
The last
A hasty scribble
A witty retort
when in
advertising thus
for Kangleipak
A patrolling van’s headlights
Shone on the mud wall
And he perched
Uncomfortably
Nailed between
the black sorok nalla and the mud wall
Cornered thus
He wrote in red:
Join Magazine Secy 



PostScript

* Soibam Haripriya blogs at http://soibamharipriya.blogspot.com.

** RPF stands for Revolutionary People’s Front: the political wing of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that was established under the leadership of N Bisheswar on 25 September 1978 in Manipur.

*** KYKL is Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, or the Organisation of Safeguarding Social Revolution in Kangleipak, Manipur. Formed in 1994, it is a breakaway group of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF)—the oldest militant group in Manipur formed in 1964 and which leans more towards building political consciousness than guerrilla warfare in its formative years. Nevertheless, the UNLF also has an armed wing, self-styled as the Manipur People’s Army.  

**** sorok nalla Roadside drainage


 Join Magazine Secy


BREAKING NEWS
Raising Day Blues for the Rebels, Two Arrested
From a zombie correspondent


15 Feb, Sunday, Imphal:  One militant was caught while cooking gum (gom, locally) out of moida—or the white flour that is used for making adhesives. A reliable police report mentions that a box of propaganda posters from his house and a machine gun tucked inside his ass were also seized from him last night. The report added that the state police personnel can charge any militant, or a suspect as the case might be, with the possession of ammunition or contraband, by any means and allegations, ever since fake encounters have become too mainstream in the last few years. In another incident, a teenaged insurgent was apprehended while he was stringing up red stars atop a tree on the occasion of his party’s raising day.



Bricks & Bouquets for the Look East Policy in Northeast India

Back east!
ACT EAST—THE OPENING OF NONGPOKTHONG*: THE BEGINNING

Anybody would love to be a part of a powerful nation. It is human nature to locate our parts in a bigger whole. Nationhood and religion are some of the most common examples. If these parts find themselves in a condition where there are adjustments for space to accentuate growth and progress, there could be no better option. However in Northeast India, promises of the Look East Policy (LEP) have been creating a space for improvement in this region torn apart by armed movements, ethnic issues and multiple crises. The policy has offered some food for thought that invites as many bricks as the bouquets. The deliberations on Asian highways and transnational train services, as examples, are providing fresh hopes but these are just on the surface level.

The first exhaustive deliberation on the LEP with a fresh focus on the natives was initiated by the Centre of Alternative Discourse Manipur (CADM) in three editions of its theme-based quarterly journal, the Alternative Perspectives, which were published around 2006. Even today, the topic has only a few takers, mostly confined to the academic world. Most of the essence is lost in the overly formal tittle-tattle of academese. The background has not changed much but with each passing year, the onus is on us to live with it or without.


FROM INCEPTION TO PROMOTION

First thing first. In the post-liberalisation India, the Look East Policy had its origin in the early 90s in the aftermath of the breakup of Soviet Union and the ending of Cold War. Scholars have judged that India was on the wrong boat during the Cold War days by sailing with the Soviets that broke up for good, disregarding the mostly defunct roles and ambitions of the Non-Aligned Movement. Initiated in 1991–92, the LEP is a strategic foreign policy and a broad framework to integrate India’s economy with Southeast Asia, the region which burst into the economic global power scene during the 1990s. The fact that Pakistan and China started calling themselves a military strategic partner around the same time had prompted India to re-imagine its regional and economic aspirations, while the indispensability of finding new trade partners also left India with no choice but to come up with a newer approach or two. 
Image: slugpost.com

For insiders, a bulk of the emphasis was on challenging the Chinese supremacy in the region. A few years ago, a Chinese columnist posed whether India’s ‘Look East Policy’ means ‘Look to encircle China?’ (People’s Daily). Around the same time, India’s defense chiefs of staff chipped in, labelling China as a ‘long-term threat’ comparable to Pakistan. The covert antagonism between the two countries is going to last some decades, or at least until the disputes of territory over some portion of the states of Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are negotiated and solved. Nevertheless, certain objectives have also influenced the policy makers. For instance, they have seen Asia is the emerging market; besides, it is lauded that this century belongs to India and China and hence the enterprises of growth and progress. Opinion-makers have heralded the LEP—in their words, this policy has the potential to become a part of the global economy tripod after North American Free Trade Agreement and the European Union. 

The prospect of this Asian region, broadly included in the LEP, to become a manufacturing hub and a global service provider has shaped the foreign policy of several countries. Earlier, in addition to counter the Chinese supremacy, it was all about connecting with Southeast Asia and the plans to become a part of the literal 21st-century new world order, with no concern whatsoever for the natives, read the gullible Northeast people, despite the fact that this region—occupying the major route for India—is the centrepiece of the policy. The Thai’s equivalent, its Look West Policy also features the Northeast India nowhere in the first few years. This is not a surprise considering the apathy of the union government in every aspect of our life, which is quite evident in our lived experiences too. Even after a dozen of five-year plans, we have failed to make any breakthrough as far as growth and development are concerned. Experts have slammed this Indian outlook, categorically stating the union has been avoiding the harm’s way and pursuing a sinister plan to keep its borders and peripheral areas away from development.

Nevertheless, the rising population of middle class and affordable skilled workforce has reminded India to look for newer and greener pastures. Once again, the fight for regional supremacy demands a calculated integration of economies into the existing network. Besides, the lack of opportunities in the western front from arch-rival Pakistan to volatile West Asia has pushed India to the east.


SOUND BYTES

A former External Affairs minister once remarked: ‘In the past, India’s engagement with much of Asia, including Southeast and East Asia, was built on an idealistic conception of Asian brotherhood, based on shared experiences of colonialism and of cultural ties. The rhythm of the region today is determined, however, as much by trade, investment and production as by history and culture. That is what motivates our decade-old Look East policy. Already, this region accounts for 45% of our external trade.’ (Global Policy Forum) This was a decade ago.
Speak aloud: Deception or development?

Recently, an expert shared the optimism in one of the many obscure discussions on the issue. He is of the view that India’s Look East Policy has moved from phase-one to phase-two by bringing in more issues and countries. He added India now needs to implement the next phase of the Look East Policy, which would introduce innovative and constructive elements in regional politics and be a boon for both India and the region. (Looking Northeast: A Foreign Policy Agenda for the New Government, by Sandip Kumar, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies)

In a conference on the issues and opportunities of the LEP with regards to the Northeast, it has been unanimously agreed that the new geopolitical imagination set off by the new policy thinking envisages a space that apparently refuses to be bound by the present geography of the Northeast as much as it promises to spread across the international borders to the countries of Southeast Asia through such frontline states as Myanmar and Bangladesh. The extended Northeast as being officially imagined now has therefore a mnemonic effect insofar as it offers a significant cue to the alternative modalities of imagining the Northeast. The Northeast is the bridge between two sub-regions of Asia: South Asia and Southeast Asia. Both regions are in the midst of tremendous positive change, spurred by economic growth and development. (From a background note of the Conference on North East in India’s Look East: Issues and Opportunities, IIT Guwahati)

Over the years, so many things have changed for good. India and China are evidently talking on a regular basis, except again in the occasional interruption by the territorial issues relating to Arunachal Pradesh and J&K. The amount of trade has increased manifold. Several organisations, such as Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC, with six member countries: India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC, consisting of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal) have become more formidable in addition to the traditional ASEAN and SAARC.

Briefly, India has been able to reap the benefits, howsoever limited, as is envisaged in the Policy. The government has been able to maintain the strategic interests as much as the action plan has helped accentuate the multiple free trade agreements. The leaders had even redefined the rhetoric when late last year, PM Narendra Modi mentioned that India’s plan (is) to scale up its ‘Look East’ policy to an upgraded ‘Act East Policy.’

In 2013, the Indian ministry of external affairs listed some of the prominent features of LEP. (The Ministry of External Affairs). This includes:
(a) the phase of high speed with the advent of LEP version 3.0;
(b) economic synergy (India and ASEAN are now confident of scaling the India-ASEAN trade to $100 billion by 2015 and double that volume by 2022) ;
(c) the overt strategic depth (for instance in how India has taken a slew of steps to galvanise relations with this economically vibrant region);
(d) connectivity, which is the reigning mantra as India deepens its diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with its extended neighbourhood; and
(e) cultural affinity: what animates India’s engagement with the region are cultural and spiritual connections, grounded in history and a shared civilisational space.

Map from the website of the Ministry of Development of Northeast Region

SILENCE AMIDST THE OCCASIONAL SCREAM OF PRAISE

In this context, it is worthwhile to see some other perspectives of development. The most outstanding is the Northeast Region Vision 2020. The goals and objectives are stated clearly but the problem is in implementing the lofty ideals. Before we go further, we can see some of the plans mentioned in the vision statement. It could be a lazy way of pinpointing some of the areas where the Northeast is lagging behind and as formalised by the policy makers and administrators. Besides, it shows how India has somehow changed its outlook and scope for the development plan. 

NER Vision 2020
(formulated by the Ministry of Development of Northeast Region)

(i) Empowerment of the people by maximising self-governance and participatory development through grass-root planning: Such planning will help to evolve development strategy based on the resources, needs and aspirations of the people

(ii) Rural development with a focus on improving agricultural productivity and the creation of non-farm avocations and employment

(iii) Development of sectors with comparative advantage agro-processing industries, modernisation and development of sericulture, investment in manufacturing units based on the resources available in the region, harnessing the large hydroelectric power generation potential and focus on developing services such as tourism that will help to accelerate development and create productive employment opportunities

(iv) Maximising self-governance, introduction of participatory planning, rural development and development of sectors with comparative advantage call for significant augmentation of capacity of the people and institutions both in the public and private sectors. Capacity development will have to address the issue of imparting skills among the people to enhance their productivity, generating a class of entrepreneurs within the region willing to take risks. They will also have to be provided with the necessary support through the creation and development of institutions at all levels to undertake planning

(v) Augmenting infrastructure, including rail, road, inland water and air transportation to facilitate a two-way movement of people and goods within the region and outside; communication networks including broadband and wireless connectivity; and harnessing of the vast power generation potential—all of which will open up markets for produce from the region, attract private investment, create greater employment opportunities and expand choices for people of the region. Making the Look East Policy meaningful for the region by connecting it with Southeast Asian markets. Connectivity of NER with ASEAN would require opening up the sea route through the Chittagong port and the land routes through Myanmar and China. In addition, opening up the land route through Bangladesh could enormously benefit both countries and diplomatic efforts should focus on improving relations with the neighbours

(vi) Ensuring adequate flow of resources for public investments in infrastructure, implementing a framework for private participation in augmenting infrastructure and creating an enabling environment for the flow of investments to harness the physical resources of the region for the welfare of the people.

The union government initiated the much-hyped NER Vision 2020 in 2008. This is a grand design for inclusive growth in this trouble-torn region. On paper, it looks promising from economic perspectives and shows the recognition of strategic importance of the Northeast with reference to the LEP. With these hopes in the backdrop, experts have hailed the catchword of culture, commerce and connectivity. Simultaneously the LEP stresses and acknowledges the most pressing issues of the region. One, the country especially the provinces in the region have close affinity to Southeast Asia. In fact, a state like Manipur shares its history and culture more with Myanmar than it does with India. Two, commerce or economic progress seems to be the only antidote to many chronic problems in the region; though in the same breath, it is notable that political will can equally make a huge difference. Three, geographical constraints and the lack of transport and communication facilities have always been a major hindrance that is driving back the region to underdevelopment.

One of the major caveats is in the highly underdeveloped infrastructure that only adds into the conundrum. It is still an open question, now, how much the policy and vision statements are going to engineer a socioeconomic and political change. For what it’s worth, development issues have always been from the prism of national interests and security perspectives. It is understandable in one sense because it is for collective good, but the approaches of the governments are highly controversial as evident from the issues related to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and others. This has unsurprisingly made a lot of room for scepticism.


A THOUSAND BRICKS IN THE WALL

Political observers have found some drawbacks on a broader level. They cite India is still nowhere near the prestigious Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. The nation is notorious for its inaction: the lack of policy and project implementation has negated the advantages expected from various foreign trade agreements and pacts. In recent past, India has been rebuked for being a paper elephant and for its inability to give a finishing touch to the Indian–ASEAN free trade agreements. It is also an open secret that India is lagging behind countries like China and Japan on several accounts. The observers maintain that the LEP is superficial and suffers from a myopic strategic vision. The New York Times concluded that ‘India, not unlike other rising powers, is often content to free ride on others, making it all the more eager to downplay its own capabilities.’ Besides, if we see that we have never been a part of the national imagination, there is little to look forward to in the near future.

In a report from the Ministry for Development of North Eastern Region, the Northeastern region covers 9% of India’s geographical area and contributes merely 3% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In relative terms, it is one of India’s economically laggard regions. However, given its natural resources base and strategic location, the Northeast has the potential to become India’s ‘powerhouse’ in terms of trade and investment. Although the Northeast is rich in resources like hydrocarbons and other minerals, and has immense potential to produce hydroelectricity, absence of adequate infrastructure has impeded its development. (Expansion of North East India’s Trade and Investment with Bangladesh and Myanmar: An Assessment of the Opportunities and Constraints, DONER)

‘...the power deficit and lack of power infrastructure...ensure that many areas have no power for days on end. While many point fingers at the Centre, it is interesting to note that the seven states of the Northeast have the highest per capita investment by the Centre, averaging Rs 2,574.98 against an all-India average of Rs 683.94. And while a lion’s share of the state budgets is allocated for development, according to a Finance Commission report, the region has the lowest levels of infrastructure in the country.’ (Look East, but Through the Northeast, by Avalok Langer, Tehelka)

Image: Anonymous ART of Revolution
The problems run deeper into the spine of the natives in the Northeast. Apparently there has been a substantial return on investment for the state/union, however, it is just the opposite for the people. Without the absence of infrastructure, the apparent opposition to the Look East Policy from some corners is justifiable. Most of the provinces in this region had faced annihilation of the traditional economies during the British rule. That was when, for the first time in its history, the local primitive undertakings were put up with the machine-grinding and assembly-lined efficient economies, so to say, of the West. Some observers opine that this integration was one of the major factors for underdevelopment, while the further integration into the Indian economy was the final nail on the coffin.

We could only make haste at any cost but not necessarily to pick up the momentum, which is there for all of us to see: the redefining of failed states, fractured economies, extreme backwardness and what not. We are yet to recover from the onslaught, and in the present condition, the legacy is going to continue in severer ways. If not for the dismal infrastructure, we have a list of nighmares.

Two of the most worrying factors are related to demographic imbalance and environmental concerns. Besides, insurgency has always alleged to be a bottleneck to development plans by the establishment in a sort of offering antidote to the symptoms instead of diagnosing the disease and finding a cure**. The perpetual neglect of the union has left little room to be confident about any master plan for growth and progress. Above all one of the parasites eating into people’s brain is the issue of ethnicity. It is the chief source of our existential crisis, in addition to the army and the state have kept the people and resources under their boots. We can see more elements in detail:
 

MAKING BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW

Fear of being reduced to a mere transit point: The combination of dismal infrastructure, lack of transport facilities, multiple conflicts and an incompetent market is lethal: this has aggravated the factors many people are afraid of. What happens if the region is relegated to a mere transit point? Initiatives taken under the North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy (NEIIPP) and the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi) on paper do fill the vacuum, however as things stand in the Northeast, apathy and the lack of will—the capability of conscious choice and decision and intention or its lacking—have re-created cynicism all around.

On another level, India has been exporting to the Southeast Asian countries but the problem is that none of these export items are manufactured in the Northeast for reasons that are clear to us now. The sole implication is obvious from reducing this region into a mere transit point that will not only suck up the already deprived economy but also exploit the highly underutilised resources and capital of the region. And the only solution is to place this region at the forefront, not in ‘the’ frontier or the periphery as the condition has always been.    

Armed movements and a weak nation-building process: Development is not all about economic growth. As regards to the LEP, the progress has been measured in terms of increasing GDPs and FDIs, which further the deceptive national interests, while the factors and issues related to the people of this region take a backseat. The history of violence and armed conflicts only aggravate the situation. The Naga insurgency that has its genesis in the pre-independent period has been termed the longest running armed movement in the world, yet it still shows no end in the near future. In Manipur, armed conflicts have torn apart the social fabrics for the last six decades.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), armed conflicts ‘take place in the territory of a High Contracting Party between its armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organised armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations.’ Insurgency and economic growth are like oil and water. The union, regardless of its motives, intends to place growth over conflicts, articulating growth is the ultimate answer but the ground realities tell a different story. In a region overflowing with the ideals of ethno-nationalism, how is a union going to deliver when the militants have snatched the vacuum of power left in the course of its weak and apathetic nation-building process. (Coincidentally, this filling is no different from that of army’s involvement in civil administration in many parts of the region.) To finish the equation, the successive corrupt regimes are relentlessly adding insult to the injury.  

Demographic imbalance and the tragedy of ethnicity: Among the countless hindrances, ethnicity and race are the poles holding the political canopy. Subir Bhaumik, a noted journalist, asserts that ethnic groups who inhabit the various states of Northeast India, originally migrated from Southeast Asia or southwest China into where they now live in India’s Northeast. That pattern changed when the British started encouraging migration from the Indian mainland into the Northeast after their conquest of Assam in the 19th century. As the flow of migrants from west to east increased from the Indian mainland to what is now Northeast India— the contours of the contemporary ethnic conflicts began to emerge.

We have seen the consequences in present-day politics and in the issues that have snowballed into major crises. The Bodo conflicts in Assam, the agitation over Inner Line Permit systems in Manipur and elsewhere and the exodus of Bangladeshis into Tripura are some of the pointers indicating the fragile politics. In the background is the frustration of the natives over their identities and fear of extinction. Ethnic issues, armed movements and indifferent government are the perfect recipe for a disaster. Above all, a supposedly function LEP implies the coming of more outsiders, read the teeming mainland people in droves. It is highly probable that the issue will become a calamity.

One of the major problems in the region is its hostile terrain. Photo: Loktak Lake, by Roshan Laishram

Geographical constraints: Without a clear investment policy it will go worse as things have been always so. Amongst ourselves too we are cut off from each other. Bandhs and blockades are also as common as the hills and mountains are there in the region. Therefore, artificial and natural constraints on free flow of goods and people, formally labelled as landlocked-ness, have produced only disaster one after another. Sheer negligence and apathy that cannot change overnight are not helping either. The tragedy of this region is its inability to integrate in a global trading system while the prevailing conditions offer no options but to incorporate in it.

The inconvenient mode of transport results only in high transaction costs and reduced competitiveness (50% more in transportation and up to 60% lower volumes of trade, according to a study on landlocked countries by the World Bank). It is noteworthy that some arguments are against India here. For instance, firstly, the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur was in its own centre however its merger into India demoted it—while reducing it to a peripheral economy and a frontier province—but not before labelling it into a trivial part-C territory in 1949 and a little higher into a hierarchical order, offering statehood in 1972 which was already too late and too little. While the 1950s saw the emergence of ethnonationalism in the province, a full-fledged organisation was formed in 1964. Secondly, there are historical accounts of several trading centres, which is now confined to Moreh (Manipur) and Champhai (Mizoram). This indicates there are certainly alternatives and it depends only on the commitment of policy makers and plan executors.

The provincial government of Manipur had announced late last year that three more trade centres will be established in Behiyang (Churachandpur district), Tousumi (Ukhrul) and New Somtal (Chandel) along the Indo-Burma border—as usual with cent-percent assistance from New Delhi.   

A view from beyond the border: The Northeast shares an international border with Burma that extends to 1,643 kilometres. The region also shares its border with Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Nepal. This is sheer ironical considering the 21-km Siliguri Corridor, or the infamous Chicken Neck, which links the region to mainland India. The problem is inherent from the most superficial levels on one hand. On the other, the progress of the Northeast depends a lot on the development of these neighbouring countries. However, even if experts have been stating that India needs a deeper engagement with Burma, it has not gone beyond the obvious. In a report on Indo-Burma relations, a writer mentioned that the Burmese military co-operation with the Indian Government in dealing with these (armed) groups (of the Northeast taking refuge in Burma) has been reportedly linked with an Indian government offer to supply a variety of military hardware such as tanks, aircraft, artillery guns, radar, small arms and advanced light helicopters. (Source: Arakkan River Network).

However any casual observer can tell how the rebels are operating in Burmese regions where the junta has no teeth to interfere. Despite India’s call for democracy, it cannot help but flow with the Burmese tide because of helplessness. The highly successful Chinese incursion into Burma is also making the Indian policy makers weak at the knees. Meanwhile, India and Burma are aiming to increase the bilateral trade, with a target of $3 billion by 2015. (Note: China’s foreign direct investment in Myanmar had reached $14 billion in June 2014). It seems to cover up the underlying mess but the realities are still pathetic. An expert claims that cooperation with (Burma) will help transform the Northeast, bolster its LEP, and help it emerge as a major Asian power. In addition, the ability to invest further will be a major step in countering the established Chinese threat. Yet the conditions have not been creating favourable platforms but more confusing areas of underdevelopment and hindrances than one can imagine. The two roadblocks in its frontier and the weakness of Burma should be a primary concern. Beyond Burma and Thailand, there are other seas of opportunities in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and elsewhere.




FINISHING LINES

The union has always maintained that development should come first before peace—it has always reasoned that economic deprivation is the region is the cause of armed conflicts. However, it will need to take a step back and see that after decades of misery, think tank organisations have started recognising the problem is attributed to political issues as well. To quote Louis Althusser, the ultimate condition of production is the reproduction of the conditions of production. In another word, wthe ultimate condition of peace and development is the reproduction of the conditions of peace and development. The LEP, with its equal amount of bricks and bouquets, has offered a path. Only time can tell the result, but for now, there are a plenty of homework to do.

The proverbial existence of ways when there is a will is reflected in some of the prospective moves. For starters it is not a choice but the only way for India is to build stronger ties with countries that have marked their presence in Burma. A cursory glance tells that newcomers like Japan and Thailand are doing better dealing with the military junta. If we consider the healthy Indo-Japan relationship, just to take an example, the Japs own all the requirements to provide investment resources and capital, both in the Northeast and Burma as well as in connectivity assistance. Or for that matter, there are certain weaknesses in China that India can overpass: for a hint, the Chinese has a long history of socialist rule and rigid politico-economical measures. Or as the NYT commented, is India just content to free ride on others, making it all the more eager to downplay its own capabilities? 

For us, it takes no rocket science to see the mistakes are only partly ours: how we have been living in a heavily militarised and repressive state with the least room for flexibility. However, it does point to a collective blunder and this will only aggravate if we keep doing what we do best: ever decking up the room for silence on issues that affect us as a whole. Some of us are relief that we have hit the rock bottom and that the only available space is upwards. We only have reactionary, knee-jerk responses to ceaseless conflicts, from armed movements for the right to self-determination to gross sociocultural decadence. If there is a need for illustrating socioeconomic fragmentation and political deepshittedness, then we are just the perfect example. At the end of the day, all is political.

If we go by the records, unfortunately ever since the merger of the region, the ulterior motives of the union that are anti-people have always been a spoilsport, if not for its ubiquitous myopic handling of the countless issues that bog down this region with a heavy cost. 

Concluded.

NOTES

* Nongpokthong literally means the eastern gate in Manipuri. There is a prophecy made a few centuries ago that the eastern gate will open one day, while the Nongchupthong, or the western gate, will be closed.

** Breaking News: The Union government will develop the Northeast in 10 years if insurgency comes to an end, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said here on Saturday (14 Feb 2015). He said insurgency remained a hurdle to restoration of peace and development of the region and appealed to the underground groups to shun violence. Mr. Singh and his deputy Kiren Rijiju were on a brief visit to Tripura to review the repatriation of Reang refugees stranded in Kanchanpur of north Tripura for the past 18 years. (The Hindu)

The union home minister has visited Manipur and Tripura. As expected the visit was marked with the rituals of shun-violence-open-development rhetoric.

RELATED RANTS ON THIS BLOG
  1. Look East Policy: The Ugly and the East
  2. The Areas Are Marked in Blood

FURTHER READING

  1. Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-east Policy, by Prakash Nanda, Lancer Publishers, 2003
  2. India and ASEAN: The Politics of India’s Look East Policy, by Frederic Grare; Amitabh Mattoo, Arabinda Acharya, Pacific Affairs, Vol 75, No 03, 2002
  3. Southeast Asia and the Rise of Chinese and Indian Naval Power: Between Rising Naval Powers, by Sam Bateman (Editor), Joshua Ho (Editor), Routledge Security in Asia Pacific, 2012
  4. The Look East Policy and Northeast India,  by Gorky Chakraborty and Asok Kumar Ray, Aakar Books, 2014
  5. A Neorealist Assessment of Indias Look East Policy, by Johanna Bötscher, GRIN Verlag, 2011





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