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If Looks Could Kill

From a news report on India Today last weekend, the union government has been on a ritual and political high, deliberating on the issues affecting the so-called Northeast India. This write-up is a sort of reading between the paragraphs, while thinking aloud what each paragraph of the news seems to imply. Yet, from the news, the government has left more questions than answers when it insists about formulating new policies for this region.



After PM Modi’s push, MHA to formulate new policy for Northeast
http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/after-pm-modi-push-mha-to-formulate-new-policy-for-north-east/1/395320.html
India Today, 11 Oct 2014

NB: I have highlighted each paragraph in the boxes.

Taking a tough stand against the Northeast insurgents groups, the (Narendra) Modi government is all set to formulate a new doctrine for the region to bolster security environment.

So the approach remains as is. The most important aspect of dealing with the Northeast is from the security perspective. Thankfully the present government knows it very well and is following its predecessors with great attention to detail, or in another word, while taking care of national boundary.
Image: pmindia.gov.in

Remember the retired army general, VK Singh, who is also the Minister of DONER (Development of Northeast Region). He is not the first though; for that matter, the superannuated military men, if not for the anthropologists, arrive here regularly as governors and subject-matter experts. The region is apparently a territory that invites deliberation from security perspective and significantly, only objects, not people, exist in the region where some of the longest armed movement against the state for the right to self-determination are currently underway. Geographical proximity to China is as well giving the policy makers an alibi for the deployment of security personnel against democratic principles. Isn’t India the largest democracy in the universe?

. . . (the) newly appointed Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman RN Ravi submitted a paper on ‘strategy and action on Northeast policies’ to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh which was further discussed by MoS (Home Affairs) Kiren Rijiju. The Home Ministry has set a three-month deadline to revise the Northeast policies formulated, during UPA regime, said officials.

Where is the next stop? Perhaps the paper will go to the state government that will further hand it over to the union government, which will again refer it to the Joint Intelligence Committee.

This kind of cycle will go ceaselessly and it is no surprise, for it has always been the case in the last six decades, while the major stakeholders, the people, are rotting in a literal existential crisis. The present ruler is quite ambitious — we can say from its deadline. In three months, yes, we can look forward to the Northeast as becoming a tourism paradise; and we might as well have the privilege to call it as the most beautiful corner in the world. We also hope insurgency will vanished though the army will remained in civilian areas including schools and universities as always. After all, it kills, dies, and is the only one who can make the supreme sacrifice in the name of the nation.

According to Home Ministry officials, the problems of Northeast insurgent groups have been dragging for too long which has also led to mushrooming of many small groups.

At least the people at the top know that there is a problem and that it has been going on for some time. What does it mean, anyway, for the inference that the long-winded problem is giving birth to the ‘mushrooming of many small groups’? Maybe it suggests oversimplification on one occasion and a ritual rhetoric on the other, even if it hardly changes the fact that to state the reality is merely the obvious. Alternatively, the state is honing their skills on applying the concept of Kautilyan statecraft, which deals with bheda (divide and rule), dana (compensation), danda (armaments) and sama (alliances). Old school it is, but doubtlessly so effective.

Angami Zapu Phizo might be weeping in heaven but he is helpless about the Naga National Council disintegrating into multiple factions, ironically with a new common name. The government of India is in talks with the NSCN (IM-group) and the other breakaway factions are apparently against talking under New Delhi’s preconditions. This stipulation is also the reason why none of the major Manipuri rebels is coming forward to the table for talks. So seemingly, the government is glad to further rope in a few militant groups from here and there, sign the suspension of operations (SoO) agreements, engage with the memorandums of understanding and continue forever.     

“A targeted approach to sort out the problem is the need of the hour. We will soon consult the states and also issue fresh guidelines for the security personnel in Northeast to deal with the situation,” explained a senior official who was part of the deliberation.

Does targeted approach also imply taking aims and shooting the civilians? It sounds close. It is plain observation from the fact the state is shameless about sponsoring terrorism. Good for them, if we take into account of its archrival, or the gunmen who are using violence to attain political goals. In their race to becoming the bigger pain in the ass, the people have become the disgruntled lot. It is easy and quite a blessing too, for the state to justify it because we belong to an economically pathetic region, when we are not counting other socio-political mess. And the unemployed masses have more grievances and time for revolt, haven’t they?

India Today also learnt that during the brain storming session, it was agreed that a tough approach towards the insurgent groups needs to be adopted and they shall not be allowed to run their extortion racket.

Revolution and extortion rhyme very well. When even the head of a state like the chief minister of Manipur who can ‘contribute’ crores of rupees to armed organisations, it is highly probable that the government knows the inside information, which can help in solving the issues of extortion. For a tougher approach, the authority can as well keep the government officials in the loophole for these public sector employees are mostly the people who are paying a chunk of their hard-earned as well as ill-gotten wealth to self-styled saviours (read the rebels). Yet, how would the state government beg for money from the union if they root out the problem of institutionalised extortion racket or corruption or the issue of insurgency? The profit of extortion racket rightly matches the ambitions of the local leaders. How special was the brainstorming session, and how is it supposed to make a change? But good work, India Today!  

The Home Ministry is likely to come up with the suggestions regarding the peace accord signed with various militant group(s) in its next meeting. It may be recalled that after taking over as the Prime Minister in May this year, Modi has indicated that the government is going to bring major changes in the Northeast policy to deal with militancy and bring development in the region. Through the feedback provided by various agencies of Northeast, it was conveyed to the Centre that the people in the region are disenchanted with militancy after which Home Minister Singh ordered amendments in the existing policies. “This will also include urging the neighbouring countries to help India destroy the camps of insurgent groups and stop providing safe heavens,” added an official.

This is quite hopeful but there is a caveat. How much are the mainstream media highlighting the core issues rather than reporting on empty promises made in a fancy Joint Intelligence Committee. For the sake of general knowledge, militancy in the region has persisted ever since the departure of the imperial British. The feedback provided by the various agencies might show that we are disenchanted with militancy, but it failed to mention we are equally disillusioned with the legal governments. It would be overconfidence if we believe the destruction of camps in Bangladesh, Myanmar and elsewhere would make us, so to say, delightful.

In August this year, an ethnic violence in Golaghat in Assam that erupted over land dispute has resulted in death of 17 persons and was brought finally under control after intervention from the Centre. Therefore, it will be an uphill task for the Modi government to provide amicable solution to the problem of illegal immigration and settle boundary disputes between the states. In Mizoram, the major challenge will be repatriation of Bru migrants from Tripura to Mizoram and their rehabilitation there.

If we go by the trend, then we can see the complexities and the deficiency of tagging an entire region with a shared name like the Northeast. Each area has its own trials and tribulations. Back in Assam, the entire state police lost one ball during the conflict in Golaghat two months ago that only a New-Delhi intervention could contain the mess.

Basic political concepts show the relation of us, as individuals, with the state in terms of social contracts, compromises and natural rights. Obviously, the government is not doing any favour including its sporadic intercession. Yet there is no restriction of including the tiny-weenie success stories in its political mileage if at all it is fortunate.

Earlier also, NDA and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was instrumental in bringing major changes in Northeast policies when many autonomous councils were set up, paving the way for talks and development in the region.   

During the first NDA regime, circa 2001 Manipur was burning after the then government consented to talk with a Naga separatist organisation. In the Imphal valley, mob incinerated the State Assembly plus the office of the chief minister and houses of the elected representatives, while the Central Reserve Police Force killed eighteen protestors. The sit-in protests, which gained popularity around the same time, has become an order of the day in the NDA-2 government. Narendra Modi has become more popular than Atal Behari Vajpayee. The then home minister LK Advani has crossed his sell-by date. The Naga history has become more unique than ever.

However, it is not as simple as it looks — for instance, some of the hill people have found the noble noncooperation movement of sponsoring economic blockade on the highway at the drop of a hat. New Delhi used to be the sole enemy now it has company: for the Meiteis, there are Nagas and for the Nagas, the Meiteis. Kautilya would be proud of his countrymen.

These are the days of autonomous council: for instance, Assam has nine councils, Manipur six, Meghalaya three, Mizoram three and Tripura has one. Well, we can say it is just a matter of time when these autonomous councils will usher in peace and development in the region and beyond. Even if the whole issue resembles rocket science, we can try encouraging the government, for it needs the most, along with the bricks. From appearance it is promising but only time will tell how much more pathetic the government can become, especially when we are nonexistent in the mainland Indian consciousness.

Image: Anonymous ART of Revolution

Moral of the story
1 Appearances can be deceiving
2 The wolves are getting the sheep’s clothing
3 Repeated failures and neglect can break the most hopeful optimist
4 It is still impossible for India to accept the current imbroglio in many parts of the Northeast is a political issue that needs more than just casual approaches like it always has been and that military intervention can hardly solve
5 If at first you fail, try, try a new trick (at your own risk)

Footnote
October 15 is celebrated as the Black Day in Manipur. It was on this day, in 1949, Manipur was incorporated into the Union of India through the controversial Merger Agreement. Like any other day of national importance, there is a general strike.

CorCom to observe Black Day, calls 18-hr strike on Oct 15
Source: Hueiyen Lanpao
Imphal, 11 October 2014: Denouncing the merger of Manipur with the Indian Union in 1949, the Coordination Committee (CorCom) of six proscribed outfits, namely KCP, KYKL, PREPAK, PREPAK (Pro), RPF and UNLF, has called an 18-hour general strike from 12 am until 6 pm of October 15 as part of the National Black Day observance.



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