There is a wonderfully perpetuated cult of thought in the Northeast that shifts the focus from the odd internalities to an expediently crafted externality
THE REALITY MIRROR
Talking to Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, on NDTV’s Walk the Talk programme recently, Meghalayan indigenous activists Toki Blah (who left the IAS for a greater public cause) and his daughter Mebanda raised quite a few valid points pertaining to identity struggle and politics, dilution of indigenousness or threatened tribality due to globalization (read westernization), social dynamics, governance aberrations, and the chasm between the tribal societies of the Northeast and the rest of India. Just one of it will do justice to the title of this piece: governance in the broad sense of the term, including representation in Parliament.
When asked whether ‘‘evil Delhi’’ was the main culprit, Mebanda replied thus: ‘‘No, it is not that actually. We don’t have any animosity against the country as such but, like my father said, the lack of governance (sic). These people, the representatives (local), are representing mainland India. They have run short of promises...’’ In response to Gupta’s blunt poser as to whether it is the local politicians ‘‘who are increasing the alienation’’ between the region and the rest of the country, Mebanda’s candour was refreshing: ‘‘In many ways, I would say so.’’ When asked as to whether people here see their elected representatives in Parliament as ‘‘an extension of the Delhi establishment’’, Mebanda said: ‘‘Exactly.’’
On his part, Toki believes that ‘‘one of the basic reasons (for continuing insecurity) is lack of governance in this area’’. The ‘‘irrelevance of politics’’ is such that ‘‘people don’t see a connect between their own insecurity and the governance around them’’. When asked if the responsibility of development lay in the Northeast itself, with the local leadership, or if development should come from Delhi, he was categorical: ‘‘No, it lies with us, within us.’’ A succinct expression though, it says so many things and prompts the debate as to whether we should expect New Delhi to do everything for us here all the time or whether development should begin to happen from within the region, at the initiative of local politicians. Or ask this way: Why blame New Delhi all the time for our woes? Why the constant grumble, like an orphaned people, poor and powerless, with none to fall back on except the centre of power, New Delhi? Why this almost maniac obsession with ‘‘Delhi has done nothing for us and will snatch away whatever we have’’? Why the paranoia, typifying a people with no personality?
There is a wonderfully perpetuated cult of thought here that shifts the focus from the odd internalities to an expediently crafted externality. That is, we shy away from visiting what ails us from within and realizing how the system itself is the greatest enemy of the ideal system being sought; we want intervention from outside while it is we who are responsible for the system failure, and therefore, it is we alone who should first moot a prescription to the malady.
True, the region does not generate revenue enough as to be self-sustainable. Therefore, dependence on the Centre for funds is natural. But what is the other dimension of the psyche behind that dependence — ‘‘we shall do nothing from our side because it is New Delhi’s mandate to look after us specially as there is such a huge secessionist tendency in the region’’? The fact of the matter is that the governments of the northeastern region have made it a habit to look only outward. Surely New Delhi is not the cause of, for instance, the grand architecture of northeastern corruption?
Take the case of Arunachal Pradesh, crying for development or packages from the Centre. As the Arunachal Pradesh edition of The Sentinel reported in the run-up to the State Assembly elections, in the past five years the assets of the MLAs of the previous House had increased incredibly — in some cases by more than 400 per cent! But what is their salary? Such growth in assets by leaps and bounds is an abject contrariety when viewed from the angle of underdevelopment of the State. How on earth can the assets of an MLA in such a development-starved State as Arunachal Pradesh — but, mind you, where there is no paucity of Central funds — increase by 400 per cent? Should not the sensible among the Arunachalis raise the question? How concerned is the otherwise high-decibel All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU)?
That is just one of the many instructive instances in this part of the world. Governance, as Toki Blah and Mebanda have very rightly pointed out, is so poor and pathetic in the Northeast that it is impossible for the people of the region to relate to it in a meaningful way. It is not New Delhi or the so-called mainland that has given us such a governance. It is our own elected representatives who have failed us, because they are not in politics for the interest of the people, but for their own gains. To repeat what Mebanda told Shekhar Gupta, the MPs representing this region waste no time in mutating towards being a callous extension of the Delhi establishment. Is it Delhi’s fault? Blame it on our own leaders who find it far more beneficial to be part of the Delhi establishment. How many times in five years do these MPs raise their voice in Parliament and make the House ponder the gravity of problems confronting the region? Some of them play a completely muted five-year innings, as though being an MP were part of a tourist package to New Delhi!
We talk of militancy — and it is ludicrous that some of the conflict resolution experts in the Northeast should still use the euphemism ‘‘insurgents’’ to describe a bloodthirsty breed of criminal terrorists. Who is primarily responsible for this endless cycle of violence? Why, the governments of the region that have failed their own people. True, the sense of alienation from the rest of the country — social, economic, political, geographical, emotional, psychological — compounded by the Centre’s neglect of the hinterland, is a reason for many a youth treading the guerrilla track. But what has their own elected government done for them? Have not their own leaders looted them? And when insurgency (all the armed movements in the Northeast started out as insurgency with an ideology and backing of the people) eventually, and inevitably, metamorphosed into terrorism — now criminal terrorism or super-terrorism — did not some among the politicians too become stakeholders in the industry of ‘insurgency’?
These are very inconvenient questions. The Northeast has suffered because of its own leaders, most of whom await Central funds to flow in so that they could be pocketed and then an excuse made — ‘‘there is dearth of funds’’. If we are ourselves not interested in our affairs, why should faraway Delhi be bothered? It is time we learnt to be self-critical. We shall then evolve better. And yes, no inferiority complex please — concealed by the routine, dull and unconvincing plaint against New Delhi.