Too often the North East (NE) of India is perceived to be a distinct and by implication a separate entity. Recognition of it's geo-strategic importance has been slow in coming. It is geographically isolated but richly endowed with natural resources, demographically unique but beset with seemingly intractable problems and international borders that pose immense challenges. The potential for conflict on our northern borders looms large but the priority objective is to resolve internal conflicts. What are the unique problems of the NE that remain so intractable? Do similar issues resonate elsewhere in the country?
Many of the problems that bog India's North East down are a consequence of both its history and geography. The British found the region's climate and its gentle slopes the ideal place to set up vast tea plantations. Then came the discovery of oil and coal. To exploit these resources, the Raj needed educated men. Since a ready pool of such people couldn't be found among the mostly tribal local communities, it had to bring in hordes of educated men, mostly from Bengal. It created ethnic fractures that continue to hurt even today. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is among the latest initiatives to find a solution for the tensions that have long festered.
North East's remoteness from India's mainland was exacerbated by Partition. It made access to the region, through a sliver of land known as the Chicken's Neck (bypassing the more easy land routes through Bangladesh) even more difficult. The difficulty of access had prevented the North East's socio-economic integration with the rest of India. China took advantage of the region's geography to try and destabilize India. It offered arms and training to local insurgent groups. Pakistan was equally complicit in the supply of weapons up to 1971. Every state of the NE has its own unique set of problems that demand customized solutions. A common thread is the effect of prolonged neglect of the region. Education, health Care and basic infrastructure are often in short supply. The Look East and now Act East policies of the Central Government have focused attention towards infrastructure development of the region in the recent past.
Corruption is however endemic, with deep linkages to politics. This aspect is not unique to the North East, but when combined with tribal dynamics, the situation becomes more complex. How did we get here? History and geography are beyond our control. Let us consider the post-independence period to debate issues that can serve as pointers for the future.
George is an Infantry veteran with rich operational and administrative experience especially in the NE. Post retirement he has also served as the Chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group in Nagaland under the Union Home Ministry.