The north east has been burning for quite some time now.
This year, north east India stole a good deal of newspaper headlines, for a considerable portion of the year. From the Olympic medal to the massive internal displacements, and the recent landslides and floods that rocked the region earlier this week, the north east is getting the whole country’s attention, something that was long due.
With most people barely even knowing about the topography and the demography of the region, until recently, the nucleus spotlight that the region has been thrown into, is intense.
The region is diverse, not just in the terrain, but even in flora and fauna, tribes, language, ethnicity and culture, and most importantly, in its people. The tribes, the different languages and various dialects, their history or the way of life is so different in so many ways from the “Hindi-speaking mainland” cultures.
The boiling pot that is brewing today in the region is the climax of years of tension, neglect and unreported atrocities.
Even before the “look east policy” of India, the Indian government needed to look east within itself.
One must remember that India’s independence was not as rosy as we celebrate it every year to be. The joys of independence were marred by partition, chaos and uncertainty about the future.
It all started during independence, when the kingdoms of Mizoram and Manipur were coerced into joining the Indian union by the government of India, led by the skilled and persuasive Sardar Vallabhai Patel. During the transfer of power, the British had left the onus on the princely states to choose to join either India or Pakistan, or remain independent.
While there were upsurges in Nagaland and Mizoram, they were quietly subsided at the time by the union government. Also, because of the partition of Bengal, what would otherwise have been a significant link between the rest of India and the region was reduced to a narrow strip of land that came under West Bengal, connecting the “mainland” to the “north-east”. The promises made at the time of accession of Manipur were blatantly broken eventually.
Consequently, in the parliamentary democracy that India followed, since people are represented according to the population, the north eastern states ended up having just 23 seats, while Uttar Pradesh alone has 80 seats. This is a gross disadvantage for states with a sparse population that would not get adequate representation in the elected bodies.
As a result, the issues concerning the north-eastern states haven’t received much focus at the national level, and the problems in the region have only been piling up as the solutions provided are often to tackle an emergency or a crisis.
The leaders at the centre do not see much profit in the region as it does not provide an impressive vote-bank. And this poignant drawback of democracy comes to the forefront today.
With about two million people displaced in the recent floods, and the current chaotic political and economic instability in the region, hopefully 2012 will see a better detailed roadmap to progress for the north east.