The Future Of North-East ‘”Need To Look East Or Look All Around

Intelligentsia and policy makers in most quarters of North-East and New Delhi popularly believe that the future prospects of development and political stability of North-East India lie in the ‘˜Look East’ policy. They stress that communication channels need to be drawn through Myanmar and Thailand and trade links be established with the ASEAN Block in South-East Asia. As it is, North-East had ancient ethnic, trade and cultural relations with that region.

Though this is true to a large extent, it cannot be a panacea to the lingering problems of the region. It should be realized that the North-East had links with peoples and societies to both north and south of it apart from the ties with East and West. There were long distance trade routes passing through it that linked the Central Asian populace to the blue waters of Bay of Bengal and international ports placed far and wide. The North-East has 98 per cent international borders and the world is not going to be frozen in time.

Such a large border cannot and should not be expected to be defended through military might for all times to come, particularly when people across share ethnic and cultural similarities. Soft borders are the immediate need of this hour and societal and civilizational contacts have to be restored as they existed in the pre-colonial era and prior to the regional invasions incurred by the European powers.

Dipankar Srijnan or Atis Dipankar, the itinerant scholar from Bengal who propagated Tantric Buddhism in Central Asia and popularly became known as Guru Rimpochi or the Lotus eyed, is still the revered Guru in much of Tibet and Mongolia. Chronicles of the Chinese travelers, Fa Hien and Huen Tsang continue to be referred for establishing the prominence of Nalanda and Indian civilization. It may not be out of place to state that Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh recently attended the funeral of Jyoti Basu, the communist leader from West Bengal and India, at Kolkata, while very few Indian leaders were to be seen. Hasina declared Jyoti Basu to be a leader of the Bengalese, and not just that of West Bengal. Bangladesh declared three days of State mourning, commemorating death of the legendary statesman.

The crux of the problem of North-East, apart from the pangs of formation of an arbitrarily created nation-state with artificial borders, lies in the imposition of a system of parliamentary democracy based on the colonial legacy of constituency formation that hinges on the population logic. While the eight states of North-East are represented by only 25 members in the house of 545 in the Lok Sabha, Uttar Pradesh alone has 80 members. Similarly, while Arunachal Pradesh is just 1000 hectares smaller than West Bengal physically, has two members in the lower house of Parliament, the latter is represented by 42 members. The struggling Nagas do not realize that a Greater Nagalim will accrue them at best two seats.

Unless corrected, the situation will lead to a political instability and turmoil all over the country and not just the North-East. The existing system leads to a north Indian political, military hegemony and Hindi cultural domination. Hence, let our own house be first set in order and dream about the frontiers across thereafter. The shackles of artificial borders need to be unfettered all around and not just to the east. To begin with, societal and governmental contacts have to be established between territories immediate to frontiers and not just between national capitals. China has already set the precedence to amend ties with Myanmar by sending the governor of Yunan province and no mandarin from Beijing. Similar advances from India need to be initiated for the future.

In the domestic front, political structure of the country has to be drastically altered towards formation of a confederation of states with equal representation in a central political body. The fiscal ties will also have to be similarly worked out. The paternalistic doles from the Centre to the recalcitrant states as currently in vogue may not be required in future. It also needs to be realized that the psychic attachments to territories and nation-states or political affiliations are ephemeral and they keep on shifting as rivers change their course in perpetuity. The loyalties and aspirations of the masses get drifting along with shifts in geo-political situations and large-scale geographical and environmental changes. There should be no hurt feeling to visualize that the maps of India and its neighbors are bound to alter in times to come.

According to Gandhi, loyalty to humanistic ethos is certainly greater than that of nationalism. No wonder, many of the tribal nationalities of North-East, including the Nagas herald immense respect towards him and in the heart of hearts repose faith in the magnanimous humanistic traditions for which India has stood its ground globally for long.

*The article is written by Prof. JJ Roy Burman.

*The writer can be reached at

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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