Why Northeast is lagging behind the rest of India?

By Sanchet Barua

Being one of the most neglected regions of the Indian Union, overall state of affairs in northeast is quite alarming. The unattended issues and problems of the past are being accumulated, multi-layered and have become multifarious. Over and above, the mounting pressures of emerging challenges of rapid transformation need to be countered. The clock is ticking fast and situation in the region is very delicate which may explode anytime from now if not tackled carefully. At this juncture the old habit of alibis and hinting would only aggravate the maladies of the past and swell negative elements of the globalization. Instead, it is the time to think and act collectively.

The region has more issues to be addressed and challenges to face than any other parts of the country. Of which, the three most important areas which require immediate attention are insurgency, infrastructure and governance. All the other issues are derivatives which would dry up once these three are addressed.

The problem of insurgency in the region has a long history. The insular politics and Delhi centric approach of the Indian government is at the core of much of the discontents, widespread criticism, feelings of subjugation and notion of being colonized. There is a constant fear in the minds of the people that their identity is being eroded due to the submergence into the vast ocean of Indian humanity. The people of the region started alienating themselves and the feeling of self-determination started to germinate. With the aim of preserving their own identity various ethnic groups inhabiting in the region, undisturbed for centuries, began to differentiate among each other severing the local ties and affinities and started to struggle with arms. Thus, insurgency has mushroomed in the region and the secessionist movements, either for sovereignty or for separate homeland, began to lock horns leading to a vertical division among various ethnic groups.

Therefore, prior to any policy programme to resolve the problem of insurgency in the region, the political processes that has been framed and pursued to convert a breeding ground of insurgencies must be reversed first. Simultaneously, the attitude and security obsess mindsets of the central government should also change and embrace the region with open arms so as to restore the lost confidence of the common people.

Insurgency is the major problem inflicting the region. With the passage of time it has increasingly become more complex and difficult to understand as their objectives, role and activities varied widely. In the name of nationalist movement they were involved and interfered in every state’s affairs including household chores, like a moral police, of their people. Each insurgent group runs parallel government. In a way, apart from Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, all the remaining states have multiple governments.

The problem of insurgency has become the stumbling block in the course of development. It floundered every development strategy and hampered all the developmental works. Kidnapping, extortion, killing, bandh, strikes and curfews had become the order of the day. At the same time, the numbers and activities of the plain criminals masquerading as insurgents have also increased alarmingly. In short, the region has reached the pinnacle of the industrialization of insurgency and criminalization process.

It would not be easy to find the solution. However, keeping in mind the rising global terrorism, it would be wise to work on a holistic approach for amicable solution sooner than the later. At the same time, what every

insurgent group, operating in the region, should realize is that the formation of separate homeland or attainment of more autonomy or sovereignty is not the solution because within itself formation of new group with new demand can not be ruled out.

The rich natural and human resources available in the region could not be utilized to full extent mainly due to the geo-political condition, including ever-deteriorating law and order, which has a lot of implication on the development of most needed infrastructure. The negligence of the central government in the past and due to the problems of insurgency at present resulted into the gross deficiency of infrastructure in the region. This has crippled the free flow of factors as well as products. In such a situation, it would be hard for the region to accrue the benefits of globalization. It is also not surprising to find the lack of FDI inflow in the region. During January 2000 to March 2011 the region received only $ 950 million FDI inflow in the region.

The lack of infrastructure, as revealed by the infrastructure index has not only spoiled the prospect of economic development but has also created a horizontal division among various ethnic groups affecting the fabrics of social harmony. All the constituent states of the region are internally locked-themselves and locking out others, unable to connect with each other physically in terms of poor transport links, and more seriously, unable to make connections intellectually and emotionally with their closest neighbours, or even with and among their own people. It has displaced the common understanding and linkages for peaceful coexistence and regional cooperation.

In order to reconnect the lost connectivity, trade and commerce and more importantly to foster emotional attachment among various ethnic groups inhabiting in the region infrastructures like roads, transports, communications electricity, banking etc. must be developed adequately. Such exercise would not only enlarge the base for the growth of the economy in the region but also enhance the regional cooperation– an engine of growth in this era of globalization.

Underdevelopment breeds insurgency and insurgency retards development. This two are mutually reinforcing. This is a classic case of vicious cycle of underdevelopment-insurgency-underdevelopment. Therefore, any policy programmes either to resolve the problems of insurgency or development of much needed infrastructure should go concurrently and not sequentially as it hampered the progress of one another.

Further, as it has been asserted in the Planning Commission report on Transforming the Northeast, the approach of the central government should change from “planning for the Northeast to planning with the Northeast”. INAV

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