Since the UPA government did precious little to solve the many problems in the region during its 10-year tenure, people in the North-east hope the Narendra Modi team, backed by solid parliamentary strength, will be able to deliver the goods. Since assuming office in May last year, it has shown a sense of urgency to accelerate the development process in the North-east and has also realised a conducive atmosphere has to be created to achieve this purpose. It has already brought the Garo Hill’s oldest militant outfit — A’chik National Volunteer Council — to the national mainstream.
Apart from this, the Centre has to take a serious look at the protracted — nearly 18 years to be precise — Naga peace talks. The NSCN(M) leaders’ consistency in this respect is to be welcomed because it is a sure pointer to both sides’ sincerity about finding a solution acceptable to all. It is, however, ironic that the NSCN(IM) and its bête noire, the SS Khaplang, though being products of the same organisation and expounding the same cause, have never made any serious attempts to resolve their differences.
For all practical purposes, the spirit of the August 1997 ceasefire agreement between the NSCN(IM) and the Centre is dead – observed, as this is, more in the breach — and this, too, deserves New Delhi&’s attention. It is time Isak Swu and Th Muivah, now in their 80s, realise time and tide wait for no one. Since Indian interlocutor RN Ravi, with his vast knowledge of the region vis-a- vis insurgency, is ideally suited for the post, one hopes to hear some good news sooner rather than later.
The region has many other problems, one consistent irritant being Assam&’s border disputes with Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram. These borders had been tense ever since the creation of these four states in the 1960s and 1970s. So far, a temporary truce has kept tensions in check but occasional clashes occur every now and then. The Supreme Court- appointed boundary commission is yet to submit its reports and New Delhi needs to look sharp if peace and harmony along the inter-state borders is to be maintained.
The repatriation of about 32,000 Bru refugees from Tripura has defied solution. After fleeing Mizoram in 1997 following ethnic riots in which 10 people were killed, they have been living under pitiable conditions in Tripura&’s makeshift camps. The sooner this is settled, the better.
The Army&’s induction for civilian duty in any state is supposed to induce a sense of security, but quite the reverse is happening in Manipur. Repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been the people&’s persistent demand and even if, for the sake of law and order, the Act cannot be repealed, the possibility of its gradual withdrawal, as and when the situation improves, warrants consideration.
The Modi government must also take note of the June 2000 ban imposed by Manipur&’s Revolutionary People&’s Front, the political wing of the People&’s Liberation Army, on the screening of Hindi films. No shops have since been allowed to sell Hindi songs and videos and except for newscasts, cable operators have blacked out Hindi serials. Even signposts in the language have disappeared — and this defies imagination in what is supposed to be an Indian state! In effect, a pronounced victory for the extremists. The local BJP unit, now on a spree to register more members, will do well to keep this in mind and try to win over extremists to lift their 15-year ban.
Any national party keen on winning votes must first try to understand regional sentiments. The BJP has already hurt Manipuris’ feelings by unilaterally extending the Nagaland ceasefire to the state&’s four hills districts in June 2001 following the signing of what is called the “Bangkok agreement” with the NSCN(IM). The party had to back out following protests in which 18 people were killed in police firing.
Leave alone the rural areas, even most North-east state capitals do not have the basic amenities like uninterrupted electricity supply and drinking water facilities. In which connection, one wonders whatever happened to aid from foreign banks.