As a sequel to my earlier article: 'Wheels Within Wheels - India's North East' I would like to take a more personalized stance on the matter. The earlier article was more 'detached' as I wanted to get the historical base clear first, although I am aware of the fact that there are still many gaps there.
I reiterate my position, that the matter is far too complex for any simplistic notions, which many scholars and journalists are adept at: like for example seeing the problem as ethnic, minorities versus majorities, dislike for particular communities or a particular community. The sweeping statements of some scholars that the problems are economic has also to be anatomized. It is undoubtedly one of the reasons, land being a crucial factor here, but the economics of it all is exacerbated by poor connectivity of roads, and the lack of space with the outer world. And instead of obviating this problem, our policy makers are suddenly talking about IT, when say over 60% of a state like Meghalaya is without one of the basic amenities - electricity!
And then there is this singular approach to all the problems of the North East, as if it is one single entity having problems that are common to ALL states. A historical perspective has to be developed for analysis. For example Manipur and Meghalaya had kingdoms some of which did not accede to the Indian nation, at the time of Independence. In fact one of the Khasi Syiems (loosely meaning Kings) refused to come overground and spent his life in what is now Bangladesh, where he died.
The historicity of facts in the North East is very important to make significant and critical appraisals of what is happening in the present. The history of the Ahom kingdom of Assam, the import of Vaishnavism in Manipur from Bengal, the history of the Christian Missionaries, the proximity of what is now Bangladesh in Meghalya and the border trades there have a historical rationale. And by wiping these out by simply talking about 'Look East ' policies, the hinterland being bordered by several nations, we are putting the classic and proverbial cart before the horse. We are politicizing all issues, making North East India saleable, catchy in the academic and cultural 'markets'.
It is a fashion to write anything on North East, have seminars on the region, interview its cultural ambassadors, make a fetish of everything there, little knowing the inner sensitivities prevalent, the cultural matrixes; for example for right or for wrong Tripura has now become predominantly Bengali, the Cachar district of Assam is Bengali speaking, hence a Bengali ethos also forms part of the social, cultural and political milieus of North East India.
I have been born and brought up in Shillong, I live there and am of Bengali parentage, I identify only with my state that is Meghalaya to root out my historical origins and certainly not West Bengal. In Shillong where I studied and taught I had the good fortune to interact with the different communities of North East India who came there to study, Shillong was and still is an academic hub of North East India especially for the tribal communities. And mind you Meghalaya was politically carved out of the then Assam, so I have 'Assamese' loyalties as well! Even as I write this article, the death toll in Assam's Kokrajhar and allied districts climbs up, to fifty, the state blames the Centre, all things are falling apart, but just one or two or three bleeding hearts won't do.