The problems that North-East India face are not today’s. And at least since Independence, we know who to blame for it. No one from any government at the Centre can say they had not neglected the region. The rest of India has continuously done so, and I can give hundreds of examples of this, which would sound like accusations but are true. Take for example the bridges over the Brahmaputra or the oil refineries. For each one of them, the people of Assam have had to agitate, while in other parts of the country they come as part of the normal developmental process.
What is worse is that whatever the Centre does or gives to the North-East, it is made to sound as if it has been some kind of alms, some kind of favour. That does not happen when things are given to other states, say Bihar or Maharashtra. So, if people of the region feel disgruntled and alienated, it is very much justified.
The people of the North-East are very simple in their behaviour and outlook towards life, and the governments at the Centre have always taken advantage of that. Most of the genuine grievances of the people there have been allowed to fester over decades and never attended to when they were solvable. Now, many of that has solidified and aggravated into militant movements. I don’s support militant approach to problems but then it has been allowed to happen by the uncaring political class, both at the Centre and the region.
Let me give you one recorded example. When the Naga leader Phizo wanted to meet the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai in London, he was told that first he had to announce his allegiance to the Indian Constitution. It is simply beyond me how can a leader refuse to meet someone from his own country just because he has problems with our Constitution. You go and meet and discuss, only through which problems can be resolved, not by such attitudes. First the problems will allowed to be aggravated, and not resolved when they would be in their very initial, resolvable phases, and then Army would be brought in to roughly to control things when it becomes uncomfortable.
Local politicians of the region have also largely failed to play their roles. Did any of the region’s MPs get together in Delhi to jointly raise the issue of recent serial blasts in Assam? All they do is blame one another. People of the region have lost their faith in them long back.
The leadership of the region has also failed to make new generations aware about the resources of our region. For example, I can bet that 99.99 per cent school and college students in Assam would not be able to say five sentences about the process that converts tea leaves into tea. I don’t blame the youth for that, it is the failure of the region’s policy makers that we don’t know about our own resources. Imagine, if a process had been formulated immediately after Independence to make the students aware about the region’s resources, now many be 70 per cent of the tea business would have been in the hands of local people. The same goes for each and every resource of our region, be in timber or oil.
(As told to Utpal Borpujari)