Senior journalist & author
Senior journalist & author
Importance of North East to India and his new book-'Highway 39'
- When was the first time you came to Northeast India? For how long did you travel in the region for this book? Asked by: rupam
- Good day, friends, delighted to be on chat with all of you. Am in Shillong as type this. Rupam, I travelled to NE for the first time in the 1990s. I began work on my book Highway 39 in 2007 and completed the travel and main research by mid-2010. It took a year to write it, and some more months for the publishers to release it.
- It is said the that NE residents are not fully integrated to the idea of a part of the nation INDIA. The rebel problems continues. The GOI does grant good sum of funds and hands it over to the ELECTED government in the respective states. Is their a proper use of it happening.?? Asked by: sundar1950in
- Hi Sundar. The obtuseness of Indian policymakers began the mess in NE. It helps to give people a patient hearing, instead of trying to bomb, shoot, burn and rape them into submission.Think about it: why would people fight one another unless they were driven to fight over a reason or compulsion? And what are political leaders and administrators supposed to do—in an ideal world—but maintain stability and ensure development? I blame the political leadership of India since India’s independence for generating the mess from bad governance and non-governance in several parts of NE. Equally, I would place the blame at the door of political leadership of the North-east who have absorbed the worst practices of arrogance, divide-and-rule and corruption from their ‘Mainland’ counterparts. For many of these people the economy of conflict appears to be more seductive than the economy of peace. Nagaland and Manipur are prime current examples of great neglect and grand thievery. The excuse that political leaders don’t have time for development is specious, I recently conveyed to a paper in NE. It’s a lie proven many times over. The lie needs to continually be nailed.
- Bangladesh,Myanmar,China - - three important neighbours - - not a very cordial relations with them. Strategically important for us both on security and economic front has the GOI done much to improve the situation ?? Will such a move help NE states to prosperity ?? Asked by: sundar1950in
- For sure a robust relationship with Bangladesh and Myanmar will help NE. There is already heightened policy and business interest in the region, for reasons as wide-ranging as relative peace in Assam and several other states, cooling of political temperatures within Myanmar that can lead to a greater security and commercial interaction with India, greater cooperation with Bangladesh, and so on. There is also in some key circles a realisation that the past sins committed by Government of India need to be erased; and patronising attitude, too. Relative peace followed by greater development and economic activity can only be a magnet for commercial interests in trade and industry, both from India and overseas. I strongly expect the discourse to morph from conflict to resolution of conflict. And that can only be a good thing. Just days ago I attended a gathering in Mumbai which specifically discussed northeast India. It was attended by foreign policy and security experts, diplomats, businessmen, and representatives of several companies. They were drawn by the fact that what I like to call India’s “Overlook Northeast Policy” was finally beginning to slowly change, finally coming around on the same road as India’s so-called “Look East Policy”. China is a big card in the world, and it is the biggest card in this part of the world. This is a reality and there can be no escaping it. There can be no overstating or understating of the China factor.
- is goose neck is really a problem to harness resources from NE India..?? Asked by: Priyank Jain
- Hi Priyank. Actually it's "chicken's neck"!! Yes it's a problem, because people from NE have to make a really long trek to get to what they call "Mainland" India. Because there is no easy link that allows India to use Bangladeshi rail, road and waterway links to India adds to the problem, the movment of people and commerce. I pray this changes soon!
- I happen to be from Imphal, Manipur. I read the excerpts of your book. It gave me goose-bumps. It reminded me the constant struggle that the people of this region go through everyday in the fight for survival. Do you believe at least some amount of the truth can be expose with your book? Best wishes for your book Asked by: Manjit Ch
- Manjit, hi. Thank you for your kind words--I am so happy the story means something to you. It is a very disturbing story and that's why I wrote it. People elsewhere need to know what your people have suffered all these years. And how they are still suffering. Truth, even the harshest truth, should be exposed. I hope "Highway 39" contributes to that purpose. All people want is simple dignity and livelihood. And they have been tortured and killed for it. Shameful.
- we have insurgents all over the north-east...so how valid is the argument of removing the AFSPA from the most sensitive zone...i believe the entire NE is more sensitive than Kasmir Asked by: Man Mohan (NAINITAL)
- AFSPA is over-rated for its need. It is nothing more than a fig-leaf for the armed forces to kill on the merest suspicion--and then not be held accountable unless specifically cleared by Govt of India. Civilians are targetted, abused, killed. Is this a law tosecure India? Or a law to create more ill-will towards India? There are already enough laws under IPC, CrPC, NSA to do what security establishment needs to do. AFSPA must be repealed. It is now protecting the wrong, the incorrect, the vicious and the corrupt.
- does your book have a reference to Myanmar and the trade through the national highway 39 Asked by: Man Mohan (NAINITAL)
- Yes, it does, Man Mohan-ji. And I plan to work on regional trade in future.
- North East is strategically very important for India. Besides that it has a tremendous potential for developing tourism. The mountain towns are virgin and tiurists can seek solace in these places. What needs to be done is adequate advertisement shoiuld be made like the one Guprat tourism is doing with Amitabh Bhachan. Besides tourists fro abroad we as Indians need to realise that we have such lovely places in the East like Ziro, Dapriojo, Itanagar in Arunachal ans a number of such places in the seven sisters. We also need to build up infrastructure to attract the tourists.Do you agree??? Asked by: Arun
- You're absolutely right, Arun. But first, there must be lasting peace. Otherwise, how can tourism (preferably sustainable and well-ordered) develop? I came to Shillong one day early because there is a bandh called by ULFA in Assam tomorrow, to protest sonia gandhi's visit. The Manipur tourism office at Imphal airport is always closed. Their prized lake, Loktak, has an army camp and they don't like people visiting it. I can go on and on...but peace governance first: tourism will follow.
- with a democratic government at the helm of affairs in Myanmar and an INdia friendly government in Bangladesh, how far you feel the profligacy of militancy in the North East will be stemmed? Asked by: harsh
- Myanmar is not yet quite fully democratic, Harsh, but your point is well taken about Myanmar and bangladesh. Militancy in NE is already being choked because of better relations with Myanmar and bangladesh. ULFA has seen a sanctuary weakened--a reason why a major faction came above ground in Assam. Influenced by India, a Naga faction, NSCN (Khaplang) has signed a ceasefire agreement with Myanmar--many years after signing one with India. This alone can lead to NSCN (K) reducing its support for PLA and UNLF in Manipur. There are several other examples. But this alone won'y stop conflict. You need to stop/stem the reasons for conflict: bad policy, official arrogance, cynical politics, intense corruption. (Maoist rebels in India have no sanctuary outside India--and yet they fight. There must be a reason, right?)
- The people in the North east ar real nice people who are always happy and very hospitable. We need to assure them that they are part of India and accept them. The discrimination happening in various parts of the country against is deplorable. Is it that a friendly and happy nature should be misconstrued.Lret us stop the degraded people induldging oin such actions need to be nipped in the bud. Asked by: Arun
- I couldn't agree more, Arun. And it is good to see that people from NE are forming support groups across Indian metros and other major urban clusters. These groups are already sensitizing local police and citizens in these places. Having said that, I must add that I don’t think such reactions are generally against Northeasterners, but are born of xenophobia that can manifest itself in any part of India. Ask a Bihari in Mumbai, a Kannadiga (or, for that matter, any ‘outsider’) in Goa, or an Oriya or Bihari in Kolkata. Or, ask a Mussalman who goes looking for accommodation in a predominantly Hindu area. I like the idea of India, but perhaps Indians need to work at the idea too. Anything can trigger a reaction: insecurity about livelihood, deep-rooted bias, so many things. Deeply tragic though the "Loitam Richard" and "Dana" incidents are, it is not as if the entire state—or country—were against the youngsters. They had the misfortune to run up against some very sick people. Positive interaction can only come about when individuals or groups of people begin to mix more freely with other individuals and groups.
- Development Vs Eco preservation - - -0 - - Do you think that any development programmes will disturb the Eco system and culture of the NE states. Has this come in the way of NE gaining prominence on the economic front and bringing up the standard of living in the NE states. Asked by: sundar1950in
- I believe it's up to the people and sub-regions and states of NE to choose a situation, a future, not a one-size-fits-all diktat for either development or preservation of ecology and culture from Govt of India in New Delhi. And, as you know, conflict has also contributed to the lack of development. It seems the economy of conflict is still more seductive for vested interests than the economy of peace.
- Mainland India has never given a fair treatment to NE. It has always been subjected to step-motherly treatment. This has let the people of this region vent their anger with insurgency. As a collateral damage of counter insurgency, you see rampant killings, human right violations, extortion, what else? Asked by: Manjit Ch
- In addition to what you mention, I see good, bright,energetic people losing an opportunity to grow and develop their region and integrate better with the region and the world. I see Republic of India hurting itself by hurting its own people--this is so very foolish, so very tragic. I see abundant natural and intellectual resources of NE being denied to NE. I see a vicious cycle of administration that is blind to the future. I see China finally forcing India to increase the pace of development and peace in NE India...
- I agree that the Central Govt and state govts in the north east have misgoverned the seven sisters. however, you appaer to be biased against the Armed forces. They are trying to firefight and douse the flames created bty the misgoveranance. Your comment about the lake not been accessible to tourist by the Army needs to be taken in ligt of the threat from the people who have taken up arms against the misgovernance. Why cant the politicians who are responsible for the situation targeted or is it that they are encouraging attacks on the Armed forces who atre doing their duty as ordered just to gain political mileage. How many politicians have been killed of\r attacked in the past. it is only the citizens who are agitated on the misgovernance and the armed forces who are doing their duty as has been ordered by the political bosses.PLESE DONT BLAME AND BELITTLE THE FORCES WHO ARE DOING THEIR DUTY. If they have their way they would didobey the political masters but this would ammount bto mutiny. Asked by: Arun
- If armed forces commit an error and "sin", then what is the harm in admitting to it, and paying the price? Are armed forces above the law in a democracy? I am not biased about the armed forces (in fact, I am invited by the armed forces to talk to them!). I am also not biased towards untruths. My book (as with my other books) contains views of every side and tries to present the reality of each side--including the political vultures who lead our police, paramilitary and soldiers into impossble situations and use them for fire-fighting. Where is the honour, Arun, in a soldier raping a young girl? Putting people inside a place of worship and then burning it down (with the people inside)? Is there honour in torture, gratuitous or otherwise? Is this the "duty" of armed forces? Is there honour when a "loved" general declares if one of his soldiers rapes 10 women and still has the energy to walk 60 km and fight, then it's a good, honourable soldier? Is deliberate overkill part of the code of duty and honour? Are these orders specifically given by politicians? Let's be clear, Arun, about what constitutes "duty" and "honour" and "reality". Do we have the courage to admit that Nehru and succeeding PMs let loose the army and security forces, and did nothing when these people committed atrocities by interpreting such "letting loose" in their own way to create fear and terror? Let's own up to truths, all truths.
- It is difficult for the security forces to fight against insurgents as has been seen in Sri Lanka. It is nimpossible to distinguish between an insurgent and common people and thhis leads to colateral damage. incase the security forcrces dont act immediately they land up in danger as has beemn seen in anti Naxalite action. However such colteral damageincreases the number of insurgents. Theonly solution is the politicians to forfget their vested intersets and help in sorting the state of affaitrs. Asked by: Anonymous
- Dear Anonymous,I agree entirely that it is a difficult task. And Icouldn't agree more about politicians and their vested interests creating and maintaining the problem. But who will bell these vultures? Citizens of India need to. Pressure the vultures. Vote them out, if we can.
- Dont make the Armed forces the vilians in the drame. it is the politicians who are the vilians who r enouraging the misguided youth the attack the security forces who have to defend themselves.Politiocians be it from all across the spectrum are responsible for all the mess and the underdevelopment in the North East. How often have we heard these youth attacking the politicians which proeves that they are their masters. Asked by: Anonymous
- Armed Forces contribute to the villany in the drama, dear Anonymous. You cannot imagine how many armed forces officers and men I have met (and police officers and sipahis) who are disgusted with what they have had to do--and some of their colleagues continue to do. These are men with honour, but there are those who treat human beings even worse than they would treat a weak animal.
- Having lived in a remote tribal area in the country for three years my experience has been that the tribals manage themselves better and live more harmoniously when outsiders do not invade their space.the flip side is that they do not get the materialistic things of life enjoyed by others. How can this conflict be resolved.? Asked by: sundar1950in
- I believe it is up to the tribals to decide what they want and need--after they are presented with a choice. This is a difficult call, Sundar, and it cannot be easy for tribal people as well as their well-wishers.
- North-East so much gas reserves...i mean Tripura alone has reserves which could sufficiently meet the needs of the entire NE for years...why aren't steps taken to extract it and reduce our dependency on imports Asked by: Man Mohan (NAINITAL)
- Man Mohan-ji, I guess the answer would be: conflict and relative instability in the region, bad planning and policy (this includes not building exploration,extraction, and distribution capacities), not taking local pepole into confidence, and (for taking this resource to the "mainland" after sharing it with people in NE, lack of pipelines and transportation corridors through Bangladesh). There may be other factors I have missed
- I agree that the security personnel invoved in attrocities be punished severely. However how many NGO and intellectuals have take up the cases of the rebelks brutally killing security personnel. Why dont they go after the people who are responsible for this situation. This is basically because =it suitest the polititian to save his vote bank. Asked by: Arun
- Excellent point, Arun. We have need to have more NGOs and intellectuals that pursue, investigate and expose wrong-doers from all sides of the conflict. Politicians included. The media has strong role to play as well.
- As an expert, what do you see/suggest about the newly opened Manipur-Mandalay bus service between Manipur and Myannar relations? Asked by: shane, MNP
- Hi Shane, I'm not an expert :-), merely an observer, analyst and writer who learns every day! I think the proposed bus service is an excellent idea. There should be much mroe interaction at every level between Myanmar and India--and Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal are at the leading edge of this endeavour. Relationships can be driven by national policy but can only be sustained by citizens from all levels of society--businessmen included, incidentally. (And I hope to be on that bus when it starts!)
- People hailing from the other parts of India, or atleast from the South of India, including me, knows very little about the NE! NE has infact remained foreign to us.! bet it through the books, films, or even news. What do you think is the reason for this isolation? being an Indian i am so keen to travel and know the feel of NE States. But NE is not promoted. Asked by: Alok Padman
- The reasons are several, Alok. Perhaps the key one is that, nearly from the beginning, independent India has entered into conflict with people from NE region, when they wanted dialogue on identities and livelihoods. Ensuing conflict, its brutality(most often, government-mandated brutality) ensured further resentment and conflcit. Much of NE picked up the tag of a "troubled area" at one time or another. So, why would a person from outside want to travel to NE--astoundingly beautiful and interesting and hospitable as it may be. I am happy to report that tourist traffic to NE regions (even a state as blasted and hurting as Manipur) is picking up. This can only be to the greater good. You can travel freely to Assam, Arunachal (but with a permit), most of Nagaland (come for the Hornbill festival this December!), many parts of Manipur (though you have to put up with police and army checks--like in J&K), Tripura, Mizoram and Meghalaya (I am in Shillong right now!). These are lovely places with great food and people. They take you into their hearts if you're not in the business (as govts tend to be) of insulting, hurting and killing them. I love travelling here. It's a an adventure. Come, join it. Lasting peace and developmemnt willing, NE will surely emerge as one of the most sought-after destinations in the South Asian and South-east Asian region. Try it! :-) AND THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR INTEREST AND TIME IN THIS CHAT. I HOPE I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS ADEQUATELY--EVEN THOUGH SOMEOF YOU MAY NOT AGREE WITH WHAT I HAVE SAID. IN THAT CASE, LET'S AGREE TO DISAGREE! (And those among you who choose to read my book 'Highway 39' in which all issues we discussed today are covered/mentioned/related, please let me know your thoughts via the 'Highway 39' Facebook page. HAVE A GOOD DAY. HAVE A GOOD FUTURE. PEACE.
More chats with:Sudeep Chakravarti
Senior journalist & author