Needed: A Comprehensive and Real North-East PolicyThe deadly attack on army personnel in Manipur that left 18 dead and 11 seriously injured was rightly termed as Ã¢â¬ÅmindlessÃ¢â¬Â and Ã¢â¬Åvery distressingÃ¢â¬Â by the Prime Minister. It is suspected that the attackers came across the unmanned border from Myanmar near Moreh. United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (ULFW), an umbrella outfit comprising of NSCN (K), KYKL, KCP, PLA and UNLF among others, claimed responsibility for the dastardly attack.
By Sunil Garodia
The governmentÃ¢â¬â¢s response has been swift. It has ordered the army to undertake Ã¢â¬Ëdiscover and destroyÃ¢â¬â¢ operation against the militants and their camps. It has also said that no one involved in the ambush should be allowed to escape. But if the militants actually came from across the border, not much is likely to be achieved as they must have gone back to Myanmar.
The Modi government has a declared intention of developing the North East. This is long overdue. Any such development will materialize only after militancy is rooted out from the region. But is force the only way to root out militancy. One is not suggesting that the army operation ordered is wrong. There has to be a two-pronged approach. There are more than 50 groups in Manipur alone. Some of them have to be neutralized. Others have to be brought to the talks table.
The whole of North East is simmering with discontent for a long time. Successive governments have done little to address the problem. The region was way down in the list of priorities, despite a separate ministry for it. But the Modi government has committed itself to the growth of this region. Hence the time is now ripe to initiate measures to bring peace to the region. Ever since the NSCN (K) walked out of a 15 year old ceasefire, it is actively uniting several groups. It has to be brought back to the negotiating table.
The task is complicated mainly due to three things: one, there are too many militant groups fighting for the real and perceived grievances of each state; two, most of these groups operate from across the Myanmar or Bangladesh border; three, these groups have an aversion to talk to the government and four, even when some sort of agreement is reached with these groups, the elements who surrender and are pardoned institutionalize the racket of extortion and disturb the region. This happened in Assam as ULFA elements who surrendered became SULFA Ã¢â¬" or surrendered ULFA and started collecting yearly Ã¢â¬ËtaxÃ¢â¬â¢ from tea gardens and other business establishments. It has now been institutionalized to a fine degree and people pay up as there is no alternative.
Although Bangladesh has addressed Indian concerns over militant camps in its territory, some still remain. But Myanmar has become the new hotspot for these groups. The hilly terrain affords them the opportunity to strike without being exposed. The army needs helicopters for air surveillance, which should become the norm. Another area of concern is the sophisticated weaponry these groups are accessing. They used rocket propelled grenades in the Manipur attack. Further, they also seem to possess army movement information in advance, pointing to infiltration in the security forces.
The government will need to start afresh. All real and perceived grievances from all groups as well as the general public need to be listed and addressed according to the law of the nation. Those that can be granted need to be granted without delay. For those that are unacceptable, the government will have to explain to the public why they cannot be granted. A way has to be found to first minimize and then root out the discontent. Rapid development of infrastructure and industrialization will generate jobs and bring prosperity to the region, reducing the recruitment of youth in these militant outfits. As of now, industry exists only in Assam.
The time for only lip service has long gone. Some concrete proposals need to be generated for the region. Investors have to be found as not one wants to invest in a disturbed region. There is widespread corruption and crony capitalism there due to which people do not receive the benefits of government schemes. A small percentage of people in the region have amassed huge wealth and the lot of the poor has remained the same. This situation has to be corrected. The people need to get the benefits and also the fruits of development.
Further, with increasing number of attacks on people from the region in rest of India, especially Delhi and Bangalore, there is resentment in the region. They feel that the rest of the country does not treat them as their own. They feel that their girls are treated as sluts. The government needs to address this problem through a series of measures designed to promote the integration of these people in the national mainstream.
With China showing increased intransigence over the border in general and Arunachal Pradesh in particular, the region has assumed great geopolitical significance. India has always refrained from constructing roads in the border area out of the fear of giving an easy passage to the Chinese army. But that will no longer do. Any development in the area will come about only when proper infrastructure exists. In this regard, the proposal to construct Bharat Mala highway from the north east to Gujarat and then around the coastal areas is a welcome move. It will bring increased connectivity to the area. The transit facilities being negotiated with Bangladesh will also help.
The region needs a helping hand to nurse it back to normalcy. The Modi government is ideally placed to provide it. It has envisaged huge infrastructure products including industrial corridors. Some of these have to be provided in this region. The people should realize that the government is now walking the talk. In the past, most projects that were announced did not see the light of the day. If projects actually come up, only then will normalcy return.