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Mending Fences, Building Bridges

Maj. Gen. D. Banerjee

By Nischal Nath Pandey
Institute for South Asian Studies, 2008

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 12 December 2008

Alas if this was actually so! Border regions in India are like dead ends; they are terminal points and lead nowhere. They do not connect regions and they do not allow passage. Absence of contact and connectivity creates a feeling of isolation and leads often to hostility rather than friendliness with neighbours. All around India borders only fence people in, and permit no interaction. This is the tragedy of India’s North East. If they are also insurgency prone, with limited political clout and an unclear sense of identity with the rest of the nation the situation is further worsened. This results in their tending to remain out of sight and out of mind of political leaders based in Delhi who shape policies and control purse strings.   In this excellent account by Nischal Nath Pandey the several travails, difficulties and dilemmas of the region is accurately captured. Pity that this analysis had to come from a Nepalese scholar and the project supported by a foreign institution at Singapore. But what matters is the substance, the comprehensive data and the detailed analysis supported by statistics.   Singapore’s sponsoring of this project is understandable. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signing the Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN in December 2008 at Bangkok, trade between the region and India is poised to take off. But, will India’s North East, the region physically closest to ASEAN, benefit and indeed make this possible? The key to the process will be an understanding of the region and its possibilities. As Pandey shows the region has several advantages. It has a comparatively lower population density, though growing fast; a high state of literacy, without sufficient opportunities for higher education; but woefully inadequate industrial or economically gainful possibilities. Much of this neglect is because of the spectre of insurgency that has come to characterize this region.   Nagaland witnessed the earliest of all insurgencies in India, that began a day before independence. Actually, the Indian state’s res-ponse overall was both mature and restrained. It used minimum though necessary force and under Nehru’s overall guidance allowed the political process to be suitably addressed. The sense of alienation was redressed through grant of autonomy and statehood and accommodation of the people’s will. But, the subsequent inability of the state to follow up on promises made and provide a degree of reasonable governance, has allowed the problem to fester. In ...

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