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Of the Centre and the Periphery

Kishalay Bhattacharjee

By M.S. Prabhakara
Routledge, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 286, Rs. 795.00


Just when journalism in India is going through a transition of sorts, when values and ethics lost in the process are being questioned, M.S. Prabhakara’s book Looking Back Into The Future helps restore some faith. The book is a collection of Prabhakara’s dispatches over the last few decades from India’s North East. It is almost fashionable to tag places and situations as complex and multilayered particularly when the understanding of that place or situation is inadequate and North East India infamously wears that hat. This book breaks that ‘complexity’ down and offers a window of opportunity to look back and pick up the answers which the present and the future will surely be asking. It is interesting that Prabhakara divides his reportage into neat sections that in his view follows the story of this region. I am in agreement with him when he starts with the ‘politics of a script’ because language we forget has been a means of great political upheavals whether Bengali versus Urdu in East Pakistan or Bodo language in Assam. That’s where the book takes off and rightfully so. Refer to the title again and the immediate future of Assam resonates in this first chapter. There is news that along the North Bank of the Brahmaputra preparation is underway for a renewed agitation demanding a separate Bodo state. Prabhakara had written this article in 1974 where he ended on an ominous note; ‘It is not at all certain that the present agitation (if it ever goes beyond the demand for a script of choice), the incipient demand for Udayachal and an Ujani Assam state and other equally frivolous demands are not part of the whole Ne region, weakening the constituent units into heavily subsidized little bureaucratic empires, with an army of officers and policemen and contractors bloated on good things of life, keeping things in shape and maintaining Law and Order. But to divide is also to multiply.’ Prabhakara does not merely report on the language agitation of 1974 or the perceived hegemony of one script over another. He goes much deeper explaining the origin of Bodos underlining the social and cultural pegs to what is emerging as Assam’s future conflict. All the articles compiled in this book go much beyond the mere ground report. Academic studies on conflict in India is woefully weak on primary sources and field work and books ...

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