‘Need for political understanding and solidarity among the states of northeast India’
(The following is the script of the public lecture Imphal Free Press editor Pradip Phanjoubam delivered in Guwahati on January 19, 2019)
At the very outset, let me thank the Radhikamohan Bhagowati Memorial Trust for inviting me to give this important lecture in the memory of a respected journalist and public intellectual of the Northeast region. I unfortunately did not know him personally, but from the accounts of him from those who knew him, he was uncompromising in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the region we call home, and in imparting the insights he gathered through his long illustrious career to the younger generation who he hoped would carry forward the pursuit, never letting the spirit of inquiry diminish. All of us in the profession of journalism are indeed fortunate to have a public intellectual of his calibre pioneering the way in this perpetual quest.
Given the unsettling developments in our region in the past fortnight after the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, (CAB hereafter), I have had to revise and update this paper. The response in the entire Northeast has been strong. Quite ironically, the current troubles have brought the Northeast on a single platform. This is yet another demonstration of the common destiny that the people of the region share, however, the challenge before all stake holders here is to find this same bondage not just in times of extraordinary crises, but also in ordinary times of peace. The event has also brought to the fore other inherent contradictions within the region which have much deeper historical roots dating back to the colonial days and even beyond. It is painful to note therefore, the sharp division of opinions, on the CAB and its acceptability.
What has to be kept in mind at such times is that conflicts result when a society’s model for peace is flawed. Often conflict prone societies neglect or even camouflage entrenched frictions within them so that the resultant surface calm can be projected as peace. This approach of a reluctance or else a refusal to acknowledge these fault lines invariably cause residual disenchantments among its population, and when such social toxins accumulate to critical points, outbreaks of open conflicts become inevitable. Alongside the search for solidarity then, the Northeast must also be ready for periodic honest soul searches for these inner fissures, and then confront them equally honestly, keeping in mind our commitments as civilised societies to the larger humanitarian causes. On the immigration issue for instance the balance that we must strive for is first to tell and convince the world that apprehensions that make the place see population influx as cultural invasion is not mere xenophobia as many so readily assume, but an instinct for self-preservation, well within the parameters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, of the United Nations. However, in the expression of these anxieties, we will also have to be considerate of the compulsions of those who we see as threats. Maintaining this balance is critical.
At this juncture, judging by the peculiar turns of history that the Northeast has had to deal with, it does seem there is little other way visible than a syncretic future. This is especially so because human migration is as old as the human race itself. When migration is at a pace the host communities can easily accommodate without detriment to its own social organism, cultural syncretism has always been the automatic outcome. Indeed, if a genome study were to be done, it is quite likely most of all those who call themselves indigenous linguistic communities will discover how disparate their origins are, proving this contention on syncretism. It is only when the pace of population influx gets to be beyond this threshold of natural accommodation that host communities begin to feel threatened and resist. Added to this is the fact that democracy is a number game, and those who have the numbers are the ones who gets to hold the levers of state power. Worst still, if the migrant communities have intents of colonisation, considering themselves culturally superior to their hosts, and treating the latter with patronising condescension, the sense of invasion felt by the hosts naturally would get even more acute.
In any reflection on these issues, let us never forget that for the Northeast, a unified front will also be an invaluable tactics. Unity in this sense will not only be a question of spiritual solidarity, but a strategy in democracy’s number game, and the eight Northeast states together command 25 Lok Sabha seats. Cutting across party lines, if our representatives can have a mechanism to evolve consensual voices on issues of the region, the region will begin to matter much more in the policy making processes of the nation. Unity literally is strength in this sense. The region also has 15 Rajya Sabha seats, and currently with one nominated member, Mary Kom, the number is 16. If some unity can be brought, this too is a number which cannot be slighted by anybody. What is called for is a method for working out a calibrated loyalty of our MPs. Parliamentary democracy demands they also pledge their loyalties to the party on which tickets they were elected, but on issues where their original parties do not take harsh positions, and if these issues pertain to the Northeast region, they can campaign together for support of the cause.
Giving a comprehensive historical profile of the Northeast is not simple. Likewise, encapsulating the problems of the region in any linear narrative will be next to impossible, not at least in the space of a single paper. But there are certain illustrative examples of the problem unfolding before our very eyes. Keeping in mind that assessing an unfolding emotive problem as a subject-analysts immersed in the problem being analysed can be problematic and the result may have limitations of unavoidable subjectivity, I have chosen to take a more dispassionate tour of a similar problem in the neighbourhood – the Rohingya tragedy in Myanmar. As all of us would have seen in the many commentaries and reactions how easy it is to cast this crisis in the familiar stereotype of Buddhist Myanmar going on a genocidal campaign against Muslim Rohingyas. I am not ruling out that it may actually be this, and racial hatred and xenophobia may very well be a major cause behind the crisis. Still, it would be helpful to see what else are the likely the causes behind the perceived hate campaign.
The most recent event that brought the Rohingya crisis back to the fore was Amnesty International’s withdraw of its prestigious Ambassador of Conscience award from the Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for her stoic silence and seeming defence of her country’s systematic persecution of the Rohingya community, close to seven lakhs of whom are now seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh and elsewhere. No doubt about it that the Rohingya crisis is grave and justice must prevail. But let it also not be forgotten there are other likely layers of tragedy embedded in this crisis. Experience in the Northeast tells us this layering of tragedies has been a familiar pattern. Suu Kyi probably deserves the international censure, but the moral support she has from a great section of her countrymen other than the Rohingyas calls for reflection. Can an entire population of over 53 million be suffering from a disproportionate sense of persecution? Or is there something of what has been referred to, especially in the Singhala-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka, as the ‘majority with a minority complex’ on display? The allegation is that the Rohingyas have been seeing an unnatural population growth in Myanmar because of constant influx of their linguistic, religious and ethnic cousins — Muslim Bangladeshis. Indeed, the Myanmar government and a good section of the country’s population have been refusing to recognize the Rohingya as an independent ethnic group, claiming that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Is this a case of plain bigotry of the Myanmar government and its majority Buddhist population or is this a case of fresh waves of population influxes from Bangladesh weakening the case of the original Rohingya ethnicity claim? These are relevant questions to be probed, if not for anything else, then at least in the interest of diagnosing the problem accurately so remedial measures do not go wrong. Nobody will disagree that social media forums are no disseminator of accurate information, and what appears on them requires close vetting to weed out propaganda and outrightly fake news, but all the same it remains a useful litmus test to sense the mood of people on issues. My own sense on the Rohingya question from using social media, such as Facebook is, though divided, there is a good section in the Northeast who tend not to dismiss the Myanmar Buddhist apprehension as mere xenophobia.
The minority complex of the majority community of Myanmar can be explained thus. Although the Buddhists are a majority in Myanmar, when the entire region including Bangladesh is considered, they are a minority. Moreover, the Rakhine state where the Rohingyas are located is also the home of several other small, non-mainstream, non-Myanma, Buddhist ethnic groups, in particular the Rakhine, Marma and Kamein, whose closest ethnic cousins are the Chakmas and Marmas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, CHT, of Bangladesh. These groups have exactly the fate of the CHT to fear in assessing their own situation if the allegation of unchecked immigration and integration of Muslim Bangladeshis into the Rohingya population is true.
At the time of Partition, CHT opted to be with India as the Buddhist communities felt their affinity was with India and not Pakistan. But controversially, CHT was awarded to Pakistan by the Radcliffe Commission, some say as a quid pro quo for the award of Gurdaspur in the Western sector to India. Today, the constant influx of Bengali Muslims has marginalized the Chakmas and others, and, after a failed insurrection, many of them fled to India and are now taking refuge in many parts of the Northeast, in particular Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.
As I have stated above, Suu Kyi does seem to have a good measure of sympathy in the Northeast as the Rohingya crisis has touched a raw nerve here too. The current controversies in Assam, first over the National Register of Citizens and now the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, prompted by the same apprehension of a shift in demographic profile of the state, is just one indicator of this shared demographic insecurity. This fear is shared across the Northeast, and this is expected. Demographic overturn has happened in Tripura and the consequences are known. It is again this fear that is behind the periodic outbreaks of ethnic violence in territories overseen by the Bodoland Territorial Council, and so also the demand for the introduction of the Inner Line Permit system in Manipur.
This majority with minority complex was also evident in Bhutan when in the 1990s the then kingdom decided to evict nearly one lakh Lhotshampa settlers of Nepalese origin from its southern provinces. The ethnic Bhutanese, the most dominant group amongst whom are the Ngalop, are the majority in their country of eight lakh, but in the larger region of Nepal, North Bengal and Sikkim, they are outnumbered greatly by the Nepalis — therefore their extreme response. The Bhutanese, in turn, had the fate of the erstwhile monastic state of Sikkim in mind to fear the possible loss of their own kingdom. Sikkim it may be recalled, chose to merge with India in 1975 by a controversial referendum preceded by large scale influx of pro-India Nepali population from adjoining North Bengal areas into the kingdom.
A look at the latest UNESCO list of endangered languages published in 2010 will give a sense of the vulnerability of the Northeast from this vantage.All languages spoken in the region, except Bengali and Assamese, are classified “vulnerable”, and at least two dozen of these are “critically endangered”. In this classification, “vulnerable” languages are not only marked by the smallness of the number of speakers but most children speak the language restricted to certain domains (such as ‘home’); in the “definitely endangered” category, children no longer learn the language as mother tongue; in “severely endangered”, the language is spoken by grandparents and older generations, while the parental generation may understand it but does not speak it with children or among themselves; in “critically endangered”, the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently. Extinct languages have no speakers left.
This is a grim picture. As the renowned literary critic and activist, G.N. Devy, had said in an interview, when a language dies, along with it dies a unique world view. The Rohingya humanitarian crisis must be resolved and the refugees facilitated to return to their homes. But in assessing the crisis and others like it, embedded layers of deeper human tragedies must not be ignored if justice is the end. When more languages of small communities have died, the world must not be left to rage against the dying of more lights or to write literary obituaries about them. Let me emphasis yet again, this balance between obvious and hidden catastrophes must not be lost in our analysis of cataclysmic human events. Let these events not be reduced to linear, black and white, narratives which are blind to the complexities of any human situation. The Northeast is a case in point.
Northeast as Geopolitical Reality
The topic of this lecture suggested to me by the trust, which I enthusiastically accepted is “The Need for Political Understanding and Solidarity Among the States of Northeast India”. This has always been a subject very close to my heart for many reason, other than the fact that I belong to this region and have a stake in its common welfare. For instance, much of my quest have been on the idea of the Northeast. What were the determining factors, indeed compulsions, in the evolution of the unique identity of the place? How much of this was primordial in nature or and how much constructed out of political exigencies? Are the politics that shaped the region internally driven or did geopolitics have a role in it? My own discovery has been, like all other complex identities, nothing has been in black and white terms. Of particular interest to me has been the geopolitical factors, and one of my two books so far, “The Northeast Question: Conflicts and Frontiers (Routledge 2016)” has this as a primary inquiry. To indulge with some counterfactual speculations, would the northern boundary and indeed the general psychology of the people of the Northeast have been the same had Tibet not emerged as a battleground for the Great Game of the late 19th and early 20th Century between Imperial Russia and Britain? The relevance of the McMahon Line for instance would probably have been completely different had Tibet remained as another monastic state like Bhutan, acting as the fulcrum between the two great Asian giants China and India. We know for instance that China was made a party in the Simla Conference of 1913-14 because of the St. Petersburg Treaty 1907, in which Britain literally bullied Russia, then suffering a battered morale after a decisive naval defeat at the hands of Japan in 1905, to go by the terms it set, including both parties staying away from Tibet and if at all either needed to engage Tibet, to do so with China (which Britain then thought was a lesser danger) as the interlocutor. Had this not been so, the Simla Conference and the boundary treaty that resulted out of it could have been a bilateral agreement between New Delhi and Lhasa. We also know that midway the Simla Conference, after listening to the claims of traditional territory and actual control by both the Tibetan and Chinese plenipotentiaries, it occurred to Henry McMahon that the Tibet solution may lie in borrowing from the manner Russia settled the Mongolia issue by creating Inner and Outer Mongolia. For a long time, China’s objection was to this notion of Inner and Outer Tibet, and not so much the creation of Tibet’s boundary with India. I bring this issue up just as a reminder of the interrelatedness of the larger Asian region in colonial times and that the Northeast was not left untouched by this larger politics. Otherwise, who would have imagined the making of the northern boundary of the Northeast would have been influenced, though indirectly, by the Mongolian settlement.
The idea of the Northeast is disparate in terms of linguistic and ethnic composition. However, despite this diversity, its regional identity is not random or arbitrary as some have proposed. It materialised out of certain geopolitical realities. Above all, it is bound by its unique physical geography marked by fertile riverine valleys surrounded by lofty mountains. As to how geography shapes the psychology and indeed the very character of people inhabiting them is well acknowledged. Halford Mackinder’s 1904 classic essay “Geographical Pivot of History” on the national psychology of heartland and rimland nations and consequently how they perceive the question of threat and security is well known. He was presciently talking of the tensions that would ultimately lead to the two World Wars of the 20th Century, but it underscored the important link between geography and conflicts. In modern times, others like Robert Kaplan have taken the argument further to say that most of the conflicts we witness today are predetermined by geographical destiny in his important book “The Revenge of Geography”. Kaplan sketches a number of conflict scenarios and attributes the tensions that drove them to their peculiar geographies. The case of the Nile river basin is interesting and illustrative. Very briefly he says the importance of the Nile to the Egyptian Civilisation is also the fact that the wind blows against the direction of the river’s flow making it extremely navigable. A vessel only needs to put its sails up and the wind would take it upstream and only needs to lower its sails and the current would bring it downstream. Apart from the fecundity the river has given its alluvial plains, it was vital for transportation, both military and civil. The Nile thus came to occupy a sacrosanct space in the civilizational memory of Egypt that even today, even though the Nile does not command the same importance in Egypt’s political economy as it once did, Egypt is still ready to go to war with any nations in the upper Nile basin which would tamper with the river.
It would be helpful to try assessing the unseen bondages between the different communities living in the region, now in eight states, as well as the general tendency of people from outside to see the region as a single identity, from through this lens of geography. The panic exodus of people from the Northeast from Bangalore in August of 2016 was clear indication of these perceptions of the place as a unique entity, both by the Northeast and others. To reiterate my point again, these are no accidents. They conform to a destiny predetermined by geography. This is a reality we cannot run away from, and therefore it is in the best interest of all of us to accommodate it to our best common and consensual advantage.
It is also not as if we are waking up to this reality only now. The place and its people have been always coping and accommodating this predicament to the best of their imagination. A brief profile of what might have been socio-economic condition of the region at the onset of modernity introduced by British colonialism will be helpful in taking this argument forward. Though generalised to a much wider region and not Northeast specific, James Scott’s “Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchic History of Upland South East Asia”, provides some illuminating clues. Scott observes in the book that the mountainous landmass to the north of South East Asia, including the Northeast (which another scholar Willem Schendel christened “Zomia” and he developed to perfection in the book), is interspersed by fertile valleys surrounded mountainous hinterlands. This topographical quality has led to a peculiar pattern of social formation. The valleys discover wet rice agriculture. Arrival of technologies revolutionise their economies further. For instance, the revolutionary changes that the arrival of the knowledge and skill to yoke cattle to pull the plough would have brought is imaginable. It would have released so many able-bodied men and women from the binds of food production, paving the way for the rise of other professions and enterprises, ultimately leading to the emergence of the state amongst them. The state after all is a mechanism for managing surplus goods and services. Scott quite appropriately calls these the “Paddy States”. While this was happening in the valleys, in the hills food production remained subsistent, largely of hunting gathering and unproductive jhum cultivation. Surplus production being out of the question, these communities had no need for the state. Not only did the state not emerge amongst them, in Scott’s words, they also constantly and consciously evaded the encroachment of the centralised bureaucracies of the Paddy States into their traditional domains. Although not always the prefect picture, this dynamic was also what all accounts of the region in the pre-colonial period indicated was its reality. It must also be said, the communities evolved some very imaginative and effective ways of bridging the gulf between these two worlds – the Paddy States and the non-State mountains. The Posa system in Assam, by which the Paddy State and the non-state hill tribes ensured mutual peace is one. In this arrangement, the Paddy State acknowledged that seasonal raids by hill tribesmen into the plains were driven by compulsions of shortages during lean seasons, and allowed these tribes to levy some taxes in terms of crop yields from its foothill subject villages on the assurances of there would be no raids in the plains, and consequently no counter punitive raids from by the Paddy State. The British, after they took over Assam, not only found this tradition useful, but also monetise it, and in the process made it an effective tool of dominance and control. They also fashioned a treaty with the Bhutias in 1865 modelled on the Posa system, to forbid the latter from raiding the Duars plains for an annual cash compensation. We know this 1865 treaty is what was modified in 1910 in Thimpu in the wake of a last burst of aggression by the Qing Dynasty China before its ultimate collapse in 1912. But while the aggression lasted China took over Tibet and there were serious dangers of the Chinese extending their influence in Bhutan. In effect, the 1910 Bhutan treaty, merely added one para to the 1865 treaty to make India the overseer of Bhutan’s foreign policy, making it mandatory for Bhutan to not conduct its foreign affairs without consultation with British India.
In Manipur too similar conflict resolution traditions came into being, and the Paddy State in the central valley and their hill brethren, in a post-harvest festival called Mera Houchongba, exchanged gifts in kind, mostly agricultural produces, looking after each other’s needs while at the same time revisiting old ties and strengthening them. The tradition is today revived in an obvious effort to foster better relationship between the hill and valley community, dangerously estranged in modern times. These are wisdoms from the past and they all tell a story of give and take accommodation, sometimes out of mutual generosity and affinity, and sometimes out of the necessity of avoiding mutually wasteful conflicts. The present generation must learn from them and fashion their own peace deals suited to the needs of the time of all stake holders.
Why the Northeast title
The word “Northeast”, in the Indian context is now a proper noun. The spelling is sometimes North-East, used as a compound noun, but also as a noun adjunct, as in North-East India. Unlike what the name suggests, Northeast no longer connotes just a region of India located in that direction, but has come to have many layers of nuanced meanings. These include cultural, developmental, geographical, strategic and racial among others.
But why is the Northeast not known as East or East India? If the region’s coordinates were to have determined this nomenclature, it cannot have been as seen from Delhi, from where the place is almost directly east. For the region to be directionally northeast, the centre would have had to be somewhere further south. This indeed was British Calcutta from where the Northeast was indeed north easterly. The British formally annexed Assam in 1826 with the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo with the then Ava (Burmese) kingdom which had invaded and occupied the latter. Annexed Assam was initially made a part of Bengal and British administrative records began using the term North-East while referring to this new territory. For instance, Alexander Mackenzie who joined the Indian Civil Service in 1862 wrote a well-known paper, Memorandum on the North-East Frontier of Bengal (1869). An updated version of this memorandum became a book in 1884, History of the Relations of the Government with the Hill Tribes of the North-East frontier of Bengal.
In 1873, a year ahead of the separation of Assam from Bengal to become a minor province under a chief commissioner, another landmark frontier administrative device, the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, was introduced. This regulation created the contentious “Inner Line” drawn along the foot of the hills which virtually surround the Assam’s two major river valleys, dividing the revenue districts in the plains and the non-revenue hills inhabited by “wild tribes”. Two distinct administrative norms evolve no sooner for these two categories of frontier territory. This regulation is also the first British law enacted with respect to Assam, as colonial historian Edward A. Gait writes in A History of Assam. Gait explains that “such laws are called ‘Regulations’ to distinguish them from the ‘Acts’, or laws passed after discussion in the legislature”.
Territories beyond the Inner Line were considered as backward tracts and largely excluded from modern revenue administration the British introduced. They were instead left un-administered but under the broad gaze of the chief commissioner and later the governor of the province, which essentially translated to periodic area domination military expeditions into these hills. By the Government of India Act 1919, territories beyond the Inner Line were classified as “Excluded Areas” and left out of the newly introduced partly representative provincial government to continue to be under the charge of the governor. More administrative reforms came with the Government of India Act 1935, but much of these hill territories remained classified as “Excluded Areas”, while some were upgraded as “Partially Excluded Areas” and were allowed to send some representatives to the provincial government, although not through popular election but by nomination of the governor.
From British records, it is also certain that there was a school of thought which did not consider the Northeast as emotionally, culturally and ethnically part of sub-continental India and this outlook became pronounced as Indian independence became imminent. Administrative notes by British civil servants are loud testimonies of this. Olaf Caroe for instance in 1940 wrote a paper The Mongolian Fringe, which referenced the Himalayan region, including areas such as Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and northern Assam as racially different from “India Proper”, being inhabited predominantly by people with Mongolian ethnic affinities. There were more such notes by other important civil servants written along the same line. These authors include Robert Reid, James P. Mills, Andrew G. Clow and Philip F. Adams. Of these, a 22-page note by Robert Reid who became governor of Assam in 1937, A Note on the Future of the Present Excluded, Partially Excluded and Tribal Areas of Assam is most interesting. The concluding lines of Reid’s paper summarises the content of this note: “There must inevitably be some bargaining with Indian leaders … but to bargain with alien politicians over the future of non-Indian Mongolian areas would be a breach of faith. These areas do not, and cannot, form part of India, and to recognise the facts is to recognise the necessity for special treatment.” An Oxford professor, Reginald Coupland, with permission used Reid’s suggestions in the last of three Oxford volumes on problems of constitution making in India he was compiling in 1943, and sometimes Reid’s idea is falsely credited to him as the “Coupland Plan”. The plan was ultimately not accepted for many reasons, but what it envisaged was to leave the hill regions of the Northeast together with contiguous mountainous Upper Burma as a Crown Colony, neither under India nor Burma. Interestingly the map of this proposed Crown Colony bears resemblance to a portion of what James C. Scott much later visualised as Zomia.
The Crown Colony plan was aborted, but the psychological distance that British administrators saw between “India Proper” and the Northeast stayed. Ashok Mitra minced no words writing of this. In a 2012 newspaper column he pointed out that when Burma was separated from British India in 1937 to become a separate colony, there were no protests from Indian nationalists even though the Indian freedom struggle was near its peak then. He speculates that if at the time the British had also decided the Northeast too should be separated from India, there probably would have been little or no protest again.
Hence even today, alongside the commendable efforts such as the establishment of the NEC and DoNER ministry, the Northeast continues to be administered as a frontier inhabited by people with doubtful emotional affiliation with the nation. The continued promulgation of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 in the region is evidence. This Act legitimises use of the military in dealing with civil unrests in areas declared as disturbed and gives the army sweeping powers, including the use of force to the extent of causing death on mere suspicion, search and arrest without warrant, etc. The army personnel acting under AFSPA are also given very broad legal impunity. AFSPA is applicable to the Northeast and from 1990 to Kashmir, exclusively, giving it a racial tinge. India has not heeded appeals, even by United Nations Human Rights Commission, to have the AFSPA repealed or moderated, although in 2004, the government did set up a committee under a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Jeeven Reddy, to suggest ways to, in the words of the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, “humanise” the AFSPA. The committee in 2005 recommended repeal of the AFSPA and incorporating some its provision in the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, UAPA, but these recommendations were shelved. Expectedly, charges of state atrocities on civil populations in the Northeast and Kashmir are plenty. As for instance, in an allegation of 1528 recorded fake encounter killings in Manipur, the Supreme Court in July 2017 gave a damning verdict against the security forces.
Besides the AFSPA, there are two other laws peculiar to the Northeast, which again indicate the same irredentist suspicion. One is the Protected Area Permit, PAP, and the other the Restricted Area Permit, RAP. The PAP requires all foreigners who wish to travel in some Northeast states to first acquire a special permit. The RAP restricts foreigners from travelling in certain designated areas even if they have the PAP. The PAP, since 1 January 2011 has been conditionally relaxed to make it an extendable leash of one year at a time. Foreigners, except nationals of Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, can now visit these states, though they are required to inform the state authorities of their presence at their points of entry. The RAP areas have also been considerably reduced.
In keeping with the subject of this lecture, what I have done is to show why the Northeast must acknowledge its geographical destiny and how this has been one of the most important determinants of politics on the larger canvas of the nation as well as the world. Since there is no way any of us can avoid what has been foreordained by geography, the best way forward is to accommodate and adjust to this destiny for the mutual benefit of all. The second problem that I have engaged follows from the first. In any attempt to understand the human conditions and relationships, in war and peace, it would be fallacious to assess the Northeast as a single-layered canvas. There are multiple layers, many of them not so obvious as they remain hidden from sight under cloaks of dominant narratives of larger nationalistic loyalties and even internationally accepted broad-brushes of moral rectitude. All these layers must be identified and addressed adequately and proportionately if any lasting resolutions to the vexed problems of the region. Then there is the question of strength in unity. Democracy being a number game, and the eight Northeast states together command 25 Lok Sabha seats and if our MPs can evolve a consensual voice on issues of the region, the region will begin to matter much more to the nation and its policies.
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