By Bikash Sarmah
Aruchal Pradesh is an interesting and curious paradigm of a project of tiolization in the post-independence context of democratization in India. Fresh from British colonialism that had ripped apart the Indian soul of self-respect and aspiring to mature into a functioning democracy – which it is yet not yet in the real sense – India had a mammoth task to contain its northeastern part, a region that had more affinity with Southeast Asia rather than with the so-called mainland of the country. As the country embarked on the daunting task of tion-building, the question that harassed policymakers’ minds was whether the building up of a new tion based on constitutiolism would have its different and unique northeastern region form a politically and economically harmonious part of what was then perceived to be a tiolistic construct. Aruchal, then called North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), was a Herculean task as it was in the case of areas such as present-day galand and Mizoram where rebellions against Indian sovereignty would soon erupt fiercely.
The case of Aruchal as part of the tiolization project became more challenging in the aftermath of the humiliation India suffered at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 war. With panic gripping right up to the Tezpur plains after the Chinese troops entered the Tawang sector in Aruchal, the strategic significance of Aruchal became the high talk of political executives, bureaucrats and security experts in New Delhi. Thus emated the notion of securitization – if one may use this word – of Aruchal in view of what Chi did and what it could do in the future too.
In fact NEFA was part of undivided Assam then, with the exception, however, that it was not ruled politically by Assam but by Delhi through the Governor of Assam acting as the Centre’s agent. The immediate imperative was development. But what kind of development? Whose development? Development at what cost? Development of a people who were indeed backward compared to the ones in the rest of the country, including in the rest of the Northeast too, or development of a strategically paramount territory in terms of infrastructure enhancement?
Many such questions came to the fore, and answers were not easy, given the complexity of the newly created federalism as a work in progress vis-à-vis NEFA as also the rest of the Northeast, and given also, and more importantly perhaps, the predicament thrown up by a bewildering mix of ethnicities of the frontier area that had nothing in common with what was called the idea of India.
The discourse prevalent during the time in the corridors of power in Delhi was that a developmental project converging on infrastructure enhancement – no matter if it entailed atrocities on the frontier area’s eco-diversity and environmental health – would have the Aruchalis feel that they were taken very good care of by the ‘mainstream’ and that they would soon form an important part of the pan-Indian growth story, while also making them feel that their customs and traditions, or their uniqueness as a people consisting of diverse tribes, would never be allowed to be diluted or corrupted by anyone from outside. This was part of the work that a “a cosmetic federal order” had set out to accomplish, as Prof Sanjib Baruah, an Assamese political scientist based in the US and one of the most discerning alysts of Northeast Indian political undercurrents, has argued forcefully in his widely acclaimed book Durable Disorder (Oxford).
This is what he says in the chapter “tiolizing Space” in that book: “Aruchal is a part of one of the global ‘hotspots’ of biodiversity and its mountain eco-system is fragile. Indeed a case could be made for putting the area under a legal regime that would give priority to policies for protecting the interests of its indigenous peoples (emphasis added) and to ture conservation. Even short of that, it is possible to outline a road to sustaible development that takes into account Aruchal’s exceptiol environmental wealth and its importance… The goal of tiolizing a frontier space, I would argue, has been the major thrust of Indian policy vis-à-vis Aruchal and Northeast India as a whole… this security driven process has led to creating a special regiol dispensation of small and fincially dependent States that in a formal sense are autonomous units of India’s federal polity; in terms of power vis-à-vis the central government, however, the form of federalism is little more than cosmetic. The logic of developmentalism is embedded in the institutions of the Indian state that have been put in place in pursuit of the goal of tiolizing space. Through demographic and other changes in the region the process has made India’s everyday control over this frontier space more effective, but at significant social, environmental and political costs… In Aruchal, I would argue, development discourse is the product of the Indian state’s push to tiolize the space of this frontier region. The developmentalist path that Aruchal has embarked upon is neither the result of a choice made by policy makers about what is best for the well-being of the people of Aruchal Pradesh, nor is it evidence of the inevitability of ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’. Rather, it is the intended and unintended consequence of the Indian state’s efforts to assert control over this frontier space and to make it part of India’s tiol space… The developmentalist path on which Aruchal has embarked can only be understood in the context of a Northeast policy that has been shaped by this concern for tiol security… However, the new regiol order is federal only in a cosmetic sense: the central government has powers over important areas and the tiol security establishment in New Delhi even has the capacity to monitor and control political developments.”
Having persolly known Prof Baruah for about a decade, this writer knows that his work on “understanding the politics of Northeast India” in relation to Aruchal is a result of a very meticulous research undertaking with corollaries of the best and most relevant political theories drawn from the best political scientists of the world. And having spent his formative years in Aruchal (his parents were posted there as government employees in the education department), this writer has had occasion to know the area, its people, their aspirations, and the clash of their aspirations with what New Delhi calls ‘development’, and the inference is only too obvious: that the task of ‘tiolizing’ the unique space called Aruchal (as is the case too with many tribal areas of the Northeast) cannot perhaps reach its logical conclusion because there perhaps cannot be any appreciable logic in forcing the idea of ‘tiolization’ on a people whose life and livelihood are based primarily on what and how they construe their unique culture, heritage, eco-system, and the possibility of sustaible development within the arc of their uniqueness as a hotbed of eco-diversity and environmental asset.
Hence perhaps the war cry by civil society activists or public activists advocating indigenous causes pertaining to environmental hazards against hydel projects being built in Aruchal as part of a grandiose development enterprise. Having had extensive talks with some educated and enlightened Aruchalis, this writer has been able to read the characteristic Aruchali pulse as to what development, in the real sense of development of an indigenous people for their empowerment and not for the material benefit of the already benefited lot outside, could mean for them: the conservation of their eco-diversity and development for them accruing from it, including by way of making tourism an industry in the State rather than any industry of iron and cement at the cost of a very fragile environment. In this scheme, perhaps tourism as an industry could be the best way to really tiolize the frontier State – people-to-people contact and sharing of ideas for a meaningful future without endangering any turalness. But this is a subject of another article later. (Sikkim is a case in point.)
Meanwhile, merely having CBSE as the board for education in government schools in Aruchal and having to have Hindi as a lingua franca in the State (strange it may sound but this is the reality due to the CBSE being the educatiol regime in the State) does not and cannot mean a realization of so-called tiolization.
(Bikash Sarmah, a freelance writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)