By Bhaskar Phukan
When Edward Bulwar Lyton coined the phrase ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ as a dialogue for his play Richelieu, he perhaps had no idea as to the powerful implications that the small group of words he used as a dialogue for the play carried with it for the future. The huge uproar in the NE region over the reference to Northeasterners as ‘immigrants’ and ‘migrants’ in the vision document of the BJP for Delhi has proved Lyton’s point, showing the strength (or mischief) that the little writing gadget can wield when called for. Whether the words ‘immigrants’ and ‘migrants’ were used deliberately or erroneously is a different issue, but the moot point intended to be highlighted is that the two words with their connotations are correct and pertinent even after two hundred years.
Another factor that leads to misuse or abuse of words is lack of proper knowledge to express conceived ideas or subjects into black and white, or to put in simpler words, the adventure of writing about a topic or subject without adequate knowledge about the matter. To support the apprehension, we have Alexander Pope’s memorable saying that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. Pope had used this phrase in his writing ‘An Essay of Criticism’ in a different context, but the phrase has come to occupy a position among the sayings outlining eterl truths.
The implications of both these sayings appear to have bearings on the vision document episode. The loud and spontaneous protests were no doubt the result of the ill-written and ill-conceived document, where words used were ucceptable to the people of the Northeast. The excuse offered later that the mistake was clerical or technical also failed to hold any ground. After the word ‘migrant’ too was contested, the expression’ People of the North east’ was settled for filly by the party concerned. But the damage was already done, thanks to mis-strokes of the pen by some BJP functiory. The mistake has undone whatever goodwill the party had achieved. Due to these two words coming from a Delhiwalla’s pen, the saffron party may now have to undertake a huge damage repair exercise to regain the ground lost in the region.
The grouse of the people of the Northeast against Delhi is age-old and a common feeling of deprivation and discrimition runs through the region. And to add fuel to the already burning fire, this vision document episode was most uncalled for. But were the words ‘immigrant’ and ‘migrant’ used to appease a section of voters in the tiol capital territory whose favourite hobby is bashing up Northeasterners or was it because of idequate knowledge of geography or polity of the country or both? There is no way to know the actual reason, because the issue has been heavily obscured with multiple apologies and promises.
The superiority complex of north Indians over the remaining population of the country is explicit in their behavior and deeds. They are prone to laugh at the looks, language and general behavior of non-northerners, and more so in case of the people of the Northeast, the majority of whom have mongoloid looks. They have always been targets of uncivil behaviour and frequent violence and the women from the region have been victims of sexual abuse. Many Delhi landlords refrain from renting out premises to people of the Northeast. The number of such Delhiites who consider people from this region as kind of infiltrators is large, and to appease such people with voting rights seems quite plausible an argument that is in tune with this section of voters’ mindset. The vision document tried to appease them by making such a distinction.
It is again is a very unpalatable truth that many in the government at the Centre are totally ignorant about the NE region. The lack of proper study and monitoring can be attributed as the reasons for this serious lapse. One familiar characteristic of the average Delhiite is their aversion to be open to any idea about places that do not interest them. In their serious quest for geographical knowledge, they will learn about Philadelphia where one from their locality works, and explore the viability and possibility of finding jobs there. But they will refuse to learn anything about the easternmost area of their own country because it is of no use or utility.
Next comes the lack of proper knowledge of the English language. The English language very often appears to be a tricky spoilsport for many Indians, and unlike the people of the south and like most Indians, English cannot be said to be a strong point of Delhiites either. This truly is a matter that calls for great attention. Not to speak about those BJP functiories who drafted the vision document, many top leaders and office bearers of different political parties seem to be not too comfortable with the language. This lack of proficiency in English may have led to the wrong selection of words.
Speaking in plain terms, the manner in which the Delhi elections was handled by the ruling party at the Centre and the manner in which its nervousness was exposed — it is quite likely that lapses could occur. This is not to give the saffron party a clean chit, but the results of the election goes to explain a number of shortcomings on the part of the party’s electioneering modus operandi. The ‘immigrant and migrant’ issue apparently will deserve to be laid to rest only after the Central government fulfils the promises reiterated while trotting out clarifications to people of the Northeast for the mistake made.
The saying ‘’Dilli door ast’’ or “Delhi is too far” is as true today as it was when the king of Delhi Muhammad Shah uttered these words in the fourteenth century, to reassure himself that Delhi was not easily accessible to dir Shah the plunderer from the Middle East. He was proved wrong because dir Shah sacked, plundered and devastated Muhammad Shah’s Delhi. This was however in a different context. But whatever may be the distance of the Northeastern region from capital Delhi, the Central government must do away with its myopic vision towards this region and learn to respect this region and its people along with their hopes, aspirations and emotions. There has been too much deprivation, too much exploitation and too many betrayals. There must be an end to this casual attitude to the Northeast and it is time for Delhi to turn over a new leaf.