The election results are out. And they are not surprising. But the fact of the matter is that there is a mandate by the masters in any democracy – the people, jata. They have given a clear indication that they cannot be taken for a ride, conscious as they are as to what has been done to them in the me of development – vikaas – and what has not been. What has not been is crucial. It can run into volumes. For, and as anyone knows, development in the real sense has never figured in political imagition and action. The story has mostly been about pompous talks, little action. Or, no action at all in some startling cases.
Northeast India, in the socio-economic sense, is synonymous with underdevelopment. Lack of industry, pathetic infrastructure, unemployment scourge only growing by the day, monstrosity of corruption, violence (both non-state and state), scant regards for work ethics, health and education woes – all these have crippled the engine of growth in the region. It is another matter, however, that political executives, especially from Assam (the leader of the region in many ways), are never tired of trumpeting slogans like ‘NE has arrived at last’ vis-à-vis the much-vaunted Act East Policy, Modi’s version of the erstwhile Look East Policy.
galand went to the polls on a precarious note. There were calls by pro-‘ga solution’ votaries, including of course the ubiquitous NSCN(IM), to boycott the dance of democracy. All farce, they yelled. First the solution, they demanded, decibel touching the sky. For them, a satisfactory solution to the ga imbroglio was – and is – the foremost priority, nothing else is and can be, however significant be the role that elections play in any functioning democracy that we aspire to be in the true sense. But it did not matter. ‘Solution’ mattered. For, the acute problem of ga identity – their uniqueness, their history, their sense of who they really are and how different they really are from the so-called mainland of India and yet how compelling it has been for them to accept the Indian Constitution and live as part of India despite the reality being so starkly different – could not be allowed to fester any more. It must be resolved first. Then elections. Then only would elections be meaningful. They were obstite about it. And yet elections did take place. And the turnout? Well, it was a resounding 80 per cent plus. This was some news then.
What is its significance? galand has had the country’s oldest running ‘insurgency’. I have put the word insurgency in single quote because there does exist a line of difference – sometimes thin, sometimes thick – between insurgency and terrorism. The State’s was an insurgency, as experts on insurgency would tell us, when it started with the legendary Phizo’s call for secession from India right after Independence. But with the split in the NSCN in 1988, and with subsequent meandering vis-à-vis the origil cause coupled with internecine fights between the outfit’s two factions (later to become three factions), much of the hue of insurgency was diminished. Extortion rackets began to grow enormously, and when innocents started losing their lives at the altar of a ‘revolutiory cause’, it became difficult to qualify the insurrection – whether it was a genuine people’s militant movement against a state they did not believe in and with which they did not want to co-exist because they were essentially different both racially and historically, or whether it was just another show of senseless violence because the boys did not have anything better to do on earth.
Be that as it may, the significance of over 80 per cent turnout is that the people of the State still have tremendous faith in Indian democracy. They turned out in such huge numbers to exercise their valuable franchise because they have a matrix of aspirations to fulfil within the arc of the democracy they are blessed with – Indian democracy, which the ‘revolutiory’ NSCN factions do not adhere to, because they are chasing the chimera of a finer democracy, of the socialist kind as they would inform us of. After all, did the NSCN veterans not land in Chi in its scent stage to learn lessons from their communist masters there, who would eventually train the former to wage war against democratic India? (Read the classic book Great Game East by acclaimed Swedish jourlist Bertil Lintner, an authority on East Asian insurgencies and rcotics.) But this is a different story that I shall write about some other day in this column.
Faith in Indian democracy – this is the message. This is especially so when it comes to the ga youth. Tired of senseless violence, not given as much to the historicity question vis-à-vis the ga cause – as espoused by the NSCN factions – as the militant leaders are at their recalcitrant best, wedded to the idea of New India on the Rise not out of compulsion but as a result of their faith in the engine of growth that the country’s economic bus has mutated to of late, and eager to participate in the New India story as the country rivals Chi to be an economic star in the next 10-15 years, the ga youth are a different breed today. In cities like Delhi and Bangalore, they have picked up jobs; racial prejudices they encounter in Delhi, for instance, to their utter anguish, are not deterring them from venturing out. They are going out, and they will. But back home, they do want development, especially employment avenues in their beloved land of birth so that they may stay in and prosper here itself. They have a burning desire. They want to prove their mettle right here. Give them a chance, and you will see. For that matter, check it out with any educated ga youth whose idea of galand blooms within the democratic architecture of India, its Constitution, its values of individual liberty (now they have the Right to Privacy too as a fundamental right, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling a few months ago) and secularism (no, the RSS and its affiliates cannot hijack the origil idea of Indian secularism, and they cannot decide who should eat what, beef or otherwise).
Development, the word is buzzing. As galand went to the polls last Tuesday (the results were out yesterday, and what a day it was for the BJP!), its commercial hub Dimapur had just one thing in mind, as media reports informed me the following day: people want development first, then the much-hyped, much-imagined ‘solution’ to the ga conundrum. For them, the ‘solution’ can wait, as it has for so many years, but pot-holed roads cannot. One Delhi-based metropolitan daily caught up with a 34-year-old housewife, Somi R orem, in Dimapur that day to hear her say, “See the condition of the roads here… Yes, we people in Dimapur want a solution to the ga issue, but the priority is development.” This sums up the whole story – whether ‘solution’ first or solution to the basic issues first.
This is a big question. Of the Himalayan proportion. But the NSCN(IM) leadership will disagree. It is a given. Nevertheless, the bold writings on the walls of places like Dimapur in galand – places that contribute to its economy – are clear and precise. Reality has hit the ‘sovereignty’ imagition. This could well be a big political turbout for some good PhD thesis in political science or sociology!
There is then the story of a 30-year-old Sema ga youth from Dimapur-II who told the media that eventful day: “It’s development and jobs for me first, then solution.” This gentleman is unemployed, but he is educated. It cuts a very sorry figure. In fact, it is a huge tragedy when real, basic issues affecting day-to-day lives are thrown to the dustbin and when a peculiar and strange political rrative, such as ‘framework agreement’, ‘ga cause’, ‘autonomy’, and what else on earth, takes centrestage and plays havoc with lives that matter, lives that have an intrinsic value element, lives that can go on to make a paradise of socio-economic growth and development in the picturesque State of galand.
Therefore, venerated netas, be it galand or any other State of Northeast India, your task is not just cut out, your task is right there on your table. Draw a framework, work on it, and implement it. You can, if, of course, you have the will. It is vikaas, at the end of the day, which matters. Nothing else does.