WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The massacre of 18 soldiers of the 6 Dogra Regiment in Manipur on Thursday morning set me thinking about how terrorism and militancy are far more prevalent in certain parts of our country than in others. What happened on Thursday morning was a case of our soldiers having to deal with well-armed militants in an area where they were totally unfamiliar with the terrain and where their adversaries knew virtually every inch of the land. This is yet another situation where even the best armed soldiers can be at a tactical disadvantage solely because they are unfamiliar with the terrain. What happened was very sad because it was such an unfair and unequal confrontation. My thoughts also went to the fact that the conflicts that arise between our Armed Forces and militants of different hues are conflicts between one group of soldiers paid for from the resources of willing taxpayers and another group that has maged to secure access to sophisticated arms and that are not on the side of the people, not paid by them and are therefore obliged to grab, stch and extort their means of survival from unwilling victims. I do not see many people taking sides even though they ought to be doing so because our soldiers are fighting in unfamiliar terrain on our behalf, whereas their adversaries have long sustained themselves by terrorizing the people and extorting money from them on the most questioble of pretexts.
Why is it that certain States of India abound in terrorist and militant groups, while others are hardly ever troubled by the antics of such groups? The number of reasons would probably exceed the number of active militant groups in Manipur, mely 40. And it is very likely that no two persons will agree on what constitutes the most vital reasons for the very rapid burgeoning of militant activities in States like Manipur, galand and Assam. But what is common about the States that affect the youth is perhaps significant. In all these States of the Northeast, there has been virtually no industrial development at all during the last four or five decades. Most of these States have remained in the special category States that depend on the Centre for assistance in the form of 90 per cent grant and 10 per cent loan. Of these States, Assam was the only one that had some kind of industry going. We had tea, we had oil and the tural gas associated with crude oil and we had timber. The tea industry is almost entirely in the hands of people from outside the State. The oil industry is run by corporations mostly in the public sector. As for timber, all we have done over the decades is to sell timber as logs outside the State. There has never been any visible effort to convert the timber into finished products within the State rather than letting people in other States convert our timber into valuable finished products. As such, much of the talk about Assam having tea, oil and timber (TOT) as industries really makes no sense. I, for one, am greatly pained by the crimil flaring of tural gas in Assam for several decades merely because no one had any plans for using this precious tural gas in any useful and productive manner. The gas cracker plant that is likely to be commissioned this month should have come more than 20 years ago. This would have created a large number of downstream industries that could have contributed largely to the industrial development of the State. Whether it is Assam, galand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura or Aruchal Pradesh, we have had no industrial development worth talking about during the last 30 or 35 years. During this period, Assam had just one more oil refinery. How many mainland Indian States can we think of that have had only one addition to their industries in 30 years? The outcome of this total failure to ensure any kind of industrial development is there for all to see. Assam has the highest percentage of unemployed youths in the entire country. The other States of the Northeast too have a very high level of unemployment, but since these States are much smaller the level of unemployment and frustration among the educated unemployed is less visible than in Assam.
What happens in the rural areas of Assam is extremely saddening. We have adolescents will do quite well in their school leaving examitions. Then, quite often, their parents have no means of sending them for higher education. Besides, people are also discouraged by the large number of graduates without jobs in the State. This is one reason why young people are not very enthusiastic about pursuing higher education. So, we have a situation where a fairly large number of boys and girls with IQs around 120 will find themselves at a dead end. There are no opportunities of higher education or of any kind of productive employment. And that is when they are tempted by the offers made by militant groups to recruit them. The very acceptance of such offers is motivated by two illusions. The first illusion relates to the equation of work and money. In our society, young people often tend to forget that they have a right to work and that this is a very sacred right. We often confuse the right to work with the right to money. In any civilized society, people have a right to honest work in order to be able to earn money and make a decent living. In any well planned civilized society, the right to work ought to be one of the fundamental rights. As far as the right to money is concerned, people have a right to their own money and not to public money or money that belongs to others. However, our political leaders have given them the erroneous notion that public money can be appropriated, by anyone who has the access to such money or the guts to stch it from others. During the last 14 years, this illusion has grown stronger among the people (especially the younger generation) because of what they have seen political leaders doing. During this period, the government itself has turned a blind eye on all misappropriation and siphoning out of public money from the exchequer for private gain. This ought to be evident from the large number of politicians as well as some bureaucrats who have maged to buy real estate in Delhi worth crores of rupees within a span of about 10 years. Given this systematic loot of public money that has been taking place through government offices, most people in Assam are beginning to be deluded into thinking that one does not have to work for money; one only has to have the right links to secure access to public money. And not unexpectedly, the wholesome connection between honest work and money for one’s livelihood is completely lost in the existing unholy mess. So militants have decided that there is nothing wrong about stching money, grabbing land and generally making one’s own shady ways to five-star lifestyles. But extorting money and grabbing land belonging to others is not an easy task unless one is armed against the custodians of the law. So the obvious thing to do is to join a militant group, get trained and armed and then use both training and arms to loot and extort. But since a militant or a so-called insurgent group cannot afford to be classed as robbers, the obvious modus operandi is to pretend that the insurgency and militancy is against a corrupt/autocratic/anti-people government which deserves to be pulled down. The custodians of the law are obliged to give these militants a wide berth because they are generally better armed than our police force. Militant groups of galand and Manipur have been extorting ‘taxes’ from citizens (including the bureaucracy) for years. The government is turally ashamed to admit such a fall from power as to be quite helpless in such a situation. So, in these States there is stout denial of the extortion by militant groups that has been going on for years in the form of regular monthly ‘taxes’ paid to militant groups. Militant groups also mage to get a huge slice of the astronomical amounts of sales tax that leaks out at the important check gates. All said and done, the so-called ‘insurgency’ and militancy in States like Assam, galand and Manipur is really militancy as business or even industry in States that have suffered due to a total lack of industrial development and a very high rate of unemployment coupled also with a very high level of corruption. Starting a militant group in the Northeast, running it efficiently (sometimes from Myanmar) collecting the monthly taxes, keeping the requisite supply of arms and ammunition going smoothly and eventually preparing for the charade called surrender are all inescapable exercises of carrying on the business called ‘insurgency’ or ‘militancy’ in the Northeast, but never by the correct me terrorism.