Has the Central government lost its plot in the Northeast? At this moment there seems to be an utter lack of focus on its dealing with the Northeast. It has special full-fledged ministries and departments meant to look after the Northeast Region. These include the Department of Northeast Affairs, DoNER and the North Eastern Council, NEC, which are nodal bodies to monitor development activities in the region. There are also the other regular departments shouldering normal activities of governance in the region. Yet, there seems to be such an abysmal lack of coordination or a composite blueprint to which each can contribute to, so that each of these wings of administration not only can coordinate with each other, but more importantly, not end up working at cross purposes. A familiar anecdote sketches this picture succinctly. It tells of the sanction of a road construction project by the Indian government in neighbouring Myanmar prompted by the deep inroads rival China has made in the regard.
The story goes that after much navigation and negotiations in the web of bureaucratic red tapes in New Delhi, a road project in Myanmar was approved, however midway into the execution of the project, it was discovered a number of bridges along the road had become weak and those on the ground demanded the issue be addressed so that fresh funds can be made available for the repair of the bridges. Bureaucratic red tapes ensured any discussion on the new problem was shelved on the refrain that the project was for road construction and not bridges building. Technically this is not wrong, but it tells of a pathetic disconnect between political will and bureaucratic obsession with protocol-dictated processes. In the end, the job is left doomed though on course. This scenario of chaos democracy often throws up also serves as a parallel to imagined accounts of how authoritarian regimes, in particular China, would execute such projects. Here the political and bureaucratic will are identical and hence there would have been no question of a conflict of interpretation of the political visions and bureaucratic execution of them.
This “democratic chaos” marks much of the Central government’s policies in the Northeast, be it in matters of the various peace negotiations with underground militants or in matters of deciding appropriate interventions, or at least offers of it, to bail state governments out of various crises. Of the latter, Manipur is the prime example. Nearly four months of the state coming under a siege because of blockades on the two national highways that connect it to the rest of the country, and despite the knowledge that the upkeep of national highways is as much its responsibility as it is of the state government, it has been simply content watching what has essentially turned into a humanitarian crisis and waiting for the storm to blow over on its own. At other times, it would take unilateral decisions on what ought to be also a state government prerogative, the loudest example of which was witnessed in May 2010 when without consulting the state government the Union home ministry decided to permit NSCN(IM) leader, Th. Muivah to enter the state, causing social tensions as well as distress for the state government.
If not for this general adhocism in the Centre’s dealing with the Northeast states, much of the turmoil could have been avoided. Come to think of it, this adhocism is not a recent phenomenon. It has been around since the birth of the modern Indian State. The manner in which the Merger of Manipur was pushed in 1949 as well as subsequent major landmark concessions made to Manipur, such as the grant of Union territory, statehood, language recognition under the 8th Schedule etc, are evidence of this same lack of a tangible vision or sustained political outlook when it come to the Northeast. Should it not be time some coordinated composite policy is evolved? The DoNER, NEC and other nodal agencies handling Northeast affairs can then productively and cohesively work in harmony with each other for the common good of the Northeast and thereby the nation.