Soothing Balm & the Iron Fist

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The Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India has constituted a special committee headed by MP Bezbaruah, a retired bureaucrat, presently member of the North East Council. Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs is the member secretary of the committee, joined by four retired bureaucrats as members. It is said that the committee will examine the security concerns and discrimination against the people from the Northeastern states of India. The committee will suggest measures to be taken up by the government and legal remedies to address the issue. Meanwhile, the Delhi Police in the capital is not sitting quite either; they have also rolled up their sleeves by setting up a ‘Special Cell’ to address policing issues especially related with the Northeast. Special helpline to accept distress call from the people of the Northeast has been made accessible. While highlighting an action plan for greater integration of the Northeast with the rest of the country, the National Democratic Alliance’s newly appointed minister for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar has recently exhorted that the Northeast should be India’s gateway to South-East Asia and therefore connectivity of television and radio should be strengthen in the region. We are sure the minister is already aware and does not have to be reminded that television connectivity is already here after the satellite television boom in India. We have all kinds of channels in our drawing rooms, but as viewers at the receiving end. DD Northeast is one channel that telecast Northeast programs. Javadekar’s ministry needs to be clear about the core area that requires strengthening. Ideas have also been flaunted that Northeast should be a filming destination and more films from the Northeast should be included in the film festivals. The idea is stimulating, for it purportedly recognises the significance of film as a strong medium. Yet the viability of the filmic idea is left to be seen.

There is nothing new or special about the elaborate arrangement taken up by the MHA and the Delhi Police vis-à-vis the Northeast people in Delhi. On the one hand you try to apply a soothing balm to the wounds of the Northeast people, particularly in the capital region and on the other you control the Northeast region with an iron fist. The government of India’s concern for the Northeast does not end with ‘special committees’ or ‘special cell’ of the police. There is even a separate ministry for the Northeast. Pratap Bhanu Mehta of Centre for Policy Research taking a jibe on the ministry said, “If ever there was a ministry designed to convince the people of a particular region that they were not a normal part of India”, that is the ministry of Northeast. Sanjib Baruah in his hard-hitting essay ‘Generals as Governors’ from his book Durable Disorder gives a critical account of the militaristic mindset that the Indian state has of the Northeast region. Baruah argues that ‘the apex decision-making node (of the Northeast) is the Home Ministry in New Delhi housed in North Block on Raisina Hill. The operational node which implements the decisions consists of the Indian Army, and other military, police and intelligence units controlled by the central and state governments, and involves complex coordination’. The retired army general VK Singh’s appointment as minister of state for Development of North Eastern Region perhaps vindicates Baruah’s argument.

 

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