Although in a qualified way, the Protected Area Permit, PAP, has been lifted for a period of one year from Manipur and other Northeast states where the Act is applicable. This is welcome. This may not be the best case scenario, but all the same a good start. We hope the doors are not shut again abruptly on some pretext or the other, however flimsy, such as when a foreign visitor trips and sprains her ankle. Foreign visitors get murdered and molested in other parts of India by criminal elements routinely, but nobody ever thought of imposing the PAP there so why should it be here. Otherwise, Goa, Delhi and so many other places would already be fit cases for the PAP a long time ago. Obviously, the concern of the policy mandarins in New Delhi is not the welfare of foreign tourists in Manipur or Nagaland. The PAP on the other hand is nothing more than yet another unfortunate fallout of the official paranoia about the insurgency situation in these states. The thinking seems to be, controlling entry of foreigners is part of a larger counter-insurgency strategy. This is a hangover from the time when everything that went wrong in the Northeast was blamed on the never seen but always cited “foreign hand”. It will also be recalled that this “foreign hand”, at least in the case of Nagaland, once upon a time was translated to mean “Christian missionaries”. The condescending retorts of even Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to extremely well-drafted memorandums by Phizo on behalf of his Naga National Council, NNC, seeking sovereignty for Nagaland, submitted to the Government of India, GOI, that these documents could not have been conceived or written by anybody other than foreign Christian missionaries, or else at their behest, are well known. The presumption of illiteracy, backwardness and gullibility to instigations, have always been endemic, and it continues to this day. There can be no better proof for this than Acts such as the PAP. If this is not a show of official xenophobia, is it difficult to imagine what can be xenophobia.
There have also been very false arguments that if the people want the PAP, which prevents foreigners entering some north eastern states, to be removed, another Act, Inner Line Permit, ILP must go too. The ILP incidentally is not applicable in Manipur, and is today in effect only in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. There are however demands in some quarters that Manipur should be covered by the provisions of the ILP too. The argument that it should be both Acts repealed together, or none at all, is spurious precisely because the two Acts address two different concerns. The PAP is more akin to a grossly redundant travel permit for tourists. It is like a second visa for foreign visitors who come to India and want to travel to the Northeast. They also have to pay as much as they have had to pay to get an Indian visa by which they entered the country. The ILP on the other hand is designed to prevent permanent settlement of non locals within the ILP area. It is also a travel permit in a limited way, but it is easy and inexpensive to acquire. To use an analogy, the PAP is like a visa while the ILP is like a work permit. Those who argue the two are same wine in different bottles are either ignorant or else motivated manipulators working to cause a subterfuge to further their vested interests.
This is however not a case for the ILP. We are simply pointing out a serious flaw in a popular “statist” argument, which perhaps is a deliberate subterfuge. If the ILP too deserves to go, it should be on considerations of its own independent demerits, and not merely as a counterpoint of the PAP as many seem to think should be the case. This also of course means that if some states want the ILP introduced, it should also be on the consideration of its own independent merits and the context of these demands. The ILP and the PAP must not be allowed to become trade-off instruments in any quid pro quo arrangement, precisely because they are two unrelated pieces of legislation. However, all said and done, the new development is interesting for one other reason. So far all discussions on the much hyped Look East Policy were hollow because of paranoiac Acts like the PAP which disproportionately restrict foreign tourists. If things go as desired, matters on this front can and should change for the better.