The note that former Union home secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai, a bureaucrat very familiar with the Northeast states who is now retired, struck at lecture titled “Manipur: The Way Forward” in New Delhi recently is refreshing and in the same spirit welcome. Pillai is particularly familiar with Manipur and Nagaland, having been joint secretary and then secretary in charge of the Northeast for a long time during his long tenure. His lecture is a departure from the ever present background drone in everybody’s life in the state of the patronising appeals for “misguided brethrens” to return to the mainstream of life in the country. Pillai hit a strikingly different chord in his analysis of the problem in Manipur when he acknowledged that a grave wrong had been done to the state and its people when this erstwhile kingdom was overnight turned into a Part-C state after its merger with the Indian Union on October 15, 1949, two years after India attained independence from British colonialism. Among his suggestions towards a rectification of this historical injustice was for somebody authoritative in the Indian establishment, preferably the Prime Minister to officially apologise and this tremendous symbolic gesture of reconciliation to be followed up by more tangible actions. Among these were to include more of Northeast history and historical figures in the official history of India. He also acknowledged how misplaced and anachronistic the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958 is in democratic modern India, and joined the chorus of influential voices suggesting its repeal in the manner that the Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission of inquiry recommended. We hope his voice and other similar ones which are indeed multiplying, relative to say a decade ago, ultimately come to be heard in the corridors of powers in New Delhi.
What GK Pillai has said about Indian history and its deafening silence on the Northeast, has been dealt with by other scholars and investigators, including it must be said, Ramachandra Guha, who in his celebrated book with a title that is already a loud hint on the subject at hand “India After Gandhi” says very much the same thing very convincingly. Until the Gandhi era, which is another way of saying the era of the Indian freedom struggle, the scrutiny and censure of Indian historians on their blind spot with regards to the Northeast must be lenient for the phenomenon has to be understood in a different light. The formation of the modern Indian state very much hinged on British colonialism and the struggle against it and therefore its history too would be carried along by this immense tidal wave which gripped the Indian subcontinent of the time. Ultimate victory of this struggle came with an equal measure of trauma, the dimension of which has had few equals anywhere in the world anytime. The Partition of India on communal lines into India and Pakistan was the highpoint. The animus generated consumed even the life of the man considered the Father of the Nation.
If up to the end of the Gandhi era, Indian historiography was by compulsion unable to diversify its outlook beyond the Indian freedom struggle, to which the Northeast was to a great degree alien, except to an extent in Assam and a lesser extent in Manipur, after that era, it is unforgivable that Indian historiography’s attitude to the Northeast remained that of a frontier where the Indian State was still not entrenched enough or intended to be soon. This is so because the trajectory of Indian history changed drastically after Independence and indeed as Guha in half jest suggested, Indian history ended with Partition, Independence and Gandhi. For a long time Indian historians were looking for a central narrative thread to peg Indian history on. These were found in patches only. The Five Year Plans and the Nehruvian thrust on big dams and other infrastructure building, in the belief that these, as Nehru himself had described, were the modern temples of India. There were also the wars and skirmishes with Pakistan and China. However there was nothing much to fill the historical spaces in between. It was also in this historical vacuum that the Northeast problems began to raise their heads. Even against this eventuality, Indian historiography continued to look away from the Northeast, and this is the unpardonable academic lapse, or arrogance, that have been allowed in India’s nation building drive for the last six decades. GK Pillai’s lecture in New Delhi is an honourable attempt at correcting this gigantic anomaly in Indian nation building, and we for one extend our thanks and kudos to the retired bureaucrat of renown.