Dialogue  July-September  2008, Volume 10  No. 1

North-East Scan

Investment in the Northeast

D. N. Bezboruah*



Now that we have a ministry in the Union Government for the Development of the North Eastern Region (DoNER) there has been a lot of brouhaha in New Delhi about doing everything possible to bring the region to the level of the rest of the country as far as development is concerned. The very fact that a new ministry called DoNER had to be created speaks volumes of the visible disparity in development in the region. One simple fact of life may be worth noting. Soon after Independence, when the present States of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland were parts of Assam, Assam had a per capita income that was far above the national average and which was the fourth or fifth highest among the Indian States. Today, Assam has a per capita GDP that is about the fourth from the bottom. The other States of the Northeast are somewhat better off because there are more liberal grants to tribal States and also because the development grants from the Centre have been better utilized by the other north-eastern States than Assam has managed to do. However, some of the States of the Northeast have more people below the poverty line than in the heartland States of India . In fact, more than one Union Minister has come out with the depressing fact that the Northeast would have to manage an economic growth rate of just over 13 per cent for the next ten years in order to be at par with the rest of India . Considering that even the growth rate for India as a whole has had to be revised from 8.5 or nine per cent to a little over seven per cent, a 13 per cent growth rate seems impossible anywhere in the world.

     The main reason for this should be readily apparent even to the most casual observer of the Northeast. For the last 30 years or so, there has been no industry worth talking about in the Northeast. The only new industry that comes to mind is the Numaligarh Refinery that came up in Assam many years after the Assam Accord even though a



commitment about a refinery had been made by the Centre when the Assam Accord was signed in August 1995. It was a commitment like the IIT of Guwahati. But barring this refinery and a couple of hydroelectric power plants, the Northeast has not had anything at all since 1978 that could be regarded as industry or activity conducive to industrial development. However, now that the condition of the north-eastern States is well known to the Centre, everyone in New Delhi seems to be bending over backwards to do something about speedy development of the region. There are a few compelling reasons for this. The first, of course, is that the Centre is beginning to see some connection between lack of industries, lack of development, a high rate of unemployment and so on with growing militancy and terrorism in the region. It is far from my intention to offer simplistic explanations for the burgeoning militancy and terrorism in the region. The reasons for militancy and terrorism getting out of hand anywhere differ from place to place. However, one underlying cause is a sense of grievance emanating from a deep-rooted perception of injustice. The Centre has perhaps begun to realize that the sense of injustice arising from a marked disparity in development is a genuine grievance in the Northeast. Secondly, the Centre has also seen that a region long deprived of development mainly due to the lack of industries, finds a way of turning terrorism itself into an industry. In fact that is what has happened to the Northeast. Terrorism became a kind of cottage industry and then got upgraded to a medium-scale industry in no time at all. In eight or ten years from now, I see it being turned into a heavy industry. Thirdly, there are known uranium deposits in Meghalaya . Already some theft of uranium has been reported. One shudders to think of what could happen if more and more uranium finds its way to unfriendly countries in our neighbourhood. Even Mizoram and Assam are known to have uranium deposits. Ending militancy and terrorism in the Northeast thus becomes a priority for the Centre. And this can only happen if disparities are removed and there is not only visible development in the Northeast but also more  satisfying employment opportunities that can come about only when there is industrial development.  So modern industries must happen in the Northeast very soon.

     Unfortunately, New Delhi has developed a rather strange yardstick for development, It is the yardstick of funds allocated and spent  on a development project.  New Delhi has a glib way of concluding that it has spent so many hundred crores on Project X or Project Y, and therefore, development must have taken place. The first fallacy is that money alone does not  give rise to development. The second misconception is that all the money allocated was actually spent on the project for which it was allocated.  The trouble arises from the fact that no one monitors how the money was spent and how much got siphoned out. I have often cited an instance of how huge dollops of money unwisely spent on so-called development in Nagaland soon after the State was created did not lead to any development at all but stoked militancy instead. I do not wish to repeat it except to say that  the money came in hundreds of crores from Delhi , the suppliers of goods and services came from mainland India (including Delhi , of course), made huge profits, and most of the money went back to where it came from in paying inflated bills. Virtually nothing remained in Nagaland for any real development or to create infrastructure for agriculture or industries or to create new jobs. That is development for you in the Northeast!  However, the Centre does not seem to have learnt anything at all from its past mistakes.      

      Now the whole strategy has undergone a major change. The DoNER Ministry has planned a series of so-called North East Summits with the help of the Chamber of Commerce and Industries. The first one was held in Mumbai in 2002 and then there were two more held in New Delhi . The fourth one is to be held in Guwahati on September 15 and 16, 2008. Like almost anything that the Government of India does, these summits have turned out to be rituals that have produced no results at all. There is a great deal of talk, but the summits are not bringing in any investors to the Northeast. If anything, the reverse is happening. Entrepreneurs who had lived in Assam for several generations have wound up their businesses here and started industries in places like Hyderabad , Indore , Bangaluru and so on. Obviously something is seriously wrong because even the tax holidays for five years have not induced any investors to come to the Northeast. We are now beginning to learn that money is not everything in starting an industry or enterprise. There are other basic requirements for investors that the region might be lacking. The many months of heavy rains might not suit industrialists at all. Nor is there anything to rejoice over the numerous bandhs that disrupt work frequently.

     However, these are not impediments that can really inhibit investment. The two greatest deterrents for investors in the Northeast are terrorism and the almost complete lack of skills and abilities that sustain industries. In the first place these skills were lacking because we have had no industries in the Northeast. The best examples I can think of about skills that sustain specific industries are skills and expertise related to the petroleum industry in Assam . The petroleum industry in Assam is more than 100 years old. As a result, even if skills and expertise related to other industries may be lacking in Assam , we have had skills and expertise related to the petroleum  industry for a long time. Apart from skilled workers, Assamese petroleum experts who had migrated to other countries for one reason or the other, have even had to be called back at times to head major oil corporations in the country. But New Delhi has grudged Assamese leadership even in this one industry by getting people who know nothing about petroleum to take over the places of those who do. This example is a pointer to what really needs to be done in the Northeast to promote industry and bring in willing investors. Instead of wasting time and money on things like North East Summits, instead of pouring money on seminars and workshops it is time New Delhi did its bit to develop skills and expertise that can sustain industries here. This is unlikely to be achieved by throwing good money after bad on the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) of the Northeast  that are moribund institutions that indent equipment for training that no other State in India needs and leave the indented equipment in their original crates for years because the equipment was never really needed in the first place. We need industrial training institutes that are given the responsibility of earning their own money to keep running. This will lead to better training and the kind of innovativeness that motivates survival on the most adverse conditions.  We need institutes that do not exist just for ensuring the salaries of the instructors and teaching staff, but institutes that encourage and nurture innovative souls. So the foremost requirement to attract investors is not money but skills. The investor must be assured that he will find workers here who have the requisite skills, the aptitude for work and the motivation to make the enterprise a success.

     The other important requirement is determined by a major deterrent to industry that must be removed. Today, there are terrorist outfits that make irrational demands of executives from industry. If the demands are not conceded there are abductions for ransom and even the murder of those kidnapped at times. The State government must be able to ensure an investment climate that is free from such hazards. And this brings us to an egg-and-chicken situation. No one really knows which has to come first – a healthy industrial and investment milieu that effectively tackles terrorism and militancy by providing jobs for millions, or the end of militancy that creates the right climate for investment and industries to be sustainable. But industries and agriculture were both carried on in Punjab even in the worst days of militancy and terrorism. Maybe this shows us the way. We need to begin investing and to set up industries even in the face of terrorism. That may be the best way to ensure a speedier solution to the menace of terrorism than the present ambivalence and half-heartedness.




India ’s secular credentials under fire


Patricia Mukhim*



These are trying times for India . The country is grappling with three emergencies having just got over the one in Jammu and Kashmir . The nuclear deal or non-disclosure about some of its tricky points has become an embarrassment for the UPA which now has to go on damage control mode. The floods in Bihar have resulted in total anarchy with epidemics adding to the already very grim situation. Orissa is in the grip of a communal riot that is fast spreading to other BJP ruled states like Gujrat and elsewhere. In this critical scenario which issue should the government tackle first and which will be left to simmer in the backburner seems to be the conundrum. It seems like the events in Orissa are the least important.

    Although Godhra today is only a sad memory for many and has become the stuff that cinema has drawn its inspiration from, it continues to rankle. Similar incidents are repeated with frequency in different parts of India . Jammu and Kashmir has seen a deep polarization between two religious communities and the intransigence of both which revived with ferocity the slogan ‘Azad Kashmir’. That killings should take place in the name of any religion is itself a slur on that faith. Today the secular ethos of the Indian Constitution stands seriously threatened even as the state is seen as either as a willing accomplice or a pathetic bystander, unable to control the conflagration as is happening in Orissa now. It took the chief minister Naveen Patnaik a full week before he visited riot


torn Kandhamal. Our perpetually befuddled Home Minister, Shivraj Patil responded only after some well-meaning citizens took a memorandum to President Pratibha Patil seeking her intervention.

      In a country of India ’s size and diversity protests over various issues are inevitable. The murder of Swami Lakshmananada Saraswati. Leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Kandhamal district of Orissa first sparked off a protest from Hindu fundamentalist groups. But before the law could step in to establish the facts of the case religious vigilantism had taken over and is spiraling out of control. The Christian community was accused of killing the Swami and activists of the Sangh Parivar went on a rampage. The list of atrocities against Christians, have been documented and those are being widely circulated in an effort to build mass awareness about the chain of events in Orissa. It is also a serious attempt by a religious minority to draw the attention of the government at the Centre and the state to their failure to protect the lives and property of minorities not just in Orissa but across the country.

      Religious vigilantism by any group is dangerous in a country which is so inherently heterogenous in terms of its racial composition and religious persuasions. Religion they say, is the domain of the spiritual but when it is used to blatantly drum up support for one political party or the other it becomes poison. Once this poison spreads in the body politic containing it becomes almost impossible since politics decides the course of action that the government of the day takes. But incidents such as those occurring in Orissa and fast spreading to other BJP ruled states should make that section of India which is largely secular and reverential of all faiths, speak up and make their point.  

     It does not speak too well of India if people of only one religious sect have to speak up against atrocities on their members. Where is the voice of sanity that transcends all religions? There are millions in this country who subscribe to the notion of peaceful co-existence and not merely by tolerating one another. This constituency of people who believe in justice, equity and fair play ought to be built up so that in times of communal conflicts they rise to the fore and take collective, corrective action such as coercing the state to act in the right way. Why should Christians alone have to defend their faith and protest atrocities against themselves? And why should all Muslims be considered potential terrorists without anyone coming to their defence? What about the large majority of law abiding Muslims who while they practice their faith do not wear it on their sleeves? Surely there is a strong case for building an alliance of rational voices of this country. But such alliances cannot collapse when communalism raises its ugly head. I am saying this because Gujrat has some of the best collectives manned by people of the highest credentials but they could not find their voices when Godhra happened.

    There are lessons that needed to be learnt post Godhra but I am afraid they have not happened. Or perhaps they have in some ways otherwise the spate of blasts that occurred recently in Ahmedabad and other places would have led to another bout of vengeance. Perhaps citizens are wiser and have developed greater equanimity and the zeal not to allow the economic bubble to burst yet again. Whatever it is that enabled people to rally round a cause, trying to resolve matters instead of playing the blame game deserves commendation.

       Three of the eight North Eastern states of India have large Christian populations. Nearly 99% of the people of Nagaland and Mizoram are Christians. In Meghalaya there are roughly about 60% Christians while the rest belong to other faiths including the indigenous Khasi religion (not Hindiusm). The Orissa unrest has created quite a stir in these states. Statements from the government of Nagaland and Mizoram have expressed concern over the inability of the Indian state to provide security to Christians as a minority group.

    We have to admit that Christians in the North East live in very comfortable environs when it comes to the practice of their faiths. They would not be able to fathom the pain of religious oppression. But they also have reason to fear the worst should a radical political party should come to power at the Centre and deprive them of their minority status which allows the running of educational institutions, health care centres and other institutions of higher learning. BJP MP from Karnataka came to Shillong to campaign for the party in the run-up to the assembly election in February this year. He stated that the BJP is not a communal party as the tribals of North East and Christians are wont to believe. What Mr Sangliana did not underscore is the undisguised and inextricable links that the BJP has with its extreme right-wing offshoots – the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and the RSS. The tribes are well aware that the BJP has its moderate faces but its agenda is determined by the Sangh Parivar. This is both a problem and a threat to minorities in this country.

     But the Orissa incident also brings to the fore other issues in the North East which tend to get diffused because of the silence that surround them. The tribal states of the North East need to introspect how they treat the minorities in their backyards. It is no secret that Meghalaya has seen some of the worst communal clashes from the latter part of 1970 until the late 1980’s. People of a particular community had to bear the brunt of these clashes. Many sold their homes at throw-away prices and left only with their lives. These are incidents that are no lease horrific than the Orissa clashes. While North Easterners are a majority community within their confines they are minorities outside the region. But they expect to be treated with respect and dignity wherever they are. How many times have we heard of protests against attempts at racial profiling of North eastern students in Delhi ! Similarly, non-tribals are a minority in the North East. They deserve to be treated with equal respect as a citizen of this country and not as a Hindu or Muslim or Christian.

      This is the only way to bring sanity in a world that has gone horribly awry. It is also important to delink religion from politics. If we despise the BJP for its communal overtones we would also have to exercise caution in the way we drum up political support by using religion or a religious denomination. This is not so uncommon in the North East where directives to voters come from church pulpits.    

  Who is Feeding Violence?

Pradip Phanjoubam*



There are some problems which simply would not go away on their own. The plummeting law and order is one of these. It is true, from all appearances, the government has begun fighting fire with fire, and on a daily basis, the body count is climbing.

    At this moment, there also seems to be a good rapport and coordination between the army and the police, considering the daily reports of successful raids on insurgent positions by combined teams from the two forces. From the establishment’s position, this is an essential fight. But we must throw in a caveat here. The fight must go beyond this.

      Come to think of it, this “going beyond” is not asking for too much either. The manner in which the agitation for justice in weightlifter


Laishram Monika Devi’s case subsided the moment a real and tangible

promise for justice became visible, ought to be an immense encouragement and insight for those who want the conflict in the land to similarly subside.

     It may be recalled, even as the CBI took over the Monika case, in an almost immediate reaction, the agitators too backed off.

     One is not likening insurgency to the Monika case in every sense. In magnitude, the problems are very different, but the logic is practically identical. The mantra is simple. Look a little beyond the dreary stimulus-response cycle of violence and counter violence, discover the roots of the problem, and then address them.

     To stress the point a little more, success in dealing with the Monika issue could not have come about satisfactorily merely by mob control during general strikes called on the matter. It had ultimately to be about getting the entire truth out, and based on the findings, delivering justice.

      Fire fighting is essential, for when your house is on fire, there is no other way to get about it than to fight fire. But while this is essential, the thought of fire prevention cannot be ignored, unless you are interested in fire fighting forever.

      To cut the risk of sounding vainly patronising, one will not venture to draw up a list of what the government should do. The easier job is to draw up a list of what is there that the government should not do. If there were to be a hierarchy in which the two agendas were to be placed, “what should not be done” would have to come before “what should be done”.

       This is because while the former is about hard tangible reality around everybody, the latter is about formulating ideals – essentially a job for philosophers. So one might begin by asking what is wrong with the Manipur society that it has become such a fertile ground for violence. If we look close enough the answers are not too far away.

     Take an immediate example. The state government is raising a new battalion of India Reserve Battalion, IRB, an armed state police constabulary. Even as the hint for a fresh recruitment campaign begins floating in the air, the bribe amount is already going through inflationary pressures.

     At the moment, the rate is Rs. 3 lakhs per recruit, and impoverished rural families are selling their marginal farm land holdings to raise the money to get at least a son into a steady government job. This is not guesswork, but from the mouth of simple folks who are working to raise the money to pay for the jobs.

     Many other young men, although fit for the job as anybody else, are

not even thinking of trying because they do not have means to raise the money that would open doors for them. Where, one might ask, is the justice in this? And if there is no justice even at this level, can there ever be social harmony?

     Yet nobody who matters in the government is moving a finger to make the necessary changes, and probably nobody would for a long time, for the stakes are too high.

      Even if the rate stays fixed at Rs 3 lakhs per recruit, raising even a single battalion would involve a bribe booty of anything between Rs 20 crores and Rs 30 crores. This amount is enough to buy silence and compliance of anybody who can obstruct this daylight looting, in the state as well as the Union government establishments.

      Such liberal booties are also what leaders in the state have considered as worth the while even if it leads to a perpetual fire fighting situation against mutant thoughts and furies spawned by the residual injustices deposited in the core of our society.

     Of course the manifestations of these furies too would begin to acquire a corrupt sense of mutant and destructive power making matters even worse. Unaccountable power never fails to do this, as William Golding told us so convincingly in “Lord of the Flies”, and Joseph Conrad in “Heart of Darkness”.

      And so the maelstrom of violent agitations and uprisings are destined to continue on. Quite obviously, so would the establishment’s deadly crackdowns. Dead bodies would pile up higher. Heart rending wails and laments would also continue to form the backdrop of life in beloved Manipur.

Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati