Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Back to Mizoram

November 15, 2010

By Satyabrata Chakraborty

repatriating Bru to MizoramThe Mizoram government has finally started repatriating Bru (Reang) evacuees from Tripura but no one is sure when the process will be completed. The first batch of 51 families, comprising 251 men, women and children, left on 3 and 4 November. The Centre had set 31 October as the deadline.

The repatriation process had to cross many hurdles. The Mizoram government under Zoramthanga, a diehard Mizo nationalist and supporter of parochial ethnicity, ignored the Supreme Court’s directive and repeated appeals by the National Human Rights Commission to take back the evacuees.

Union home minister P Chidambaram’s recent visit to Aizawl and his talks with chief minister Lalthanhawla brought about a significant change in Aizawl’s stance.

When Lalthanhawla, known for his moderate approach to minority issues, returned to power in the last Assembly elections, hopes were raised that the repatriation process would get a boost but he, too, was bound by political  compulsions.

He said in Aizawl recently that he had appealed to the Bru evacuees not to leave Mizoram in October 1997. He also said that RSS leaders had accused him of burning 20 Hindu temples and that he was responsible for driving the Brus from the state.

According to him, the Brus were never Hindus but atheists who had converted to Christianity.

“We have set up 10 refugee camps and we are posting three senior officers and doctors in each of them. We are concerned about the wellbeing of the Bru minorities and we are ready to talk to them to find solutions to the problem.”

Bru refugee leaders want the Mizoram administration to take appropriate steps to  provide adequate security for minorities and their property.

During their absence from Mizoram, their property had allegedly been grabbed by locals. The refugees want their land and property restored.

What has complicated the repatriation process is the claim on the actual number of those who fled Mizoram in 1997. Aizawl has refused to accept the lists prepared separately by the Tripura North district administration and the Forum of Bru Evacuees.

At the  initial stage 13 years ago, following ethnic clashes in Mizoram, there were said to be as many as 50,000 refugees.

Since then, many have left on their own, a few have mingled with the local tribal population and some families crossed over to the Chittagong Hills Tracts of Bangladesh in search of jhum land.

About 38,000 evacuees are still in the camps but Aizawl claims that only 15,000 of them are the genuine citizens of Mizoram and that it is not responsible for the “aliens” living in the camps.

In an agreement between the Mizoram government and evacuee leaders, Aizawl promised to release Rs 80,000 for each of the displaced families for constructing houses.

They will be  given free rations for 12 months beginning November and there will be special development programs for them. Minority interests will be protected. Refugee leaders want a regrouping of their villages at a new location in Mamit district, something which the government has rejected.

Mizoram also has the problem of illegal migrants from Myanmar. They are ethnic Mizos, with the same features and share the same customs and religion. These people work as manual labourers at wages cheaper than that of locals. And they are slowly displacing locals from unskilled and manual jobs.

**The writer is Agartala-based Journalists

Dam Projects ~ The Bigger Picture

November 15, 2010

By Prasenjit Biswas

dam in arunachalThe recent protests over the National Hydel Power Corporation-run project in Gerukamukh, officially known as the Lower Subansiri Dam Project, highlighted the sordid portrayal of impending human disaster.

Following the report of the three-member expert committee appointed by the Assam government about the possible environmental impact of the Subanbsiri project, intellectuals, students, peasants and conscientious sections of Assamese society are up in arms against the ongoing construction at the Gerukamukh site.

In fact,  work has left much of North Lakhimpur’s paddy fields covered with downstream sand, rendering these uncultivable.

This sorry situation, at the very initial stage of construction, has only substantiated the possibility of a massive artificial change in the carrying capacity of the Brahmaputra’s tributaries that could affect cultivation, livelihood and aquatic life. The popular opinion is reflected in mobilisations by Akhil Gogoi, a firebrand youth leader – he is of peasant stock — who has become a darling of the people of Assam in recent times.

Sensing the mood, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi did some damage control by suggesting his government “will not allow any dam at the cost of lives of people”. The state Assembly also held a day-long discussion on the construction of an astounding 168 big river dams in Arunachal Pradesh. During the discussion, Congress leaders pointed out how the main Opposition party, the Asom Gana Parishad, had, during the NDA regime, helped make the Brahmaputra Board a defunct organisation.

The AGP government had in fact handed over responsibility of construction of the lower Subsansiri dam to the NHPC, which it is now criticising. Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sharma also pointed it out that the BJP, another Opposition party in Assam, had a dual standard as it supported the Narmada dam and demanded more dams in Uttarakhand.

In the Brahmaputra’s case, the BJP even supported a river inter-linking project during the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime, he said. Congress legislators even pointed out the dual role of the CPI(M), as Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar supported the construction of the Tipaimukh dam on the Barak river.

The Congress strategy of pointing out the double standards of parties like the AGP, CPI(M) and BJP served to silence the Opposition on big river dams, effectively robbing the combined Opposition of any electoral gain it hoped to achieve through anti-dam propaganda.

To add a further twist, Tarun Gogoi proposed that the Northeast Water Development Authority would concentrate on flood and erosion control, a greater share of electricity and royalty from the proposed Subansiri dam, a good compensation package and the setting up of another expert panel to study the environmental impact of the lower Subansiri dam.

Such proposals were aimed at dampening the growing public opinion against big river dams.

During the Assembly debate, the only legislator who made a clear mark was Bhuban Pegu, providing the necessary theoretical back-up to his opposition to big river dams. Outside the house, were voices like Ranoj Pegu and Akhil Gogoi, who justifiably highlighted the disastrous effect of the dams being constructed in Arunachal Pradesh.

One very important point raised by these activists was that there was no informed prior consent from the tribes and communities living upstream and downstream of the Subansiri river. These people had plied their agricultural trade for some centuries but they were seemingly ignored when it was decided to construct a dam.

To compound matters, there was no proper study of the geotectonic and seismic conditions that could affect such construction as much of the Northeast region is located in the sensitive zones IV and V of earthquake faultlines.

The Kopili dam that releases water to Nagaon district has already played havoc with farmers. In fact, Ranoj Pegu pointed out that as per the current estimate, the lower Subansiri dam would release very little water during the day but in the evening would discharge some 3,000 cubic metres every day, resulting in doom for the river basin and flooding the plains. The impact could disrupt the intricate socio-cultural linkages of indigenous communities.

The debate on stopping the construction of big dams in Arunachal Pradesh is partly responsible for the Assam government’s proposal to redesign the lower Subansiri dam so that it not only generates electricity but also helps control flooding and augments the riverine environment.

Such a moderated proposal only legitimises the construction that has already begun in Gerukamukh where the effect of cutting away hills and mining is evidenced in terms of the thick desertification of cultivable land in the northern side of the Brahmaputra.

The proposal for redesigning, therefore, may only reduce the height and the size of the reservoir, work on which is already in progress.

Moreover, the proposal does not include downstream impact assessment covering the entire course of the river, and informed public opinion is certainly not on the agenda. Substituting one panel of experts with another because the first went against the dam construction at Gerukamukh comes across, instead, as a sop for construction agencies.

Apart from lower Subansiri, the people of Assam are concerned about the future once Arunachal Pradesh goes ahead with constructing all its 168 dams. This concern will grow with each passing day and become the most important electoral issue in Assam’s ensuing Assembly elections.

The writer is an associate professor of philosophy at Nehu, Shillong

Economics of Transit

November 15, 2010

By Ashfaqur Rahman

Begum Khaleda Zia, leader of the opposition, had said publicly that she was given an impression that transit to India would bring Bangladesh so much money that the country would be as rich as Singapore. Now the Indians are unwilling to give any transit fee even for the existing transit

arrangement through the river route. She was therefore critical that the government was giving erroneous impressions.

Begum Zia should know better. It is not transit charges that are likely to give Bangladesh the revenues. The income that will be generated by accessing the market of north-east Indian states for trade and investment could bring profits. How far this is correct also needs to be verified.

But let us first examine what we are getting into, on the matter of transit with India, and whether we are really going to benefit monetarily. In essence, allowing the Indians to move from one part of their country to another part through Bangladesh is not what we can strictly call as giving transit. It is essentially providing an economic corridor.

This is a special dispensation which Bangladesh will be giving to India. To be politically correct, we can use alternative words — that we are helping India to establish easy connectivity with its north-east portion through Bangladesh.

Such corridors are allowed usually in times of hostility or in very special circumstances. During the Second World War, Poland gave Germany a corridor to reach the port of Danzig. Today, Russia needs a path or a corridor through Lithuania to reach her port city of Kaliningrad.

India’s request to Bangladesh to connect to her north-eastern states is basically to fulfil her urgent interest in saving time and money in transporting essential goods and services by avoiding a trip of 1,650 km around what is known as the “chicken’s neck” north of Bangladesh to West Bengal. The road route traveling through Bangladesh would save India almost 1,000 km, and she would be able to reach West Bengal from these north-eastern states by traversing 500 to 750 km only.

The question that arises in the minds of many Bangladeshis is how much of the cost saved by India would be shared with Bangladesh. How much will India give to Bangladesh for this special consideration?

There is no doubt that Bangladesh can charge from India the usual fee for use of our roads and our railway lines. The fee would also include the cost of maintenance and upkeep of the infrastructure. Bangladesh can charge another fee for the damage caused to our environment. We can also levy a small charge for the congestion they would cause, which would not happen if no connectivity was allowed.

But beyond this it is not likely that we can levy any other charge and realise it. Of course, we need to study more about what other countries in the world that allow such passage to a neighbour do. But if nothing else is forthcoming are we going to remain satisfied with this pittance ?

Here, our government needs to look closer and work out solutions. First, India should be encouraged to invest in the roads they are going to use. These roads will be used by Indian multi-axle trucks, and they need to be made ready. Laying of fresh railway tracks to cater to transit traffic should also be Indian responsibility.

India should pay for setting up border railway stations, which would not have been set up if no connectivity was envisaged. India should pay Bangladesh to dredge Bangladeshi rivers where cargo vessels will ply. Bangladesh will, of course, sell fuel to Indian trucks and be involved in their repairs within the territory of Bangladesh.

We all know that transshipment is often cumbersome, time consuming and costly. Hence, it could be a private sector company with majority

Bangladeshi shares which can carry cargo through Bangladesh and earn carrying and service costs. Such a company’s vehicles could load in West Bengal and move into north-east India. India, Nepal and Bhutan can own minority shares in this company.

The critical question is whether India will agree to give to Bangladesh the portion of its savings due to the diversion of its cargo through the shorter Bangladesh route. Not all the states will uniformly divert all their cargo. For example Assam is likely to divert only 30% of its overall traffic.

The other states can do more, if not less. It is too early to say how much savings per ton of cargo it would have from each route used. Bangladesh would have to negotiate hard with India on this issue and get the best result.

The important thing that needs to be kept in mind, before any final decision is taken to grant connectivity to India, is that Bangladesh should raise and resolve with India some of the major bilateral issues like sharing of the waters of the common rivers, demarcation of maritime boundaries and easy access of Bangladeshi products to Indian markets. This will generate confidence about Indian intentions and give a positive spin to this exercise.

In spite of our prime minister’s keen desire to make things as transparent as possible, why is it that the Bangladeshis are kept in the dark about such a substantive issue as allowing connectivity to India? What is so secret about this. One can understand that the government cannot bind itself to any public commitment before negotiation with India.

But why can’t the Jatiya Sangshad start the discourse in its Committees and help the government. It can identify our national interests, mark out the sources of revenue and debate on the various options available to us. In any case, they can give the government a general sense of direction. The people will feel associated with the decisions that the government will subsequently take on this critical matter. History is usually unforgiving.

Ashfaqur Rahman is a former ambassador and Chairman, Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.

What is The Army Doing in Manipur?

November 13, 2010

By Oishik Sircar

FILM: TALES FROM THE MARGINS
DIRECTOR: KAVITA JOSHI

PROTEST AGAINST State repression took on a new meaning in independent India when Irom Sharmila went on a fast-unto-death on 4 November 2000 to protest against the army brutalities in Manipur, made legitimate by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Her decision to use her body as the means to register protest was inspired by an incident in Malom, when in response to a bombing of a military convoy by insurgents, the army shot dead 10 civilians. Sharmila was arrested on charges of attempted suicide and has since remained in custody, being force-fed through artificial means.

Long wait for justice Irom Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for more than a decade

Long wait for justice Irom Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death for more than a decade

PHOTO: KAVITA JOSHI

The poetic frames in the film capture Sharmila’s moments of anguish and determination

On 15 July 2004, middle-aged women in Imphal stood naked outside the Assam Rifles Headquarters shouting: “Indian Army rape us! Kill us! We are all Manorama’s mothers!” Their bodies had become their weapon to protest against the innumerable ‘disappearances’ of civilians accused of being insurgents by the army, particularly that of Thangjam Manorama, who was apprehended, raped and killed in custody earlier that month.

Three stories, including the above two events, form the core of Kavita Joshi’s film Tales from the Margins— the title signifying both the geographical and metaphoric marginality of Manipur and its people from mainstream national consciousness. The third event that the film is woven around is the story of Sanmacha Yumlembam, a 15-year-old boy who was apprehended from his home in February 1998 by the army and then ‘disappeared’.

Joshi’s camera captures the idyllic landscapes of Manipur, interspersed with images of the everyday and ordinary lives of its people living in one of the world’s most militarised zones — declared ‘disturbed’ by AFSPA for more than five decades — giving the armed forces a free rein to apprehend, abduct and kill at will.

What makes it an important film is not only its telling of the life and times of a draconian law and the way it destroys the social fabric of a peaceful community, but the poetic frames that capture Sharmila’s moments of anguish, determination and hope inside the security ward of JN Hospital in Imphal. Although it has been four years since the film was made, her courageous words haunt, disturb and inspire you in the 10th year of her protest: “That very happy day will come one day, but for the time being I must endure. I must be contented. I must be patient.” For how much longer?

Via Tehelka.com

Give And Take, Not Giver And Taker

November 7, 2010

By Shekhar Gupta

New Delhi: On the day Obama arrives in New Delhi, the question you are most likely to hear is, can/will this presidential visit also be a game-changer like the last two (Clinton and Bush)?

You will also mostly get scepticism and doubt by way of answers.

That he is bringing not a big idea but mere platitudes. That he is too weak to deliver a cartful of goodies to his country’s latest “strategic ally”.

That he is coming not so much as the most powerful leader in the world, but mostly as a seeker of jobs for his recession-hit people.

Give and take, not giver and taker

All three are probably right. But is it all good, or bad for India?

Could it be that this visit won’t be a game-changer because there is no need to materially alter the relationship as it has been re-set in the past 15 years? This visit, then, would be further evidence that the game of our bilateral relationship has already changed. Therefore, it is about cementing and celebrating that remarkable shift rather than search for unnecessary new paradigms.

Clinton convinced us after 37 years (since Kennedy, 1963) that Americans could be our friends. By declaring that the map of the subcontinent can no longer be redrawn in blood he also sanctified the LoC as a nearly de-facto border. Bush followed by seeking India as a strategic partner in the war against terror and backing his commitment by delivering to India an unprecedented single-country exemption from such a water-tight regime of multilateral treaty restrictions.

These moves were game-changers. These were made between two different sets of governments in the 1998-2008 decade, thereby also acquiring a genuinely bipartisan seal of approval in both democracies. Our engagement with the US from thereon, should be, and is about consummating the gains from this. That is what this Obama visit should, and hopefully will, be about.

Give and take, not giver and taker

Meanwhile, we have to get over our terminal disease of trivialising issues, and undermining our own new status in a world where balance of power has been altered by not just the end of the Cold War, but also the Great Recession of 2008.

The first marked the end of one super power, the second left the remaining super-power greatly diminished, its people living with pessimism, fear and ideological polarisation not experienced by two generations. Obama lands in New Delhi as the leader of that America.

The visit already had a near-false start as we let a trivial issue of outsourcing and visa fees dominate the build-up. As also, Obama’s candid view on India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

The first is a matter of run-of-the-mill trade negotiations. It’s an aside but relevant today: in Washington in 1987, Reagan picked up a cashew from the table, and reminded Rajiv Gandhi that it had come from India, and when would his country start buying Californian almonds. From squabbling over serious, strategic differences and insecurities, our relationship has matured so much we now only argue over whether our intelligence people share all the information they have, or only 80-90 per cent (as with Headley).

Give and take, not giver and taker

On arms supplies, nobody goes neurotic with every new shipment to Pakistan and we talk, instead, about what we can buy, and only if the terms are better than offers from Europe, Israel and Russia. And on trade, instead of arguing over sundry tree nuts, we are negotiating tens of billions of dollars in trade.

Indian and American leaders have invested three decades in de-hyphenating our relationship. That achieved, the logical next step should be a relationship of equality, of give-and-take, rather than giver-and-taker. By continuing to harp on jobs and exports, Obama is underlining the changed nature of of our relationship. Our challenge now is to grow a confident belief in this new “equal” status where we need to give as we take. That is the challenge of this new relationship, as also its great opportunity.

Source: The Indian Express

Construction Of Mega Dams On The Brahmaputra

November 7, 2010

By Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman

BrahmaputraThe series of mega dams being built by India on the various tributaries of the Brahmaputra in the state of Arunachal Pradesh has generated immense political debate and activism in Northeast India, and led to inter-state tensions between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The concerns of downstream Assam arises from  the likely effects these dams will have in their territory, which includes siltation, floods, impact on infrastructure and development, environmental disasters like flash floods and dam breaks induced by earthquakes, which have occurred in the past, resulting in huge damages.

Political activism has increased over this issue of mega dams in Arunachal Pradesh, which has reflected in political posturing by the state governments of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Dorjee Khandu, has been lobbying in New Delhi for taking up dam projects in his state as planned, and has met several senior ministers and political leaders in New Delhi on this issue. He is strongly opposing the moratorium proposed on these mega dam projects until proper environmental risk impact and other technical aspects are assessed by expert panels, which has been the sustained demand of Assam in recent times.

The state government of Assam has been cautious due to the growing domestic fears in the state over the impact of mega dams in upstream Arunachal Pradesh, which is a regular feature in protests by civil society organizations and in the Assamese Media. Several prominent civil society and political organizations in Assam are against the dams in Arunachal Pradesh; and with the Assam state assembly elections due in early 2011, the political heat is bound to increase. The Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi has also been lobbying in Delhi to impose a moratorium on mega dams. He has had meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and has demanded the setting up of a Central level Group of Ministers (GoM) to look into the matter. He has also demanded the constitution of expert committees to examine all aspects of the mega dams.

The All Assam Students Union (AASU) has come to the forefront of the anti-dam agitation in Assam, organizing mass rallies and awareness programmes on this issue. The Kisan Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), another mass based farmer organization, led by Akhil Gogoi, has been holding huge demonstrations all over the state against mega dams. Regional political parties like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have seized this opportunity to attack the Congress led state government, and this is going to be one of the main election issues in Assam. Civil society organizations in Arunachal Pradesh are also working in tandem with their contemporaries in Assam against these mega dams which have the potential to create enormous ecological damage; and as pointed out by many local civil society organizations in Arunachal Pradesh, would adversely affect the tribal way of life in the state by leading to massive displacement and unsustainable development.

The respective state governments have failed however to reach any  consensus or understanding on the issue of mega dams, and vested commercial interests like contractors and companies involved in the mega dams projects are behind the strong pro-dam lobby in Arunachal Pradesh. Interestingly, both Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have Congress led governments, hence they have chosen to leave it to the central government and political leadership to intervene and mediate this issue. The lack of political will and leadership to provide solutions and build a consensus in Northeast India has affected many other aspects of development and governance in the region. Inter-state understanding and cooperation in Northeast India has been abysmally low, despite the presence of a regional coordination body like the North East Council, which lacks any consensus building capacity.

An Inter-Ministerial meeting on mega dams in Northeast India has been called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but has been postponed many times for various reasons. It remains to be seen how New Delhi will mediate between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, as it will have to walk a political tightrope due to the upcoming Assam elections. New Delhi has allowed Arunachal Pradesh to sanction a large number of mega dam projects with the objective of retaining its first-use rights over the waters of the Brahmaputra river system against the dams and river diversion plans of China. The development of Arunachal Pradesh is a priority for the Central government, given its geo-strategic significance vis-à-vis China. New Delhi needs to strike a balance between its strategic calculations and addressing the domestic fears and concerns in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, which have the potential to create internal unrest.

Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, may be reached at mirzalibra10@gmail.com

The Inhuman AFSPA is Our Way of Handling Insurgency

November 4, 2010

By Antara Dev Sen

sharmila chanu“Why aren’t you writing about Irom Sharmila?” demanded Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Laureate and Iranian human rights lawyer, in a media meet in Delhi in 2006. Sharmila had been fasting for six years protesting army atrocities in Manipur under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Ebadi’s vehement support had given a fillip to Sharmila’s protest. But the Government was unmoved.

This week, Sharmila completed ten years of her hunger strike. On 2 November 2000, Assam Rifles troops had arbitrarily shot dead 10 civilians waiting at a bus stop at Malom, Manipur. Sharmila, then a poet and human rights worker of 28, demanded a repeal of the inhuman Act and went on her fast unto death.

But the State would not grant Sharmila’s bhook hartal moral legitimacy. She was arrested for the crime of attempted suicide. For ten years she has been forcefully tube-fed in captivity. And the AFSPA, which allows the army to kill, rape and torture ordinary citizens with impunity, and has been in place in the Northeast since 1958, continues unabated in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.

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This colonial legacy, that suspends citizens’ democratic rights, is the world’s largest democracy’s way of handling insurgency.

The government is wilfully disregarding three points here. First, repealing the AFSPA would be an important step to end the cycle of violence that has engulfed insurgency-prone areas, as state and non-state actors attack, kill and harm civilians in a macabre fight to the finish. The AFSPA has bred a military culture of torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, mysterious disappearances and arbitrary detention. The 2004 torture and killing of Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles is one example.

The AFSPA breeds outrage, anger and helplessness that pushes hot-blooded youngsters to militancy. Manipur is now brimming with insurgent factions. Recently, the state media went on strike in the face of threats from militants. Bomb attacks and extortion rackets rule. Clearly, the AFSPA has failed to handle militancy.

And passionate protests have not helped. Not the demonstrations, petitioning the Supreme Court, appealing to the United Nations, even self-immolations by students and a naked protest march by middle-aged women. Even official recommendations from Government-appointed commissions have failed. The Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee, the Veerappa Moily Commission and the Working Group on Jammu and Kashmir led by Vice President Hamid Ansari have all recommended the AFSPA’s repeal. As a face saver, an Armed Forces (Special Powers) Amendment Bill is languishing in Parliament.

Second, the AFSPA signifies the insecurity of the Indian State that cannot deal with internal dissent. The army can take over for short periods in war zones, but must not replace democratic rule in general. For half a century, the State has relinquished its democratic duties in parts of India and given the army a free hand.

And finally, by devaluing the hunger strike of a civilian, the government is denigrating peaceful protest. We remember how swiftly it took political steps to break the 11-day fast of K. Chandrasekhar Rao (whose followers were not all peace-loving) demanding Telengana, a regional issue. But not for Sharmila’s decade-long fast for a national concern.

Fasting is the chosen tool of non-violent protest of the powerless. It has the moral muscle that Gandhi had used brilliantly during our freedom struggle. If even the world’s most remarkable hunger-strike is snubbed, what options do victims of state-sponsored atrocities have of registering dissent?

Importance of Being Tribal

November 3, 2010

By Patricia Mukhim

northeast india militancyThis article is not an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Earnest, a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personas in order to escape burdensome obligations.

In the Northeast, leaders of militant outfits all construct romantic facades about themselves. In the region, Che Guevera is our hero but only in so far as the name goes. The actions of our homegrown supermen are far removed from that of the legendary Argentine Marxist revolutionary with several remarkable qualities, none of them fictitious. Che was a physician, author, writer and an intellectual par excellence. So comparisons cannot only be odious but ludicrous as well.

Recently, there was a media splash detailing the material acquisitions of Jewel Garlosa’s Dima Halam Daogah. The media took vicarious pleasure in giving a blow-by-blow account of Garlosa’s possessions, like a watch costing over a lakh of rupees, etc, and his facial maintenance regime. This information was, of course, shared by India’s premier sleuths, the National Investigating Agency. I found this undue haste to sensationalise Garlosa’s wealth ranking somewhat phony. Garlosa is already a discredited man. You can do no further harm to a guy who is down and out. However, there is a certain gaucherie in the NIA’s actions, which reek of bellicosity. It feels pretty much like the state landing a final punch on one of its baiters.

Why is the NIA not so gung-ho about giving us an inventory of possessions of other more powerful groups like the NSCN(IM), the Ulfa and the National Democratic Front of Boroland? If the DHD(J), which is just about a few years old, could have amassed so much affluence, think of the amount Ulfa has accumulated in its more than two decades of militancy which nearly pulverised the tea industry and other economic sectors of Assam.

Garlosa has accomplished no mean feat. He has only walked the path of his mentors (NSCN-IM), so what’s the big deal about publicising his ignoble deeds? Now that a number of Ulfa leaders have either surrendered or been arrested, why are similar seizure lists not made public? Let us also have a public exposure of Ulfa’s wealth, including its numerous bank accounts and its strategic investments. Let’s not fool ourselves that the swish malls and shopping plazas that have turned Guwahati into a mall city have been created with “duly accounted for” private wealth. Those glittering malls and the huge real estate industry are examples of what you can achieve with “black” money in a situation where no one, not even the Income-Tax sleuths, bothers to ask questions. It is easy for the NIA to kick a man who is already down and out, but how about taking on the Ulfa or the NSCN? A crime is a crime is a crime. The state should not use different sets of lenses to view different militant outfits.

And that is precisely the point of this article. Every armed outfit needs an alibi to convince a gullible public. That alibi comes in the form of an ideology built around people’s aspirations. In general, people are disillusioned by the absence of governance and the dwindling opportunities for equitable growth. People see that only those in the favoured list of the powers that be enjoy the fruits of development while the rest languish in the black hole of poverty and destitution. This frustration and disillusionment is the fertile ground that militancy needs to sow its first seeds. After that, the ideologues who have mastered the art of demagoguery in colleges and universities can simply collect their spoils.

When the Ulfa started out it drummed up support for its cause by demonising “India” and othering it as the “state” that treated Assam like a colony in the same vein that the British treated India. Choruses of exploitation of Assam’s rich natural resources by mainland India and the humungous influx of Bangladeshis from across the border were themes constructed by those who led the pre-Ulfa movement or the Assam agitation of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Everyone joined the chorus. Ironically, when a young and dynamic group wrested political power and entered Dispur, one would have thought things would change. Nay, it led to another trajectory in Assam’s tumultuous politics. The “boys” at Dispur seemed to have failed to rein in the dark forces. When the Ulfa, with another set of “boys”, was baptised it received the blessings of every hardliner Assamese who believed that there was need for a counter-force to challenge an insouciant state. By then the “state” encapsulated all who held the reins of power at Delhi and Dispur. After all, Dispur was only an extension of Delhi. The rest, of course, is history, which need not be narrated ad nauseum.

But if the Ulfa came up on an anti-India slogan and a demand for sovereignty, the other militant outfits, mainly from the “tribal” areas of Assam, raised their ugly heads as a protest against Dispur’s perceived apathy towards their cause. It started with Rajiv Gandhi’s famous accord with the All Assam Students’ Union, which was later perceived by the other groups to be “exclusively” with and for the Assamese people. By then the Bodos and other tribes realised they were out in the cold and that the Assam movement did not actually embrace their aspirations. The Bodo insurgency, then, is a cantankerous reaction to the Assam Accord.

It was only a matter of time before other contumacious groups would come up. The Karbi and Dimasa militancy are also based on the same analogy as that of the Bodos. Dispur became the bashing board and rightly so because development was inherently skewed. Even today all development indicators in the tribal areas of Assam are akin to those of sub-Saharan Africa. This is not to say that other areas of Assam are not equally in the doldrums. But ethnic aspirations and the politics of identity had by then become very lucrative for the plains tribals.

The Bodo Accord, which actually gave the Bodo leadership (not the people) unparalleled access to power and pelf, became the model for the Karbi and Dimasa groups as well.

The much-vaunted Rs 1,000-crore development package for the North Cachar Hills came as a result of the senseless violence wreaked by DHD militants on the state. This is Delhi’s way of responding to the sulks and complaints of the North-east. Those who rule this country believe in the philology of “Money Talks”. It is patronage democracy at its crudest. The Centre believes today that the only way to actually shut people up and get on with the Delhi-based governance model is to throw a few crores of rupees here and there and let the rest take care of itself. It is not Delhi’s heartache how the money is used. The underlying idea is to corrupt the belligerent trumpeters of different hues to the point that they develop a fatty liver and ultimately die of the disease. But what of the new contenders to leadership?

It’s not as if militancy will die with its leader. Delhi does not care about such repercussions. It is our own illusory ideas that make us believe that the North-east matters to this country. Yes, the region matters only to the extent that the natural resources here still make business sense. That’s it!

It is unfortunate that this region has not imbibed the lessons of self-reliance and autonomy. We have learnt instead to dance to Delhi’s tune. As a result, those we elect are subservient to the Delhi Durbar. This region used to be the land of proud people with rich cultural values. Now all that is in the past. We have been corrupted to the core and now all of us are exposed in the same manner that Jewel Garlosa is. Garlosa’s shame is our collective shame because what the NIA is trying to tell us (the tribal leadership of all persuasions) through the expose is that “you people come up with high-falutin slogans but are rotten to the core”. Indeed, the word “tribal” is today equivalent to being backward, sloppy, intellectually vacuous, morally bankrupt and politically cacophonous. This is how Delhi understands the “tribal” mindset. That’s because over time our engagements with Delhi have been more about “money” and less about pragmatic development paradigms.

The Jewel Garlosa story is a sad denouement to what could have been an intelligent assertion for more equitable development, better governance and better infrastructure creation in Dima Hasao or the “land of the Dimasas”.

We only have to look at Meghalaya to see how a small section of the tribal elite has enriched themselves on Delhi’s largesse even while millions live on the brink of dispossession, to understand that tribal politics has sunk to its nadir and so has the character of its Delhi-driven rulers.

**The writer is editor, The Shillong Times, and can be  contacted at patricia17@rediffmail.com

Beware of Those Shameless Indians

October 31, 2010

By RSN Singh

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The Maoists, who have unequivocally declared their resolve to capture power through violence, and the Kashmiri separatists came together on one platform in India’s capital ‘New Delhi’.

Some of the faces that represented them were Geelani and Arundhati Roy respectively. Such open acts of sedition can only happen in India.

The forging of alliance between pro-Pak elements in Kashmir, the Maoists, insurgent groups in the Northeast, Chinese agencies, and some Church organisations is well established by the intelligence agencies. But what is most intriguing is the support they receive from a segment of the mainstream media.

This is evident from the posturing of some of the media personalities and so-called intellectuals during debates on television. Such is the backing, infiltration and leverage of some international organisation that the government can do nothing against these elements and is in fact beholden to them.

Therefore, I can only appeal to the people of this country to save themselves from the evil designs of these shameless Indians.

How do these these shameless Indians operate?

A patient suffering from painful disease goes to a doctor. The doctor correctly diagnoses the ailment and chalks out an effective treatment plan. But even as the patient embarks on his way to recovery, another person, who has stakes in property after the death of the patient, comes in the garb of a well-wisher and convinces the patient that the doctor cannot be trusted. The patient discontinues the treatment and ultimately fades away into the trap of death.

One hopes that ‘Operation Green Hunt’ does not meet the same fate.

A constituency without responsibility

There is a constituency in India which does not allow any line of treatment to ‘security ailments’ that afflict the country after they are correctly diagnosed. As a result, some of these ailments have acquired cancerous proportions.

This is the constituency of some shameless activists and protagonists of criminals and terrorists, who thrive on the psychological reality that in India, the lifespan of shock and outrage that follows a terrorist incident is short.

This is the constituency without any responsibility. Their contribution to the nation is zilch. They have never found solutions to problems, but are adept at creating them. Their business is to derail and dissuade the state and its apparatus from taking any decision that may contribute the progress and well-being of India.

Let’s look at another analogy to illustrate the attitude of this constituency of professional activists towards their ‘accidental’ country, India.

A couple, whose child was not performing well in school began to harbor doubt about the teacher. After much analysis, they realised that the teacher was not to be blamed. Even after working on the child, the results were the same. They again found a scapegoat in the teacher.

The other successful students, however, sang paeans to the teacher. This rattled the parents and they vowed to demolish the teacher’s sincerity and reputation.

This exactly is the make, motive and modus operandi of these shameless activists. For those who have made activism the means of their bread and butter, particularly the latter, it is the larger good that disconcerts them.

When a terrorist strike takes place, these activists and commentators talk about the ‘resilience of the people’, and very grudgingly appreciate the sacrifices of the security forces.

Remember Kargil? The overwhelming sense of concern for wounded and dead soldiers was mainly motivated by TRP rather than any genuine feeling. Otherwise, how can the same set of commentators and activists accuse the Indian Army of rape and unbridled violence in insurgency areas, and support the cause of removing the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA).

Whenever a terrorist attack takes place, this shameless variety of activists and protagonists go into hibernation. Some of whom, who still get intercepted, avoid discussion on television by saying “I condemn violence” by any side — as if they are doing a favour by condemning it, and as if the force applied by legitimate forces is the same as violence by illegitimate outfits.

Some members of this ilk are compelled to speak words of sympathy about the victims of terror. They bide their time and resurface when the dust has settled. They then begin to question the veracity of the very act of terror. Some suggested that Karkare was not killed by terrorists! Other suggested that SIMI was a charitable organisation! Some of them also suggest that the Maoists are ‘Gandhians with Guns’, whatever that means.

Remember the protagonists of militancy in Punjab and Sri Lanka – some of them have gone into oblivion and some have reinvented themselves.

26/11 and the rich

There are some apologists, who defend the position that the attack on Hotel Taj, attracted so much attention because the rich were targeted – as if the attack was pointedly and carefully made on rich India by a thoughtful and benevolent bunch of terrorists from Pakistan. As if there are only rich guests in a five star hotel and no employees. Had they expressed similar views during or in immediate aftermath of the attack, they would have met devastating response from then angry Indians.

If Azmal Kasab had not been caught alive, these shameless activists would have surely raised doubts about the fact that the attacks originated from Pakistan. Pakistan has read and understood this constituency of the shameless activists and commentators, and their disproportionate influence in India. Some of them have surreptitiously worked their way into the highest policy making circles. Accordingly, a fidgety Pakistan has now been emboldened to adopt an aggressive posture with regard to 26/11 attack.

Take the case of the attack on Indian parliament in December 2001. An individual who was absolved by the courts on technical ground was portrayed, as victim of state conspiracy by the same shameless bunch of activists. Most of them knew pretty well about his key role in the attack. They are more than aware that the constraints of judiciary in absolving a person of any criminal charge due to lack of legally appropriate evidence does not actually mean that the person is innocent.

There are any number of judgements, wherein the judges have categorically stated that much against their personal conviction about the involvement or complicity of the accused in a crime, they have to absolve the individual due to imperatives and constraints of law.

After the passage of a suitably-considered gap between two terrorist attacks, some platforms, in their desperate bid to dilute the resolve of the nation, stage-manage debates on terrorist incidents – Making such issues “debatable” requires some genius.

It is here that the shameless variety of activists come handy, and they emerge out of hibernation. The subjects of debate can be as preposterous as: Is China a threat to India?, Did China attack India in 1962?, Is terrorism exported from Pakistan? Is the Kashmir insurgency a proxy-war by Pakistan?, Do Maoists indulge in terrorism?, Should security forces continue to be deployed in Kashmir?

The shameless activists will come up with theories that Pakistan and China have no hand in fomenting trouble in India! There is no proof that China has supplied missile and nuclear arsenal to Pakistan! The strategic encirclement of India by Pakistan is a myth! Karkare was not killed by terrorists! There was no element of local facilitation in the 26/11 attacks!

So what if Musharraf scripted Kargil, his intention with regard to India was benign! So what if the Maoists behead ‘informers’ and security personnel, they are basically peace loving people!

These shameless Indians have vested interest in poverty. That they are funded by inimical powers to India is well-known. They laud the progressive policies of their benefactors like China, but find all the time to agitate and block the same policies and programmes in India.

Is it a ploy by the adversaries of India, particularly China, to derail India’s economic development?

With the proliferation of the media, and increased role and influence of these shameless activists and commentators, the level of development in China started weighing overwhelmingly in favour of the latter, and is contributing much to its aggressive posture. Therefore, patriotic Indians need to be beware of these shameless Indians.

RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also Associate Editor, Indian Defence Review.

Security Compromised

October 25, 2010

By Patricia Mukhim

‘The central security cover provided to former Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta and Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh has been withdrawn’

The latest news from Delhi is that the central security cover provided to Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh and former Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta has been withdrawn.

The Union home ministry can give any number of reasons why it takes certain decisions. It is a powerful monolith and states are treated like little vassals of this vast, all-pervasive empire.

In the case of the Manipur chief minister, political analysts believe that Union home minister P. Chidambaram has not forgotten the smarting retort from the former when he stood his ground and denied entry to the NSCN (I-M) leader who wanted to visit his homeland in Manipur.

Ibobi Singh was summoned to Delhi and categorically told that he should allow safe passage to Thuingaleng Muivah who desired to sojourn to his birthplace Somdal. Ibobi Singh rejected Delhi’s directive outright. He maintained his obduracy throughout the entire length of Muivah’s stay in Nagaland.

In the case of Prafulla Mahanta, the reason is purely political antagonism. Mahanta had in recent times been acknowledged the undisputed leader of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and had in September this year been elected leader of the AGP Legislature Party.

Assam is heading for Assembly elections early next year and the AGP is still the only Opposition party that the Congress takes seriously. Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF has already declared that it would support any party that returns with a majority or requires the number to form a government.

The BJP despite its strident call for support from the people of Assam as a party that will reverse every anti-people policy of the Congress is unlikely to make much headway. Reasons for people’s aversion to rightist politics have already been advanced by this writer in earlier articles. The BJP has not been able to convince the people of this region that it is an inclusive, liberal party with a secular outlook. It still carries the scars of Ayodhya and the unflattering reputation of being the party that destroyed a mosque which its “parivar” claims was built at the birthplace of a mythical God. The Northeast may be located in the periphery of India but its worldviews are broader and more universal. They resist any form of religious fascism. Of course, people here have their own battles as they strive to negotiate the ideals of nationalism with their ethnic identities.

Vendetta politics

So come what may, it is the AGP that will still give the Congress a run for its money. The refurbished image of the party and the public apology it tendered recently for its acts of omission and commission over the years is sure to endear itself to some section of committed voters. But the Congress is not taking any chances. It wishes to pulverise the AGP by punishing its leader and what better way than to withdraw his security cover and leave him a vulnerable man. The Congress hopes this would cripple Mahanta’s movements and, therefore, stifle his campaign.

Come to think of it, Prafulla Mahanta has more to fear from Ulfa than Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Mahanta is Ulfa’s bete noire and during the last part of his tenure in government, particularly when the NDA held sway in Delhi, Mahanta hadfor reasons right or wrong, tried to come down heavily on Ulfa.

The politics of the time perhaps demanded that he adopt that sort of hardline stance since the militant group was at its most brutal. And in the murky politics of the Northeast, it is difficult to say which political party is supping with which militant groups under cover of darkness. No one can take a moral high ground here.

Mahanta, moreover, is accused of the series of secret killings while he presided over the government. It would be difficult for him to identify his enemies. They are an amorphous blend of political rivals and former or present militants.

Without logic

So if Tarun Gogoi merits the VVIP security blanket although no militant outfit has so far made an attempt on his life and if the same is not extended to Mahanta, who by providence escaped several attempts on his life, then what are we talking about here?

Should the Union government behave like an extension of the AICC (Congress) party headquarters? Is there no such thing as reason and logic when deciding who merits what entitlements in this country?

Is this good for democracy? Or shall we say that democracy has long been buried in the pit-hole of partisan politics? What happens if Mahanta is eliminated tomorrow? Who will carry the moral baggage for the arbitrary decision taken? Assam’s political patriarch Tarun Gogoi or the highly supercilious Chidambaram?

Or, will it be explained away as a monumental oversight for which, like the recently held Commonwealth Games, too many people are responsible and none accountable?

Mahanta will, of course, have access to state-level security but we know who controls the proceedings in Assam. To talk of a free hand for the police is to be living in cloud cuckoo land. Assam police, irrespective of their cadres, have all slipped into the comfortable groove of cosy elitism. The situation is going to get worse than we can anticipate as the polls get closer.

Home truth

Indeed, over the next few months, Assam will be bombarded by the cacophony of street politics. But genuine contenders who could displace some of the existing rogue elements are in real danger of being bumped off. In the absence of a non-partisan police force, things will get extremely vicious and treacherous for those who dare to jump into the fray and to go all out in their anti-establishment campaign.

In Manipur, Ibobi Singh is better off because he is in the seat of power. If it gets too hot and he is threatened by sundry armed outfits, now that his effective security outfit is withdrawn, the only option left is for him to negotiate with them for his life. After all, only a fool is foolhardy.

So what Chidambaram has done in a flash of political brilliance or vendetta or what have you, is to make the politics of compromise with militant groups the only way out for those entrusted with governance.

To blame Ibobi Singh alone of corruption and to make that a lazy, pathetic plea for withdrawing his security exposes the kind of pompous panjandrums that sit in the home ministry.

But I guess that is the plight of lesser mortals in a democracy which is but an extension of caste and class politics.

(The writer can be contacted at patricia17@rediffmail.com)