One of the consistent elements in the Modi Government’s policies has been its effort to further integrate, on several levels, the North East with the rest of the country. Not only has it surprisingly been able to forge alliances with many local parties, it has exhibited an overarching vision on social, security and economic issues. It has made progress on long standing disputes, such as those related to the Nagas, while its recent agreements regarding the Bru and Bodo peoples have further raised hopes that soon peace will prevail, opening the way to greater prosperity.
It must be noted that even India’s Look East policy, taken forward by the present government, has placed the North East at the forefront, particularly in economic terms. This will give a boost to India’s economy, which suffers from the low performance of certain regions. While it can be said that the quality of life in most states of the North East is better than the national average, it is confined in terms of employment and commercial activity. This can only improve through greater integration and better security. The access this region provides to South East Asia can be a game-changer in many ways, particularly as the global economic focus shifts away from Europe.
In fact, the current nationwide stir on the CAA has actually emerged from the government’s desire to finally put at rest Assam’s problems that had given birth to the local NRC exercise. The Congress allowed the issue to fester, as it did many others over the years, in the hope that it would go away by itself. Instead, the problem has metastasized into a deeper social cancer, always looking for a reason to explode. Now, some hard and difficult steps have been initiated which should put an end to the problem altogether. India’s social fabric and, subsequently, its economy have suffered for long because of the growing pile of unaddressed problems. Many of these have existed in the North East almost as a given.
The job of taking India forward cannot be left to some progressive states, while others languish in self-inflicted paralysis. Bengal’s corrosive politics, Bihar’s caste-based psyche, J&K’s deliberately cultivated alienation, etc., are similar hurdles to integration that have economic fallout. Those who demand that the government focus on economic development should understand this cannot be done without addressing the deeper causes of the stagnation. ‘Bad practices’ cannot be ignored by placing them in the ‘protected’ diversity slot. Reform has to go deeper if it has to succeed. The present government’s initiatives should be seen in that light.