Not all is lost

Nirendra Dev
THE military treatment of a malady used to be that the only way to deal with the issue of insurgency was to destroy insurgents and supporters… The usual refrain from serving military officers deputed in the North-east is: the only language ultras understand is “hardcore counter-terrorism”. The other side also indulges in equal havoc. Otherwise, what do they gain by planting bombs in public places? In the ’70s, a bomb was planted in a cinema in Kohima and the explosion left journalist Lelie Legisie maimed. Kohima has no cinema hall since then.
In the process, common people, including professionals, are plunged into a serious psychic tug-of-war and thus having to carry out normal work in their respective professions ought to be very challenging. This I call the winning partnership. Therefore, in my estimation, in the North-east the real life heroes are unsung babus, police constables, bus drivers, schoolteachers and next-door shopkeepers. Without them, the story of the region would have been only worse.
Having said so, I am tempted to reflect upon the experience of Kofi Annan. Once a teacher walked into his classroom holding a blank white sheet of paper with a small hole in it and asked the class what they could see. Obviously, the entire class echoed that all they saw was a hole. “So you don’t see the paper I am holding,” the teacher had inquired. Kofi Annan very rightly had this story to tell the world later about the “transition” that helped his perception of things since then: to look on the brighter side.
Having spent almost a decade in journalism in the wilds of the North-east, often fascinatingly regarded as the hotbed of extremism, the experience of the school-going Annan had a certain message for me.
After the 5 March 1995 incident, I received a summons from my parents in Siliguri directing their Jesta Putra (eldest son) to quit the disturbed state of Nagaland. I am sure there must have been many others receiving such summons in the North-east quite frequently from family members and parents settled elsewhere outside the region. Well, if such incidents are a nightmare for someone who could always move out looking for “peaceful” pastures beyond the Brahmaputra river, on the other hand think of someone – a Naga or an Assamese – who has to live where he/she is, come what may.
By the late ’90s, it was not without reason that many North-easterners had decided to flee the region. From Pune to Patiala, the numbers of North-easterners deployed in all kinds of professions and also deciding to settle down have grown manifold.
What then do the echoes from these locals, orphaned by the stroke of time — maybe a time bomb triggered by militants or security forces’ highhandedness — symbolise? The national mainstream has hardly bothered to consider what these victims have to say.
Therefore, if there is a quantum leap in the average income of the common man, if modernity is visible at every street corner, if the literacy rate has gone high, if the number of locals taking up higher administrative jobs, becoming doctors or engineers, has increased, it is time we look back at the bygone decades with pride and some sort of satisfaction.
History usually designates a failed revolution as a rebellion. But all movements without a strong ideological base have a limited lifespan. Most of the insurgency in the North-east falls under this category and wherever there has been a strong ideological backing; lately there has been gross erosion. Anti-social elements have made inroads into various outfits and militancy for them has become an easy way to life. Militants have started milking their own people.
There is another cycle involving governance, deployment of the armed forces and the opportunistic stand taken by politicians and so-called civil liberty activists. In the wake of largescale demands punctuated by public protests in Manipur for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, retired Lt-Gen VR Raghavan rightly noted, “Successive governments in New Delhi and in the North-eastern states have relied heavily on the presence of the military to perform the basic functions of governance.”
Echoing this sentiment, former Army Chief Gen (retd) VP Malik (in 2004) cited an illustration wherein a Manipur chief minister, while favouring the revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act declined permission to withdraw the armed forces from 60-odd posts in Manipur, saying, “You cannot do that! What will happen to the law and order situation?” This is the paradox. And the picture only gets complicated when there are reports suggesting that all protests against human rights violations are targeted only against the armed forces and excesses by militants are conveniently given a pass. MM Thomas, former Nagaland governor, had diagnosed quite candidly in an interview with me, “Is not the state a guarantor of safety and security…? You don’t give a second thought to writing against the state, fully aware that the state will not retaliate to the extent that these anti-national elements would.” (27 February 1991, The Weekly Journal, Kohima.)
During interactions with many non-commissioned Army officers and paramilitary Assam Rifles personnel, on whose laps I played as a child, I found that they often wondered whether their commanders would back them if an issue of human rights violation was raised. The result is that they would often let the guilty off scot-free while committing gross violations against innocents.

The writer is The Statesman’s Delhi-based Special Representative, and this is an extract from his book,
The Talking Guns: North East India (Manas Publications, New Delhi)