“North East India”, -the first time you heard these three words, I’m sure other unpleasant words “insurgency” or “troubled zone” would follow in your mind. I don’t blame you for being cautious because that is what the media tells you about. What concerns me more is about how any discussion on North East India in media, political circles, NGO’s, and academic circles share similar conclusions by proposing that the problem of North East India is the “economic backwardness” of the region. In recent period, an economic integration with East and Southeast Asia (popularly known as India’s Look East Policy) has been proposed and discussed.
To some extent, this argument seems to be an outsider’s view; such a view has also been generated by some of the North East intellectuals (perhaps the Middle class intelligentsia who don’t even understand the whole complexities of North East India). No doubt, the problem in the North East is linked to development related issues and several illustrations can be pointed out. I would like to raise one question that whether ‘lack of development fuelled insurgency’ or ‘insurgency failed development in the region’? Which comes first, hen or egg? Let’s put aside this issue and ask further questions.
What is the insurgency group point of view? What is the main problem according to them? Of course, insurgency groups also talk about economic problem. More importantly, the ideological assumption behind all ethnic groups’ claim is ‘HISTORY’. Here I use history in a very restricted sense, it would mean “ethnic view of their past, constructed or even invented from the memories of the past. For all insurgency outfits in North East India, ‘HISTORY’ has become a site of contesting against the Larger Nation State or other ethnic groups in one way or the other. The Mizo National Front (1966-1986) argues that Mizos in their historical past were never under any foreign control but forcibly taken over by the colonial in the last part of 19th century. Similarly, the Naga insurgency outfit claimed “Greater Nagaland” which was divided during the colonial period. All other outfits, be ULFA (Assam) Kuki (Manipur) or National Liberation Front of Tripura share the same ideological stands basing on their historical past.
My argument is thus, historical factor is a shared problem of North East India. Unfortunately, this has been ignored in most of the current discourses. Narratives about the history of ethnic groups give a strong justification of territorial claims, as it does for all insurgency groups of North East India. As long as such ‘justification’ is believed to be true, a particular group’s claim on a territory remains strong. Moreover, constructing ethnic culture area based on ‘history’ for the purpose of fascist political agenda could be equally dangerous. This is exactly what North East India is going through.
When we try to determine the problem of North East India, whether development, economic, social or political reason, we should situate them into a larger historical context by placing the larger Nation State and ethnic groups’ projection of history into consideration.