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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 44 New Delhi October 22, 2016

Need to Rethink Policies and Practices in the North-East

Sunday 23 October 2016



by M.M. Ansari

State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India by K.S. Subramanian; Routledge India; 2016; pages: 213; price: Rs 795.

The North-Eastern States of India widely differ in terms of geo-climatic conditions, culture, ethnicity and levels of development. India’s vibrant democratic and federal polity seeks to address the diverse and at times contradictory politico-economic aspirations of the people in the region, the outcome of which has generally been unsatisfactory.

There are not many credible research studies that objectively analyse and demonstrate the extent to which the entire region has been effectively governed by the Central and State governments, particularly in terms of providing political space and augmenting socio-economic opportunities to the people of the region for realising their aspirations.

In this context, the book under review makes a pioneering effort of significance to provide perspectives on administrative and political management of the region.

The author of the book, K.S. Subramanian, has marshalled a huge amount of evidence from the government records as well as his long experience of working in the region as a senior police officer. A number of startling observations, with supporting evidence, have been made in the book, which indicates that the state policy on peace and development is flawed.

First, the governments have paid scant attention for the development of economic infrastructure, including education and health- care, which is why there is widespread unemployment and social unrest, particularly among youth. The effort made thus far for arresting the growing alienation among the youth is not commensurate with the requirement of the task of mainstreaming the youth.

Second, economic discontentment among the people is the main reason for social unrest and political uprising, which has been mishandled by the security forces by using draconian laws, namely, the Assam Rifles Act and Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA). There has been rampant misuse of these laws that are responsible for the unacceptably high rate of human rights violations. The author has provided specific instances of a large number of human rights violations owing to the excessive misuse of the above laws by the security forces. The author has aptly suggested that these laws have outlived their utility and therefore the laws in questions should be scrapped. In democratic India, participatory and people-oriented approaches should have been adopted to resolve all the contentious issues affecting peace, normalcy and development of the region.

Third, the use of a draconian law like the AFSPA is indeed a negation of democratic principles, which forbid the use of brutal force for restoring peace and normalcy. The policy-planners, who vie for promoting a healthy federal polity and participatory development, should avoid the use of harsh laws, as has been done the world over.

Finally, effective functioning of democratic institutions is the key to ensure harmonious development of the region vis-à-vis the rest of the country. It is time to rethink about the policies and practices that are designed to maintain peace and normalcy and to create conducive conditions for sustainable development. And, the author provides a cogent reason for upholding democratic norms, rather than resorting to inhuman harsh laws, for managing the North-Eastern region and realising the aspirations of the youth.

Prof M.M. Ansari is a former member of the University Grants Commission and the Central information Commission. He was also one of the three interlocuters for J&K.

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