The North East of India has been a troubled region long before I was born. Grandparents in the region tell us of the 1950s when India literally waged a war against the tribal areas, using all kinds of tactics to consolidate their power after the British left.
Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Aruncahal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and recently Sikkim- all have their local narratives and histories in which India does not shimmer in the saintly light it wants to reflect. Tribes from Meghalaya to Nagaland to Mizoram and beyond, all declared their own independence as soon as the British packed their trunks and waltzed away.
The dominant narratives will always be, unfortunately, those ‘versions’ spun by the Indian government, whether it was in the time of Nehru and Patel, Indira Gandhi, or now under Narendra Modi. Let ‘s face it, the objective of New Delhi has never been the welfare of the tribal people. It was then, and is now, primarily about the appropriation [or misappropriation] of wealth: the forests, the water, the minerals, and the colonization of the people.
The myth of the ‘Seven Sisters’ was nothing more than a political construct and a grossly misleading one at that. Across the region, inhabited by numerous tribes speaking several different languages with non-Sanskrit
roots, there was never a semblance of similarity or ‘sisterhood’. We of the north-east were always skirmishing with one another, each tribe fiercely independent. Even today, our north-eastern states are always taking pot-shots (literally) at one or the other ‘sister state’ next door. Assam for example, has border issues with every state around her, and keeps moving her border posts back and forth! We are no quiet, peaceful, hymn-singing bunch, rest assured. Perhaps that is why the British left us largely to our own devices. Trying to colonize the feisty and stubborn hill tribes would sap the Brits of the energy required to keep the rest of unwieldy India under control.
The seminal problem with the equations between the north-east and the rest of India (both politically and socially) is one of perceptions. This leads to further complications and alienation. The present government, vainly trying to appear more hawkish than its predecessors, has begun alienating vast sections of the northeastern people. The Nagas and Manipuris (fearless, warlike, tribes) take umbrage, and understandably so, when the Modi government’s chest-thumping civilians label the insurgents or militants (also from the same fearless, warlike tribal stock) as ‘terrorists’ and ‘cowards’. Terrorists attack helpless and innocent civilians, the militants on the other hand targeted security convoys. A prickly political problem, cannot be called a war on ‘terror’, unless perhaps one harks back to another old expression: give a man a bad name and then hang him!
It is the prerogative of the Indian government to secure its borders and maintain law and order in the sensitive border regions. Nobody challenges that. However, the insensitive and callous manner in which this is being done, and the way the narrative is turning into an India versus Naga /Manipuri slandering match is an ill wind that blows nobody good.