Visualising India's NE return to prosperity

Vision 2020 – a document of the dreams of the north easterners was released in New Delhi by the Prime Minister of India, Shri Manmohan Singh, in July (2008) . As rightly stated in the document, it was a collective efforts of who's who at all levels, grassroots, local, civil societies, intellectuals, bureaucrats in the eight states and at the national capital, passing through series of research, public hearings, plenary session of the NEC and endorsed by all the Governors and Chief Ministers . The journey of the document seemed peaceful and with no major bumpy ride on its way from the far east towards the capital.

Half of the two volume, available in the website of the Ministry of DONER contains about the land and the people - geography, history and socio – economy. Central to the development perspective is poverty alleviation, where the main pointer was on tapping resources and market strategies. Another frequent mention was upon building capacity of the people. As per the document, India's north east region will hopefully be in par with the rest of the country in the next decade. It provides statistical analysis and road map for accelerating production and income at the rate of desired percentage(s) to fill its yawning gap to catch up with the mainland. With its present rate of 4% GSDP growth, people in the region were advised to shot up 12.95 % GSDP level and generate the economic growth of India to 9 % by 2020 so as to enable the country to establish its position among the super powers in the world.

Interestingly, the vision statement started with “At Independence, the North-Eastern Region was among the most prosperous regions of India. Sixty years on, the Region as a whole, and the States that comprise it, are lagging far behind the rest of the country in most important parameters of growth. It further continues “ The purpose of this Vision document is to return the North-East Region to the position of national economic eminence it held till a few decades ago....”

These also correspond to the lines in the background presentation of poverty which states that the estimated poverty ratio in the region was 17 % in 2004-2005, whereas the overall ratio of the country was 22 % .
The challenge, as analyzed, remains in complexities of the region – valley vis a vis hill, tribal vis a vis non tribal, geo physique , backwardness, hostility, tradition and practices. Historically indeed, the document do not put much weight over the issue of insurgency which is infamously a typical characteristics of the region , though the lines about law and order situation could not be missed out, and the terminology on the trend of violence has moved on from insurgency to terrorism. An important matter that figure out apart from the many backward and forward linkages of developmental issues was governance in the region, which was never or otherwise ignored by previous development initiatives. Inclusive governance as a growth factor, though, raises a further deeper question of inclusion of many factors within itself.
Various strategies and systems were devised for integration of the region into the larger system of administration, since India's independence. Institutional and structural mechanisms were designed for the region with the basic concept that the people , particularly the tribals are awfully backward and susceptible in terms of administration, economy and modernization. Therefore administration was feared to be left in their hands , the tribals. Further this evolved as a development model, a paradigm for the region. The Constitutional provisions like the sixth schedule for administration of tribal areas. Institutional mechanism like the inner line regulation ( 1873), the partially excluded and excluded areas 1935, the autonomous district council etc. Thus the region was nurtured by various systems and directions. Subsequently creating a relationship of paternity and a gradual dependency to the union. Along side these the heads in traditional systems were expected to see the administration and welfare of the people.

The document recognized that one of the strength of the region lies in its unique community spirit and democratic traditional governance system, the region with large concentration of tribals, as self governing and self sufficient. On account of its geo-location, the region would serve as a perfect buffer zone for trade and commerce. Rich in natural resources and biodiversity, to capitalize them for market and production. Literacy rate is higher than the average country overall , while poverty level was lower than the national level. Yet , the region is under develop and evidenced to be plagued with poverty in terms of human resources , economy, in fracture, so on and so forth. The people weak in governance and administration, indicated in terms of law and order records.

Complexities,complications and conflicts gradually forms as the base for perspectives of India's north east, a common denominator in all developmental interventions. Traditional systems are projected and romanticized as best practices, with an unending talk of institutional or structural reforms. While underlining self sufficiency promoting an 'open up' for increasing income and output. Looking back at the vision statement it remains to be understood over the region's regression towards a situation of formlessness and fragility. Could be, there is a missing link between prosperity before and poverty former Governor of Manipur and Nagaland ( Rtd) Lt.Gen.V.K. Nayar, at a panel discussion in New Delhi, August 18, 2008, on 50 years implementation of the controversial AFSPA in north east India puts it “ you won't understand, in another 50 years, how this country functions...!” In fact, to find our way back will be long and winding, bone rattling across the porous terrains.

The Imphal Free Press, 2008

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