Northeast India, officially the North Eastern Region (NER), is the easternmost region of India representing both a geographic and political administrative division of the country. It even has a separate ministry to look after its development – the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region. The region shares an international border of 5,182 kms with several neighbouring countries which is about 99 percent of its total geographical boundary. The states of the North Eastern Region are officially recognized under the North Eastern Council (NEC) constituted in 1971 as the acting agency for the development of the north eastern states. India’s connectivity projects to East and South East Asia, dubbed Look East Policy, now Act East Policy, connects NER to the emerging economies of the ASEAN countries and the Asia Pacific.
The Act East Policy focuses on India’s extended neighbourhood in the ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific regions. The policy which was originally conceived as an economic initiative, has gained political, strategic and cultural dimensions including establishment of institutional mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation. The Act East Policy is essentially a full blown geopolitics – meaning, it is all about control, ideological power and trade. Caught in this mix is the Naga-land sprawling across the India-Myanmar international boundary. The ‘contemporary reality’ is that the Naga-land located in the tri-junction of India, Myanmar and China is too vital for the respective nation states’ geopolitics. It would bode well for us to realize that we should be critical of any development pushed forward by the three nation states because they are more interested in the Naga-land than the Naga people. The same goes with all the other ethnic groups in the NER. The NER is also seen as a mineral rich region. It is estimated that NER has about one-fifth of India’s petroleum deposits.
Despite the existence of 8 different states in the NER, the union government has the inclination to consider the whole region as one single entity. Both in terms of geographical area and population, the NER is smaller than some of the states in India. In fact, the state of Nagaland is smaller than some districts of the bigger states in India. The population of Nagaland state is also lower than the population of most Indian major cities. Meaning, we are significantly if not infinitely small in the larger scheme of things and when it comes to India’s statist interests, we are expendables. As pointed out by the retired Chief Secretary Alemtemshi Jamir, we are only a handful of people and we cannot afford to be further divided. Or we risk losing even our peoplehood.
In the last assembly elections in Nagaland, we know that the state unit of the BJP wanted their seat sharing deal with the NDPP to be altered, to be enhanced from 40-20 to 30-30 but the BJP high command decided to stick to the 40-20 arrangement. That was most probably decided in view of the BJP’s interest in Mizoram, which is going to polls later this year. Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland are the only three states in the NER that does not have a BJP government, also coincidentally Christian majority states, although they are in power as minor partners in coalition. For the BJP, and thus the union government, the whole NER is just one entity and they have their eyes fixed on the future. Their ‘politics of development’ and political speeches by their leaders attest to it – the NER is treated as a single entity.
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