An open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Oken Jeet Sandham
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]irst of all, I am deeply indebted to you for inducting two dynamic BJP MPs from Northeastern India, Sarbananda Sonowal from Assam and Kiren Rijiju from Arunachal Pradesh, as Ministers of State, into your Council of Ministers. They have been given Ministers in-charge of Sports and Home. By inducting these two youthful and dynamic Northeastern MPs into your Council of Ministers with these important portfolios, you have shown your magnanimity and far-sighted political vision towards the region.
We have seen how you, as chief minister, had successfully steered your state, Gujarat, to a much talked and developed state in the country and finally showcasing it as “Gujarat Model” during the last Lok Sabha general elections. I really do not know whether the “Gujarat Model” has any takers in other states of the country, but one thing is sure that after having served as chief minister for 13 years, you had been seen as an undisputed national political leader.Although we haven’t seen any major states like UP, WB, Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and TN having enthusiasm in “Gujarat Model,” it continued to hog the limelight. I am wondering whether the model, which was successful in one of the most advanced and industrial states in the country, can be experimented in the northeastern states of the country.
Why I am bringing this issue to you is that the region is the most neglected in all aspects of development. There is no industry or factory worth mentioning. Barring Assam and Tripura which are also struggling in many ways, the state capitals in the northeastern region are yet to be connected with railways. Many state capitals are still without airports. Most of the people in the region are living in landlocked hilly terrains without basic infrastructures. And because of the lack of development and Center’s near absence of their working systems with the respective state governments in the region, the social, political and economic conditions of the region have become extremely pathetic and this development has given rooms for the neighboring countries to exploit to their advantages threatening to the peace and security of the region and country well as.
On DoNER Ministry & NEC:
The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), established in September 2001, was basically to bridge the economic and developmental imbalances that had been between the Northeastern States of India and the rest of the country. There was initial euphoria over the creation of this Ministry but it didn’t take long before it went into oblivion. It has been 13 years now that neither significant economic growth nor any policy for the economic development was seen. We only hear of earmarking 10% of their Annual Plan Budgets by Central Ministries for the North Eastern Region to address the development deficit of the NER. Earmarking of 10% of the Annual Plan Budget of over 52 Ministries of the Union Government is immense. Yet, we hardly know how the money is spent.
In order to streamline, a serious review of the functioning of the DonER Ministry is essential.
Some of the urgent steps to be taken up are:
• The Office of the DoNER Ministry should be placed anywhere in the Northeast preferably at Shillong or Guwahati, instead of Delhi.
• A nodal officer with minimum supportive staffs can be appointed and placed at each State Capital Headquarter of the Region. So that implementation of works can be expedited, besides it will minimize physical, financial and metal burdens to many. Citizens can also get proper access to the offices and get all the necessary information of the works under the Ministry meant for them.
• The budgetary allocation for the DoNER Ministry, which is normally done on Lump sum, should be enhanced triple as the current allocation is too meagre to take up any noticeable projects in the Region.
• The DoNER Ministry should come up with modalities suitable with the Region’s environment, while constantly working on to incorporate the fundamental national character into the regional mainstream.
• The DoNER Ministry should formulate modalities to incorporate the regional character into the national mainstream by tying up with various Ministries from time to time. This way the social fabric of national character remains.
North Eastern Council (NEC), which has its head office at Shillong, should be restructured and restored to its earlier model where any serving Governor of any State in the Region was Chairman. It was on rotational basis. This system was, later, done away with. Now any DoNER Minister would automatically become the Chairman of the NEC and functions from Delhi. This way, the functioning of the NEC has been badly affected. NEC is normally considered as Regional Mini Planning Commission and therefore, it is more appropriate going back to its earlier model by reappointing any senior serving Governor of any State in the Region as Chairman of it. In this way, the NEC can be effectively administered.
Racial Attacks & Segregations on Northeastern Students & Youth:
Nearly two lakh northeast youth majority of them are students have been staying in various major cities including Delhi for pursuing their higher studies, while others have been working in hotels, industries, factories, universities, colleges, etc.
Of late, the unabated racial attacks on the northeastern students and youth in country’s most progressive cities including national capital Delhi have disgraced the nation and its leaders. It is unfortunate that the violence perpetrated on the northeast students and youth by the locals and their landlord in nation’s capital and sometimes, the Police’s subsequent refusal to admit their FIRs against the culprits becomes only repetition of the past. On many occasions, most of the crimes, which could have been averted, took place due to the inattentiveness of the Police personnel in Delhi.
It is difficult to understand as to why the northeast people particularly students and youth in nation’s capital were often assaulted, killed, raped, gang raped, tortured, discriminated, abused and harassed. What is wrong with them? Northeast people’s looks are similar with that of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, etc. Interestingly, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais and other Asian people living in Delhi or elsewhere have not been targeted.
While there is necessity of organizing series of programs for the promotion of national integrity through various programs, these continuous racial attacks have deeply hurt the sentiments and the pride of the northeastern students and youth whose patriotism has been repeatedly mocked and ridiculed.
It is illogical to demand everything to place in the region to prevent the northeastern youth and students from migrating to other cities to avoid racial attacks and segregations. But the fact is northeast is least developed as already stated and one should agree that most of the northeastern students who have gone to other parts of the country for pursuing their higher studies is largely due to lack of educational institutions with good infrastructures. Sadly, there is not a single medical college or technical college or engineering college in Nagaland. Is it the way to keep a state without a single medical college?
The medical colleges in the region are not enough to accommodate students. The total medical colleges of the entire northeastern region are not even half of the number of medical colleges of Tamil Nadu state.
Four southern states account more than 41% of all the medical colleges in the country. Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu together have 159 of the country’s 387 medical colleges (both government and private).
Attitudinal Change & Proactive Approach:
We keep hearing remarks and comments made by some top Indian politicians, ministers and bureaucrats that the population of Nagaland or Manipur is even less than the population of a district of Kerala or UP. If the disorientated theories of our Indian politicians, ministers or bureaucrats are to be taken as benchmark for development, then perhaps, people of the northeastern region will never grow as respectable and responsible citizens and will always remain as sub-human beings because their population can never match with that of Kerala, UP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, WB, etc.
Very often, the policy makers and decision makers of the country tried to attribute the region’s backwardness to the insurgency. But they failed to realize that the Center’s chronic negligence caused imbalance, backwardness and underdevelopment, hence the birth of insurgents in the region.
Dear Prime Minister, the northeastern problem is not even 5 per cent of those in UP, Gujarat, TN, WB. The moment you really start thinking to provide comprehensive connectivity, banking facilities, educational institutions with required infrastructures, factories, industries, improved health delivery systems, etc. to the region, I think 80 per cent of the region’s problem will be solved. This will also be a natural answer to the region’s insurgents.
The meeting of the 49th Annual Conference of Directors General of Police/Inspectors General of Police in Guwahati, first of its kind held in the northeast region in post-Indian Independence, is one right step you have initiated towards restoring national character in the mindsets of the northeastern people, besides sending a positive message to the rest of the country.
Meetings of next DGPs and IGPs can be held at another northeastern capital and even other important meetings of the country can be held in similar fashions. Let the rest of the country have soul-searching that northeastern India is part and parcel of this great country.
The people of the northeastern region have suffered enough, most of them are not their creations, and they have high hope in your leadership as PM of this country. Please remember, the people from the northeastern region lit “Candles” across the country wherever they were on the day you took oath as the 15th Prime Minister of India at 6 PM on May 26, 2014. Their belief in you is “unique and history.”
I can only imagine what kind of “Northeast India” it will be if you use at least 5 per cent out of the $35 billion given to India by your Japanese counterpart Abe during your visit in Japan and another 5 per cent from the $100 billion given to India by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit in India, towards developing northeastern region.