Those who believe in Vastu Shastra say that the Northeast is the part that should be taken most care of for prosperity of the house. Similarly, India will prosper only if its North East region gains. Therefore it is time to offer lotus (BJP) to this Ashta Lakshmi.”
— Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the election rally on February 8, 2014 at Imphal, Manipur
When Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi uttered these words about the significance of Northeastern States of Bharat, many could not understand the connotation and took it as an election gimmick. The ‘Seven-Sisters’ turned into ‘Ashta-Lakshmi’ was an important message to complete not only the economic and developmental but also cultural integration of the entire region with a different approach. The outcome of elections and stupendous victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is analysed in many ways but what we need to understand is the changing narrative about the Northeast and how that integrationist approach can be strengthened.
Of course, the Tripura election results have a different significance in the larger ideological fight between the nationalists who believe that Bharat has always been an integral nation and the Communists who carry forward the British narrative of different nationalities in Bharat. After keeping the States under tight grip with politicised governing machinery, that sense of liberation is evident with the consolidation of non-CPM votes, including those of Vanvasis in favour of the BJP. Mere showcasing poverty and managing elections with cadre base is not going to work any longer is the clear message of the Tripura elections.
The results of Nagaland and Meghalaya are all the more significant because of the kind of campaign that took place during electioneering. Despite the decisive intervention by organised religious groups not to favour the BJP, people went ahead and showed remarkable support to the nationalist narrative. It is a very positive message. When we saw the unprecedented coverage of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland elections at national level, these States gained equal respect and space in the larger national narrative. This was a positive message for the people of Northeast. Till now, Delhi centricism and policies of grants and doles without accountability to keep the regional players along would subdue the real or perceived alienation of people, was the rule in engaging with the region.
The proactive role of the Department of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) created in 2001 by the Vajpayee Government acquired different level of momentum by shifting the entire operations of the ministry to the region and involving all the ministries in the coordination process. Shifting the gear from Look-East to Act-East and placing Northeast not just as the corridor but a linchpin for the entire process also brought the focus to the region addressing its own potential.
In this process, why there has been the perceived alienation and besides lack of development what are the solutions to address the same, should be looked into. The region shares historical linkages with rest of Bharat from time immemorial. Right from Mahabharata period we find references to the sacred places and personalities from the region in our discourse. These brave people did not allow Moghuls to cross Brahmaputra and therefore, remained protected from the Muslim invasions. Taking benefit of this the British, again finding the region difficult to govern, kept it underdeveloped and allowed missionaries to carry on their activities openly.
Unfortunately, in the post-independence period instead of rekindling the ancient linkages, we also bought the British narrative and were caught in the phenomenon of tyranny of distance. It was physical as well cultural. Only nationalist organisations like the RSS brought Lachit Borphukan and Rani Ma Gaidinliu in the limelight by giving them the due recognition in the national discourse. Taking this process forward rest of Bharat should completely break the colonial shackles about our geography and nationhood. The people of Northeast have given us the signal. Whether we taking it positively, is the real question.