“While bringing about integration with the nation in its practical life, destruction of distinct ways of worship is not aimed at, only putting an end to undesirable tendencies of exclusiveness and intolerance is aimed at; destruction of languages is not aimed at, but the separatism and the desire to secede born out of language fanaticism is only aimed at” —Shri M S Golwalkar (Guruji), the Second Sarsanghchalak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Part Two – The Nation And Its Problems XV, Bunch of Thoughts, P. 138.
Not long ago, a prominent journalist used the term ‘tyranny of distance’ to explain the lack of coverage of the North East. Through the verdict in Assembly elections 2023, the people of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland have countered many such tyrannical narratives nurtured since Independence.
Historically, the elections in the hilly and Scheduled-Tribe-dominated region received less attention from the Delhi media, which assumes the role of ‘national mainstream media’. The 2023 elections were drastically different in terms of coverage. With the changed infrastructure and intense campaign from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Delhi media covered it extensively with the necessary mobilisation of resources.
Continuous visits by Prime Minister Modi and other Union Ministers have been a game changer. The Ministry of Development of the North Eastern Region (DoNER) ensures better coordination and monitoring. The 10 per cent of the Gross Budgetary Support (GBS) earmarked in the Budget of 52 Union Ministries for the region has been optimally utilised. The ‘Vision 2020’ document prepared by the Ministry and the North Eastern Council with the participation of all the Governors and Chief Ministers assured the collective development model. Resultantly, the budgetary utilisation in the region has jumped from Rs.24,819 crores to Rs.48,564 crores from the financial year 2014-15 to 2020-21. The road, railway, air, telecom and inland waterways, all modes of connectivity, are witnessing a remarkable transformation in the region. Since 2014, the increase of 113 per cent weekly air traffic in the region is a good enough indicator to gauge the reduced physical distance from the rest of Bharat.
The natural corollary is the participation and delivery on the ground and consequential peace process. The region was known for blockades and violence by various groups running parallel governments. As per the records, the insurgency incidents, the attacks on security forces and civilian deaths are reduced by 74, 60 and 89 per cent, respectively. Over 8,000 youth working for various militant groups have surrendered and joined the mainstream.
The Union Government elevated the ‘Look East Policy’ to the ‘Act East Policy’ to ensure accelerated and inclusive growth of the region. The Modi-led NDA Government has craftily calibrated the foreign, defence and internal security policies. The improved relations with Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh and much- better infrastructure in the bordering areas have allowed these States to explore the possibility of being Bharat’s corridor to the Southeast Asian region.
The entire nation is celebrating the cultural and historical icons of the North East, like Lachit Borphukan and Rani Ma Gandilue. Naga soldiers contributed immensely to the freedom struggle through participation in Netaji’s Azad Hind Fauj; they are duly recognised. Important religious destinations like Mata Tripura Sundari temple are rejuvenated. Social institutions like Gaon Bura (village elderlies) are restored in Nagaland, and the traditions of each tribe are celebrated with cultural fervour.
The verdict by the people is an affirmative response to this all-over integration process. These were the most peaceful elections in the North East, with around 80 per cent of voters exercising their democratic duty without fear. Tripura is a natural point of discussion, with the BJP retaining the erstwhile Communist bastion. Nagaland is a classic case of democratic revolution where in the majority tribal and Christian State, BJP has secured 19 per cent vote share and 12 seats out of 20 contested. The hung verdict of Meghalaya again underscored the complexities of putting Khasi, Jayantia and Garo hills together.
The traditional narratives of isolation, violence and separatism are withering away. The cultural nationalist narrative, based on inclusive development and celebrating diversity while realising unity, is slowly finding roots in the North East. The ‘crown colony’ project of the British failed miserably in the 1940s, but the administrative mechanism and mindset to govern the North East remained the same after Independence. The changed approach and policies have set the actual integration process in motion. These election results are the testimony of the same.