Showing posts with label Articles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Articles. Show all posts
05 August 2015

Autonomous Councils Key To Naga Deal Success

By Vijaita Singh & Anita Joshua

A day after the Naga peace accord was signed, a senior government official said here on Tuesday that the creation of “autonomous councils for Naga people outside Nagaland is under consideration.”

A similar peace agreement failed in 2011 as States with a sizeable Naga population such as Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh put up a stiff resistance to the formation of such councils. Though the Centre is yet to release the terms of the accord signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), government sources said a “redrawing of the internal boundaries of the States is not on the cards”, but the Naga people would have sovereignty. Autonomous councils are locally appointed governments that function in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir.

The NSCN has been demanding a “Greater Nagalim” comprising all contiguous inhabited areas.

Two months to fix ‘nuts and bolts’ of Naga deal

R.N. Ravi, negotiator for Naga peace talks, told The Hindu that the deal struck on Monday was not only a “framework agreement but indeed a peace accord” and once all the modalities were finalised, it would be sent to the Parliament for ratification.

Sources said the government has fixed a two-month limit for the “nuts and bolts” to be fixed.

Explaining the procedure involved, an official said the interlocutor has to prepare a draft note and send it to the Home Ministry, which would circulate it to the concerned ministries and the state governments. Based on their comments, a final Bill will have to be prepared and if agreed upon by all the stakeholders it will be presented before the Cabinet. Once the Cabinet gives the nod, the Bill is presented before the Parliament for ratification.

In the present case, no such steps have been taken till now and only the contours have been defined, an official explained.

Senior Congress ministers said a similar exercise was done in 2011 but it could not be signed due to opposition from the then Congress chief minister of Manipur, Ikram Ibobi Singh who opposed changes in status quo.

A similar deal was arrived at between the then interlocutor R.S. Pandey and Mr. Muivah, in a low key affair held at the Border Security Force (BSF) mess in Hazrat Nizamuddin area of Delhi on July 20, 2011.

Mr. Pandey told The Hindu: “There was a breakthrough earlier as well but it could not materialise due to differences of state governments. It would have been better had the other two groups — the KK and Reformation factions also come on board. Though the terms of agreement have not been released this is definitely a step towards the peace accord. This government was decisive enough to do it.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “What are the details of the Naga Accord? The Government has given the Opposition no opportunity to even discuss it. Normally, a statement is made by the Minister in the House before making such an announcement when Parliament is in session. They may take the plea that making a statement was not possible since proceedings are being disrupted. In that case, they could have at least tabled it.”
20 July 2015

Manipur’s Latest Sigh And The Idea of India

By Garga Chatterjee

While sections of the ILP movement points to ‘non-Indian’ outsiders as its primary concern, that’s a narrative of tactical convenience, given Manipur’s present political status vis-a-vis the Indian Union.

Manipur’s Imphal valley, is witnessing an extraordinary mass movement around the Inner Line permit (ILP) issue, in the face of relentless curfews and Khaki violence. Protesters have been killed and wounded. We remain blissfully unconcerned because no senile ‘Gandhian’ or NCR candle-holding or tricolour self-righteousness is involved. The ILP is an Indian Union government issued travel document that outsider Indian citizens need to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland (except Dimapur).

The non-partisan civic-political coalition called JCILP wants the ILP system to be promulgated in Manipur too. The ILP system was introduced during the late 19th century when the British were making new territorial acquisitions in the present day Northeast by force and adding these newly acquired areas to what  they called India. The ILP was partially developed to secure British commercial interests by maintaining peace without spending resources. British acquisitions that were beyond the inner-line enjoyed considerably more internal autonomy than their Indian counterparts.

Such ‘Swaraj’ lapsed with New-Delhi raj. In 1949, the unelected King of Manipur was virtually detained in Shillong and allegedly forced to sign a merger document with the Indian Union.  At that time Manipur had a democratically-elected representative sovereign government in place, led by the Praja Shanti Party, which was of course dismissed by democratic India. New Delhi sponsored democracy has been unstoppable in Manipur ever since.

Manipur has no ILP system because it was never part of British India. When the British were busy expanding their India into these areas, the sovereign rulers of Manipur managed to largely preserve Manipur’s centuries’ old distinctiveness, politically, demographically and otherwise. After the 1949 merger, it had no method of regulating the entry of outsiders.

The ILP demand is about preserving the communities whose homelands are in Manipur. The ILP demand stems from the reasonable anxiety of being destroyed by superior numbers. The population of Uttar Pradesh is 75 times that of Manipur. But aren’t we all Indians, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari? 

Whether we are one people or not, depends on who you ask but what’s certain is that we are co-citizens. The youth of Imphal do not enjoy the freedoms available to the youth of Delhi. Probing those differences may uncover unpalatable truths. Hence, Indian Union’s ‘national’ media showers more concern on the treatment of Manipuri students in Delhi than the condition of actual Manipur.

While sections of the ILP movement points to  ‘non-Indian’ outsiders as its primary concern, that’s a narrative of tactical convenience, given Manipur’s present political status vis-a-vis the Indian Union.

For communities who once enjoyed autonomy to suddenly become ‘small’ or even minority in their homeland is extremely destablising. While the Constitution shows no concern for demographic anxieties within subsets of its population, the anxieties are real, especially in the backdrop of widely varying poverty levels, employment opportunities and total fertility rates from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Phizo, the Naga statesman, stated in 1951 that “we can easily be submerged and get lost: our culture, our civilisation, our institutions, our nation and all that we had struggled and build up as we are today will be perished without the least benefit to mankind” (emphasis by the present author). No one wants to become a pariah in their homeland. It’s this humane plural vision of the future, to live and let live, that has to be remembered.

Can Tamils imagine becoming minority in Tamil Nadu? Can that ever be a good thing? If such a scenario threatens to emerge, can we even imagine the kinds of forces that will be unleashed as a reaction? No people should be pushed to such a corner. ILP for Manipur is an idea whose time has come.

The author comments on politics and culture
18 June 2015

An Eye To Myanmar’s Sensitive Spots


Although Delhi and Yangon have a tacit understanding on insurgency, ground realities must govern Indian operations

Even as India promotes regional connectivity and economic integration across its land and maritime borders, there is very little understanding of the importance of relations with Myanmar. We seem to forget that Myanmar borders four of our insurgency-prone States — Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.

When Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao introduced the country’s ‘Look East’ policy, Myanmar assumed a key position as India’s land bridge to the fast-growing Asean economies. Recognising that Myanmar itself was concerned about its increasingly close embrace of China, India supported its quest for membership of Asean. New Delhi also fashioned a multi-faceted framework of dialogue to enhance economic and border security cooperation.
Careful cooperation

A wide ranging dialogue with Myanmar on trans-border border cooperation followed. Both India and Myanmar faced problems from the propensity of the Khaleda Zia government in Bangladesh to fund, train and arm separatist terrorist groups from across Indian’s North-Eastern States.

After careful preparation and security exchanges, the armies of India and Myanmar launched coordinated operations in 1995 against a large group of armed separatists being infiltrated from Bangladesh into India’s North-East. Myanmar quietly permitted Indian forces to operate on its territory. The infiltrators were largely eliminated. The Narasimha Rao government wisely avoided public comment, but the message worldwide was that India and Myanmar had cooperated in a massive anti-terrorist military action.

There have been subsequent instances of counter-terrorism military cooperation between India and Myanmar, involving action by India against the NSCN (Khaplang). In recent months, the situation has deteriorated along the India-Myanmar border, with the NSCN (Khaplang) entering into a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government. At the same time, relations between Myanmar and China have deteriorated, with Myanmar cancelling project approvals for major Chinese projects.

China, in turn, is backing ethnic armed groups of Han Chinese origin (Kokang and Wa) along its borders with Myanmar’s Shan state. Matters escalated when an attack by the Myanmar Air Force killed Chinese nationals in the bordering Yunnan province. Closer to India’s borders with Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, Kachin tribals of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are involved in an armed insurrection against the Myanmar government. China, which has a cosy relationship with Kachin separatists, is attempting to play mediator.
Brokering talks

Leaders of Indian insurgent groups from Assam, Manipur and Nagaland who were maintaining links with the Chinese were backed by the KIA. They made regular visits across the Myanmar-China border to Ruili, in Yunnan province. These groups have now come together under the umbrella of an NSCN(K)-led and evidently Chinese-backed group calling itself the United National Front of West Southeast Asia (UNWSA).

There are also credible reports that ULFA leader Paresh Barua is emerging as a kingpin and major arms trader. Interestingly, all this comes at a time when an Indian is playing a discreet role in brokering peace between ethnic armed groups and the government in Myanmar. The former Mizo insurgent who became chief minister of Mizoram (1998-2008), Zoramthanga, has been seeking to facilitate a peace process which could bring even the Kachins, Wa and Kokang, despite their close links with China, to the talks.

The recent attacks on the Indian armed forces in Manipur and elsewhere in the North-East have to be seen in the context of these developments. The NSCN(K), which had observed a long-term ceasefire in Nagaland and Manipur, has evidently been given the lead position in the UNWSA. The NSCN (K) took the lead in the June 4 attack in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed. The Indian response was swift, measured and decisive, with an airborne commando night raid on NSCN camps in Myanmar.

The attack was necessarily carried out without prior intimation: Indian Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyaya informed the Myanmar foreign office only early in the morning. Keeping in mind Myanmar’s sensitivity regarding its sovereignty, the Indian Army came out with a measured statement, indicating that it had acted decisively in an attack “along” the India Myanmar border, carefully avoiding mention of crossing the international border. The corps commander in Srinagar noted rightly that the situation along the LoC and the international border with Pakistan was very different from the India-Myanmar border.
Contradictory statements

Reacting to this,, the office of Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, stated that what had transpired was “coordinated cooperation between Indian troops and the Myanmar armed forces based in the area”. He added that while no Myanmar soldiers were directly involved, “we will never allow or support insurgents, whether they are against Myanmar, or against a neighbouring country”.

In the meantime, a junior minister of the Indian Government contradicted what the army had said earlier about the operations being “along” the India-Myanmar border, by asserting they involved special forces “crossing the border and going deep into another country”. This was contrary to a long established practice with Myanmar. It also contradicted the Indian Army’s statement that the operation was along the India-Myanmar border. Moreover, all this occurred when Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was commencing a high profile visit to China, which signalled growing Chinese unease with its traditional supporters in the present dispensation.

The ministerial statement from Delhi could well be used by opponents of the government in Myanmar to signal that the government had compromised the country’s sovereignty by allowing a foreign military force to intrude into its territory.

With National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visiting Myanmar, these issues will hopefully be addressed. There is little to be achieved by disregarding sensitivities in a friendly neighbouring country. It also needs to be borne in mind that for the foreseeable future, the army in Myanmar will continue to play a significant role in that country’s national life. It would be useful if India’s army chief, like some of his predecessors, pays an official visit to Myanmar soon.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan
05 June 2015

Will Nagaland Ever Have Peace?

Will Nagaland Ever Have Peace?
Image Credit: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Ever since Independence, peace and stability have been treasured luxuries in the Indian states of Nagaland and Manipur. In the last two decades, however, while peace talks may have produced little in the way of progress, ceasefire agreements with the various warring groups have at least provided a relative peace.

The Naga issue is the major threat to peace in India’s Northeast. Broadly speaking, the insurgent groups National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), which claim to represent the Nagas, demand that a territory known as Nagalim (or Greater Nagaland) – which would include the present state of Nagaland along with roughly four districts of Manipur and parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where Nagas live – be carved out to address the Naga issue. The proposed region of Nagalim would also include a not insignificant chunk of Myanmar, making this an international issue.

Fifteen years back the Indian government agreed to a ceasefire with the two major Naga insurgent groups, and both sides called for solutions through negotiations. Unfortunately, nothing worthwhile was achieved, except the routine extension of the ceasefire. Then, in an unprecedented move, the Myanmar-based S.S. Khaplang faction of NSCN, NSCN-K unilaterally withdrew from the ceasefire on March 27. This move will have far-reaching repercussions for the local population. Once again, it seems, Nagaland is on the verge of a nasty bloodbath. In the last 14 years, with the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K observing ceasefires with the government, the Nagas have become accustomed to relative peace. Now the future appears uncertain.

This was brought home by an attack last month on Assam Rifles personnel in the Mon district of Nagaland, in which eight soldiers were killed by NSCN-K cadres. The attack underscores the political uncertainty and associated risk of violence in a region that otherwise has immense potential for development.

On close observation, there are three primary reasons for this move by the Khaplang faction of NSCN.

Loss of Public Support
First, over the years during which the ceasefire agreements held, the insurgent groups in Nagaland increasingly lost the public support they once enjoyed. Violence has given way to comparative peace and locals are realizing (even if slowly) that their grievances will not be solved through the barrel of a gun. The younger generation no longer has the same sympathy towards the insurgent groups that their parents did. They have been witness to development. Many have been exposed to life in cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, and Kolkata. They have seen the possibilities the big cities offer. They have seen their counterparts elsewhere in India prosper and so are now more inclined to seek to make a living by hard work rather than by taking up arms. The floating population has also exposed those back home to the prospects of the cities, and this to a great extent has redefined their understanding of development. The message is clear, at least among youth, that violence is now a failed strategy.
Moreover, the ideology of the Naga leaders has stagnated. It has not evolved with the times. There is nothing new in their proposed glorious future nor is there anything fresh in their strategy to attain it. Put simply, Naga leaders are failing to capture the imagination of the present generation. This is an issue explored in a recent report in Nagaland Post – a leading daily from Nagaland – which appeared in the wake of the May 3 killings.

In a bid to make its presence felt in the Naga community and save itself from extinction, the Khaplang faction has ventured back onto the path of violence. But while the ceasefire agreement had its drawbacks, it at least ensured that no lives were lost.

Second, there was a general apprehension within the Khaplang faction that New Delhi is systematically sidelining it from the Naga talks. There is considerable merit in this apprehension. In fact, when the ceasefire was first announced it was with NSCN-IM, and not with NSCN-K. It was only later, following violent protests in Manipur and other regions, that the ceasefire was extended to NSCN-K. Throughout the talks on the Naga issue New Delhi in one way or the other has considered the Muhiva faction NSCN-IM to be the “genuine” representative of the Nagas. This is largely because NSCN-K is seen to have its stronghold in the Naga-dominated areas of Myanmar rather than in India.

Evidence of New Delhi’s indifference towards the Khaplang faction can be gauged from the Uninion Minister of State for Home Minister (GOI), Kiren Rijju’s statement in parliament. In a written reply Rijju said, “NSCN-K has walked out from the dialogue process with GOI. NSCN-K with its Myanmar based leadership is mainly interested in extortion and has nothing to do with Naga issues.” He added that “security forces would react accordingly” in response to the May 3 attack by NSCN-K and that “talks with NSCN (I-M) for settlements are continuing and interlocutor has been appointed for the purpose.”

This proximity of New Delhi to the Muhiva faction has made Khaplang prudent about its own position. Thus moving out of the ceasefire agreement at present provides the Khaplang faction with a chance to reposition itself in the Naga talks.

Third, the Khaplang group has lately been troubled by ongoing infighting within its own ranks. Of late there has emerged a clutch of leading figures (among them Wangtin Naga, P Tikhak, and Wanglon Konyak) have favored peace talks with New Delhi and even diluting the group’s staunch demand of a separate Naga homeland. This, they believed, is a more realistic approach at the moment. However, Khaplang thinks otherwise and believes that any talk with India cannot undermine the principle of sovereignty of the Naga people. It is thus not surprising that the day NSCN-K walked away from the ceasefire agreements these rebel leaders themselves walked out of the group and formed one of their own called National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Reformation. Within days NSCN-R had signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government.

It is clear that the recent moves by the Khaplang faction are part of an effort to answer its own existential question and reposition itself within Naga politics. But this effort also jeopardizes the lives and liberty of the local population.

These developments in the Northeast have far-reaching implications for the stability of the region. It also clouds the future of India’s ambitious “Act East” policy, which aims to deepen trade relations with Southeast Asia. India cannot enjoy a healthy trade relationship with this part of Asia if it does not have a peaceful Northeast.

Further complicating the issues is the fact that NSCN-K has signed ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government and that the Nagas have been accorded autonomous status in certain regions. Writing for the Indian Express Sanjib Batuah observed, “Increasingly, the Indian approach to the Naga conflict is at odds with developments across the border. The ceasefire between the government of India and the S.S. Khaplang-led faction of the NSCN has unraveled and there have been attacks on Indian soldiers by NSCN-K militants. But across the border, relations between Khaplang and the Myanmar government have been on the upswing. The group has signed a five-point agreement with the Thein Sein government. The terms include a ceasefire, the opening of a liaison office to facilitate talks and freedom of movement for unarmed cadres within Myanmar.”

The six-decade history of the Naga issue suggests that violence has done more harm than good. While peace talks are the only rational solution, New Delhi must realize that by sidelining a faction of the NSCN in the talks, it is only perpetuating the chaos and breeding future resentment.
New Delhi also urgently needs to boost its ties with Myanmar, not only in terms of trade relations but also to help it resolve the Naga issue, which troubles both countries. While Myanmar has been able to handle its problem with the Nagas quite well (mainly by according them autonomous status and entering into ceasefire agreements), India has allowed the issue to drag on for six decades. Nor is there any resolution in sight.

An early solution to the Nagas is in everyone’s interests. Only when peace is ensured can development can take place. The hills of Nagaland and Manipur will echo with bullets as long as the leaders continue to embroil local communities in their ambitious projects. It is time now for these same communities to make themselves the architects of their own future – a future that should be marked by stability, development, and peace.

Mukesh Rawat is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi and has spent seven years in various regions of Northeast India. Twitter: @mukeshrawat705
10 April 2015

The Balancing Act in Manipur

By Sudeep Chakravarti

A file photo of Naga tribesmen during a festival at Kohima. Non-Naga communities fear that giving autonomy to Nagas in Manipur will be the first step to a Greater Nagaland that rebels have advertised for long. Photo: AFP

A peace deal with Naga rebels will require granting autonomy to Nagas in Manipur; this will need to be balanced by addressing the concerns of non-Naga inhabitants of the state

A peace deal with Naga rebels could make or break India’s peace-and-prosperity stakes in a region neighbouring Myanmar, the country’s stated overland gateway to hydrocarbon reserves and markets of South-East Asia, and a pivot to counter China.

Settling Naga rebels in Nagaland is only part of the story (See Naga peace process: New equations, Mint, 3 April 2015). A peace deal will also require settling Naga rebel leaders and cadres in their traditional homelands in adjacent Manipur, and granting administrative autonomy to Nagas there—articulated as Alternative Arrangement by United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body for Nagas in that state. This will need to be balanced by addressing the concerns of non-Naga inhabitants of Manipur, who constitute the majority.

Observers point to overtures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a sports university for Manipur as being deal sweeteners. Imphal valley, home to the state’s majority Meitei population, and the southern arc of hills, home to most of Manipur’s non-Naga tribal people, won’t be bought that cheaply.

Modi and his team need to ensure that the territorial integrity of Manipur is seen to be preserved. Non-Naga communities, especially the Meitei, fear that giving autonomy to Nagas in Manipur will be the first step to a Greater Nagaland that rebels have advertised for long. This concern will likely be assuaged by the natural tribal politics that will, for a time, keep Nagas in Manipur away from the ambit of Nagas in the present-day state of Nagaland, and also by constitutional mechanisms that prevent absolute powers to UNC’s Alternative Arrangement.

Peace will require other grand gestures. A surefire buy-in would be withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, or AFSPA, which offers the armed forces both impunity and immunity, and remains the most explosive emotional trigger in Manipur after territoriality. The law that heaps gratuitous insult and brutality on non-combatants in a quest for national security has gradually been removed from the municipal limits of the state capital Imphal. Without any loss of influence—several laws besides AFSPA permit search, seizure and combat against enemies of the state—the gesture could easily be extended. If security hawks are wary of such blanket removal, AFSPA could remain only in a strip along the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur. It’s a porous membrane, as it were, that thrives on the smuggling of weapons, narcotics, sandalwood and other products, a food chain that caters alike to rebels and the political elite.

Low-key visits by senior army officers in recent weeks to Manipur are being interpreted by some local observers as evaluation of the ground for give-and-take. At any rate, the current chief of army staff, Dalbir Singh, is uniquely placed. Having commanded a Rashtriya Rifles battalion in Nagaland, and later the Army’s 3 Corps based in Rangapahar, near Dimapur, and the Eastern Command in Kolkata, he brings experience of a vast area that includes Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Mizoram. He brings insights into nearby Myanmar and Bangladesh and the local and geopolitical impulses that, for all the recent bonhomie, impel these countries to harbour anti-India rebels.

Reconciliation would also be required between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the largest Naga rebel group currently in talks with the government of India, and the Kuki community. Kukis hold this group responsible for triggering a territory-oriented blood-letting in the 1990s that killed and massively displaced Kuki communities in areas that the Nagas—in particular the Tangkhul tribe—claimed as their own. The Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body for the community in that state, demands a formal apology. It seems like a small price for peace and reconciliation.

Balance is also likely to be driven by the needs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is making determined forays into northeastern India. Senior bureaucrats from Manipur tell me that the BJP would be wary of anything that permits the Congress and its entrenched and riotously controversial chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, renewed lease as protector of non-Naga communities when assembly elections come around in early 2017. The Congress has 42 seats in Manipur’s 60-seat assembly, mostly from Imphal valley. These plains account for 40 assembly seats: a BJP target.

Fancy footwork by the Modi government will, of course, not prevent undermining of a process of peace and reconciliation by fat cats in politics and the establishments of both the state and rebels that have grown plump in the economy of conflict. It’s a balancing act to top all balancing acts.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s latest book is Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India. His earlier books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.
19 March 2015

In A Tiger Reserve in Mizoram, Camera Traps Are Taking Pictures of Gunmen

By M Rajshekhar 

Photo Credit: M Rajshekhar

Along the length of Mizoram’s border with Bangladesh lies the Dampa tiger reserve, sprawled across 1,000 sq km. This tropical forest stretching over hills and valleys has few – if any – tigers and leopards. But there are large numbers of smaller mammals – martens, civets, clouded leopards, binturungs, golden cats, marbled cats, leopard cats, and vulnerable species like the Malayan Sun bear. Despite the rich fauna, the camera traps laid by biologists to photograph the prowling cats often end up taking images of gunmen.

The park is overrun by assorted gunmen, from local hunters to armed insurgents. A senior forest official in Mizoram's forest department estimates that, given Dampa's location, abutting Mizoram's border with Bangladesh and Tripura, the reserve is used by as many as 12 separatist groups variously to enter or leave India.

Key among them are splinter groups of the Shanti Bahini, which is fighting for Chakma autonomy in Bangladesh, and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, which wants to establish the state as an independent Christian nation.

In recent years, the NLFT has carried out a set of kidnappings in and around Dampa. The most recent took place in February, when NLFT insurgents, working with the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram, kidnapped 22 workers of the Border Roads Organisation near Dampa. While the Mizos were released the same day, two non-Mizos were taken hostage. Unconfirmed reports suggest they were eventually allowed to go, but only after ransom payments were made.

Armed insurgents, however, aren’t the only threat to the park. Dampa exemplifies the complexities of wildlife conservation in the North East, a region where not just animals, even people are caught in the throes of upheaval.

Squeezed by people

The villages near Dampa are home to people of the Bru tribe, an ethnic minority in a state where the Mizo tribe is dominant. Violence against the Bru people in 1997 and again in 2009 drove thousands of them to flee Mizoram for neighbouring Tripura.

Over the last couple of years, they have begun to return. Pu Sanga, a resident of Damparengpui, a village close to Dampa's core area, is one of the Brus who stayed on. In his fifties now, Sanga estimates that over the last two years, the village's population has swelled from 300 families to 500.

The increase in population has a direct impact on the reserve. The Brus are dependent on the traditional livelihood of jhum, or shifting cultivation, where the community farms in a different part of its traditional lands each year, burning a a patch of the local forest to create a clearing. After the end of the farming season, the patch is left fallow to recover, while a new one is cleared elsewhere for the next season.

Ever since the refugees began to return, Priya Singh, a wildlife biologist studying clouded leopards at Dampa, has noticed an increase in the clearing of forests in the park's 500 square kilometres buffer zone.

But shifting cultivation alone cannot support households for an entire year, especially with rising numbers. People have always turned to the forest for hunting and gathering minor forest produce. But as the buffer crumbles, most of them are now heading into the park's core area.

Failed attempts

Mizoram's response to these threats is weak. For years, successive governments have been running programmes to wean people away from shifting cultivation. The latest iteration of this programme, started by the Indian National Congress government shortly after it came to power in December 2008, is the New Land Use Policy. However, ask people in the villages near Dampa about it and they are categorical that most benefits have gone to people close to the Congress.

To tackle the insurgents, India is erecting a 62 km-long fence along the western flank of Dampa. The Supreme Court directed the government last December to expedite work.

As for the threat of poaching, Dampa is ill-equipped to combat it, given the systemic problems with its staffing and funding. The state government has very few permanent staff at the park – just 17. The bulk of the patrolling is done by 170 forest guards, drawn from villages in Dampa's fringe, who are hired as daily wage workers. These workers are not paid by the state forest department but from central funds given by the National Tiger Conservation Authority for Project Tiger.

Usually, forest guards are not posted for duty in the village they belong to, since this results in a conflict of interest as they are reluctant to catch offenders from their own village. In Dampa, this rule is not followed. In Terei village, about 12 km to the east of Damparengpui, 16 people of the village work in the forest department. All of them are stationed in Terei itself. At least one attempt to transfer them was reportedly stymied after the guards approached local politicians for help.

Unpaid salaries

While the job of the forest guard is a valued one, the salaries remain low and stagnant. “All of them make Rs 6,600-Rs 6,700,” said Singh, the wildlife biologist. “Even those who have been working for almost 20 years get paid as much as someone hired a month ago.”

But for the last six months, even these low wages have not reached the forest guards. The Guwahati-based regional director of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, DP Bankwal, told that the money for the salaries had been released by the organisation. “We released one-third of the park's allocation in June, even before the budget had been passed,” he said. The allocation was sent to the state finance department which was supposed to release the money to the forest department, but a senior wildlife official said that the money had not arrived in the department coffers.

In terms of scale, the problem of delayed payments is larger than just Dampa, said Rajesh Gopal, the former head of the the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The problem plagues most states in the North East. “There was a similar delay in releasing funds at Kaziranga [in Assam]. In Nameri National Park [in Assam's Sonitpur district], with great arm-twisting, we were able to get 2013-'14 salaries paid out a few months ago.”

Underfunded and unprotected

Mizoram, said the state wildlife official, allocates very little money to the forest department – one reason Dampa uses centrally allocated Project Tiger funds for paying forest guards. The underfunding has ensured that the state forest department has – at best – antiquated guns like .303 rifles. This is the reason that the guards cite for not patrolling the western flank of the park, which borders Bangladesh, and sees the movement of insurgent groups. A local forest officer told Scroll, on the condition of anonymity, that “patrolling is underway only in the east and the south”.

The outcome: parts of the park are entirely unprotected. Singh, while installing her camera traps, could only cover the north-eastern part of the park. The rest of the area, the forest department told her, was not safe.

But the National Tiger Conservation Authority is getting impatient with the poor results. “All this talk of insurgency is an excuse,” said Bankwal, the organisation's regional director. “What is stopping them [the forest guards] from going on patrols with police?” There might be some merit in this view. The forest guards are drawn from the same community as the insurgents, which makes it less likely for them to get targeted. But another reason for their reluctance to patrol could be their low and irregular salaries.

Incidentally, in Mizoram, it is not only the forest guards who are getting delayed salaries. A health department staffer told, on the condition of anonymity, that even National Rural Health Mission salaries were late. Community health volunteers under the ASHA programme were yet to get their dues amounting to an average of about Rs 6,000 each. The day Scroll travelled to Dampa, students in Aizawl and other towns were protesting against the delay in the arrival of their scholarship funds.

The next story in this series will look at why the state is failing to make these payments on time. In the meantime, the future of Dampa, which Gopal describes as "an important forest linkage between Bangladesh and India," looks uncertain. 

18 March 2015

Reimagining Dimapur

Dimapur Lynching,   Dimapur rapist lynching, Dimapur mob lynching, Syed Sharif Khan, illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant, Dimapur Bangladeshi Lynching, Sanjib Baruah column, indian express column, ie column

By Sanjib Baruah

By all indications, the lynching of Syed Sharif Khan was the result of an episode of moral panic about the so-called IBI — “illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant” — in Dimapur. Sociologists use the term “moral panic” to describe heightened public anxiety, triggered by media frenzy, about an individual, a minority group or a subculture seen as an imminent threat to social order.

The media has always been an active contributor to moral panics. But it seems that in a new media environment that includes mobile phones, the internet and social networks, there can be situations when crime and punishment move from the courts and prisons to the street. And the street can turn into a theatre of the absurd, or reality television of a frightening variety. The lynching of Syed Sharif Khan was the mediated spectacle of capital punishment of a person who — it is now believed — may not have been guilty of any crime. It is not accidental that these horrendous events unfolded in Dimapur.

While many in India seem to think of Dimapur as a remote place, historians of World War II know it as an important strategic location. It was the main supply depot for the British 14th Army in its war with the Japanese. That is why capturing Dimapur was an important strategic goal for the Japanese. What made Dimapur so strategic was its railhead.

Thanks to a metro-centric bias, we don’t think of places like Dimapur as urban spaces. However, those who study urbanisation in India deeply disagree with the way urban spaces are officially defined. Concepts like subaltern urbanisation or vernacular urbanism, debated among academics, give a sense of the issues involved. In the words of Naga journalist Y. Merina Chishi, Dimapur is “a city of villages”.

Even important government buildings like the deputy commissioner’s office are located in “villages”, as are some of the city’s posh areas.

In that regard, Dimapur may have a lot in common with the urban villages of Delhi, where many Northeasterners live. But Dimapur is also a city in the important sense that, like many other cities in the world, it is where people have to live with difference and deal with heterogeneity, both cultural and economic. Escaping to the comfort zones of imagined homogeneity is not an option.

Dimapur is Nagaland’s only plains district. Its topography explains why Dimapur has the railhead, which was the reason why the Dimapur mauza of what was then the Nowgong district of Assam was transferred to the Naga Hills district in the early part of the last century — giving an opening to a district closed off by the Inner Line. The same railhead made Dimapur strategically important in the last World War. Even today, the railhead gives Dimapur its special economic niche. And since it is in the plains, Dimapur has always been outside the Inner Line regime. It is hardly surprising, then, that it is the state’s economic hub and attracts migrants from other parts of the country (and possibly some from Bangladesh), as well as from the rest of Nagaland.

But perhaps it is equally unsurprising that in a state with all other districts closed to settlement by those not from the region, Dimapur should become the focus of fears about so-called IBIs, or about outsiders corrupting Naga society. The growing demographic imbalance between Dimapur, with its growing non-Naga population, and the rest of Nagaland is also a source of significant political consternation.

Dimapur has the only general unreserved seat in the Nagaland assembly. The constituency has an electorate that is many times that of other Nagaland constituencies. In 2002, the Delimitation Commission awarded four additional seats to Dimapur based on population shifts. The commission, however, did not get into the potentially explosive issue of whether those seats should be general or reserved.

Fortunately, an ordinance in 2008 deferred the delimitation of constituencies in Nagaland till 2031, kicking the proverbial can down the road.

Interestingly enough, what worries so many Naga activists and politicians about Dimapur are exactly the things that serious thinkers about northeast India’s economic future find promising. The region’s future prosperity, they believe, lies in the ability to create more Dimapur-like open economic spaces in the hill states of the region. The late B.G. Verghese was a great friend of the Northeast. Something of a futurist when it came to the region — and an eternal optimist — he extolled an implicit Dimapur model in some of his writings. In November 2014, during his trip to the Northeast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the first passenger train from Mendipathar in Meghalaya’s North Garo Hills district to Guwahati. In a book published in 1996, Verghese had speculated on what this railway link could do to Meghalaya’s economy. Certain areas, he wrote, including perhaps Mendipathar itself, could be de-reserved or made free zones, “like Dimapur in Nagaland, where ‘outsiders’ may freely invest and settle”. Such a step, he thought, would build confidence and attract capital to the hill state. Elsewhere, he wrote of economic spaces designed for servicing the hills, again modelled on Dimapur.

Many of the colonial era institutions that persisted in the Northeast, like the Inner Line, acquired important new functions after the end of the Raj. They have morphed into instruments of protective discrimination. Many benefits have come from these continuities. But the trouble with path dependency is that societies can be locked into dysfunctional institutional arrangements even when better alternatives are available.

The difficulty with the Inner Line is rooted its very history. As historian Bodhisattva Kar succinctly puts it, the Inner Line was “not only a territorial exterior of the theatre of capital — it was also a temporal outside of the historical pace of development and progress”. The choice is not between keeping those institutions and abolishing them. Verghese seems to have thought that the Dimapur model, in some ways, provides a way out of the impasse.

The hard lesson that Nagaland and the rest of northeast India must draw from the events in Dimapur is that the region must find a way of bringing in a politics that is based not just on the memories of shared ethnic pasts, but on the vision of a common future for those who live in the region today.

The writer is professor of political studies at Bard College, New York
12 March 2015

Myanmar Needs Help of Both China and India

By Ding Gang

India has been actively mediating peace talks to end clashes in northern Myanmar recently. According to an Indian Express report on Monday, New Delhi has agreed to arrange Myanmar ethnic rebel leader's visit to India and sent representatives to negotiate with the Myanmar government and ethnic armed rebels.

India enjoys favorable geographical conditions and a shared ethnic heritage in helping northern Myanmar's reconciliation. Northern Myanmar lies between India and China, connected by the Stilwell Road, which was built during World War II.

The road is still a significant transportation channel until today. A large number of Chinese products are transported to the port markets of India-Myanmar border through this road.

Ethnic minorities in this area span all the three countries. For example, Kachin, the main ethnic minorities in Myanmar's Kachin state, could also be found in India's Assam state as well as China's Yunnan Province.

Of course, self-interest is one of the main reasons why New Delhi is willing to push peace talks in northern Myanmar, because stability in this area is directly related to stability in northeast India.

In recent years, India has often suffered from Myanmar's ethnic conflicts in the country's northeast. In 2012, an estimated number of 100,000 Chins seeking refuge flocked to the Mizoram state of India.

Besides, India itself also faces severe challenges from the separatist activities of minority extremists in the northeast. If northern Myanmar could be secure and stable, it could help strengthen security cooperation between the two countries.

Moreover, if India could play an important role in maintaining stability in Myanmar, it can encourage China to make more efforts in this field, and enhance mutual trust between China and India.

The negotiations over Sino-Indian border dispute are struggling forward, and the main factor that affects the process is the low-level of mutual trust.

In this context, if the two countries could coordinate to make some progress in the northern Myanmar peace talks, mutual understanding between Beijing and New Delhi will be increased, which could benefit the negotiations over border disputes between the two.

China and India are not only close neighbors, but also fellow member states of BRICS. Now that the two have already established some cooperation mechanisms, and further enhancing collaboration under the framework of BRICS is also under way.

However, both China and India still need to play a bigger role in regional affairs, which requires the two sides to enhance their coordination. In such circumstances, promoting the peace talks in northern Myanmar is an exploration for building up cooperative mechanisms.

India's ability at mediation is probably weaker than that of China. But as long as India is willing to make efforts, China should respond positively by creating conditions and increasing information exchanges with India.

China is carrying forward the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, which includes the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. The initiative is not only an economic task, but also a diplomatic mission.

To achieve the goal of implementing this project, there is lots of concrete and detailed diplomatic work to do, including enhancing communication and coordination in the region, in order to solve problems and build a stable and peaceful mechanism based on consultative democracy.

India chooses to mediate the clashes in northern Myanmar at this point, not only for its "Look East" policy, but also that India has realized Myanmar's intent to strengthen ties with India.

An enhanced relationship between India and Myanmar should not be regarded as a constraint on China-Myanmar relations, even if the Myanmar government is considering balancing China's influence.

We should have the self-confidence that small and medium-sized countries in Asia, such as Myanmar, need China in their development. China should learn to adapt to Asia, which is constantly looking for a new balance with the rise of China. For example, gradually eliminating India's mistrust about cooperating with China is a wise move.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily. He is now stationed in Brazil. Follow him on Twitter at @dinggangchina

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-11 23:58:01 
10 March 2015

Identity and Crisis: Nagaland Lynching Reflects Northeast's Fissures

By Abhishek Saha

Activists of All Assam Minorities Students Union shout slogans during a torch protest against the lynching of a man accused of rape. (AP Photo)

A few days before the lynching of rape accused Syed Farid Khan in Dimapur, my mother, who lives in Guwahati, called up to share something that had disturbed her.

That day, my mother said, the vegetable vendor at the bazar had a tiff with some customers. The men, she said, slapped the vendor and warned him, "You miyas (a pejorative used for both Bangladeshis and Bengali-speaking Muslims) better learn to behave in our land."

When my mother accosted the men and asked if they knew for sure the vendor was a Bangladeshi, they dismissed her query and claimed it was obvious - their reason being he was a Muslim and spoke Bengali.

Initial reactions to Khan's lynching were no different: several political groups, the media and even a top police officer of Dimapur claimed the lynched man was a Bangladeshi without verifying facts. By Saturday afternoon, however, the air was cleared and it was confirmed Khan belonged to a family of soldiers, leave alone being a foreigner. He was a Bengali-speaking Muslim whose family had lived in Assam for generations.

This kneejerk reaction reflects the vulnerability of identities in the Northeast, where communities have been involved in ethnic and communal clashes born out of perceived socio-cultural threats.
"The initial reaction shows how simplistic and narrow the understanding of identity is here. A person's religion and his language is enough to make assumptions about his nationality, without caring to analyse any further," says Thangkhanlal Ngaihte, a former Manipuri journalist.

"There is fear regarding the people perceived to be 'Bangladeshis', the fear of losing out on resources and opportunities. And a lot of it is politically motivated."

The history of the migration of Bengali-speaking people, both Hindus and Muslims, into the Northeast is an old one, ranging from the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. Socio-political debates continue on the issue, even as analysts argue it is more a "political bogey" than a serious large-scale threat to India.

Growing up in Assam in the 1990s, I was often called a 'Bangal', a derogatory reference to Bengali speakers and a remnant of the anti-Bengali sentiment stoked during the Assam Movement. I have also witnessed chauvinistic crowds rough up working class men from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on the streets of Guwahati.

Parallel to that, I saw the identity movements of the Bodo, Karbi and Rabha tribes grow and often turn violent. The Bodoland movement, over the years, has claimed thousands of Assamese and Bengali lives, both Muslims and Hindus, while separatist movements have raged in Manipur and Nagaland.

The Northeast, in addition to its original, highly heterogeneous ethnic composition, has experienced a series of migrations - Ahoms from South Asia who came in 1228 and ended up ruling for six centuries, Bengali Hindus and Muslims from erstwhile undivided Bengal, Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh in several phases, Nepalis and Marwaris.

Because of these migrations, indigenous communities always voiced their fears of losing their identity along with their land to "outsiders". And this fear of the "other", laid bare to the manipulation of sectarian and identity politics, has led to the worst of consequences.

"Though many identity movements in the Northeast started historically as resistance against different dominant hegemonies, over time, most of these have degenerated into exclusivist notions of identity, where all sense of solidarity between different oppressed groups have given away to a sense of mutual suspicion," says Kaustubh Deka, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Delhi.

"The overall overarching backdrop is the crumbling resources that all are fighting for. Phobia for the outsider is born out of that insecurity. A community always evolves through contestations and uncertainties, forcefully trying to change this course leads to violent outcomes," Deka adds.

Khan's lynching isn't merely a case study of how awful vigilante justice can be, or for that matter of reverse racism by the tribes of the Northeast. It is, to say the least, an indication of the highly complex demographic processes that are underway in the region.
02 March 2015

Curse Of The Black Gold: How Meghalaya Depends On Coal

By Furquan Ameen Siddiqui, Kupli

The scale of water pollution is evident from the corrosion scene on the bed, banks and the surroundings of the river Kupli which flows into ...

Ibina Sohbar took over the coal business in 2006 after her husband's death. She owns a patch of land used as a coal depot in the market place of the Shallang area of Meghalaya's West Khasi Hills. She rents the patch out to other mine owners who use it as a dump for their extracted coal. Ibina also owns a few mine quarries. The money she has made from this micro coal empire has helped her support her family of 20. No wonder then that she is apprehensive of the consequences of the ban on coal mining in the state.

While Ibina talks to us, at times comically, it is apparent she doesn't trust us. She repeatedly asks us if we are 'NGT', officials from the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

On April 17, 2014, the NGT passed an interim order stopping mining and transportation of coal in the state. Almost a month later, on May 9, the mining ban was formally implemented by the state government. Nearly everyone in the coal belt curses the NGT. "If the ban isn't lifted we won't have anything to eat. Everything here comes from coal," Ibina says. 

Promise of black gold"It was as if a bomb blast had occurred and they shut the entire thing," remembers S Suchiang, village headman of Shangpung village in the West Jaintia Hills district. "They should have given us some time to look for an alternative means of livelihood. Even the transportation of the coal wasn't executed properly when they allowed us to transport the extracted coal."

Shangpung is a small village in the heavily-mined coal belt of the West Jaintia Hills. Almost everyone here owns a concrete house, beautifully constructed and painted in bright colours. It is difficult to miss the biggest building in the village that houses a church and a school. Maruti cars are ubiquitous and seem to be the preferred choice of personal transport. The money that the coal brought infused a new level of prosperity into the lives of locals. "We agree that the mountains have suffered a lot because of mining, but the situation is not as bad as they claim. It has been going on for around a century now. The pollution is more from the Assam side, from the Dimasa area. The dam on the river Kupli is getting affected by their mining. They mine coal right next to the river and dump the waste water directly into the river," says Suchiang.

The NGT's order came after a petition was filed by the All Dimasa Students' Union (ADSU) from the Dima Hasao district in the neighbouring state of Assam. The ADSU petition contested that the mining in the coal belts and the coal stockpiles in the Jaintia Hills area were polluting streams and the rivers flowing into the Dima Hasao district. The student body's claim was based on a study conducted by OP Singh of the North Eastern Hills University (NEHU) in Shillong. The study tested the quality of water in the rivers in the Jaintia hills district to find that the high sulphur content of the coal in the region gets washed into the rivers, making the water acidic. The polluted streams and rivulets merge with the river Kupli which flows from Meghalaya to Assam's Dima Hasao district carrying the acidic water with it. The polluted water not only kills aquatic life, but also renders it unfit for drinking or agricultural use.

Digging it DangerouslyIn its order, the NGT had questioned the manner in which the mining is conducted in the state and termed it unscientific and illegal. Meghalaya's mines, concentrated primarily in the Jaintia Hills, are commonly known as 'rat hole mines'. Large cranes are used to dig pits ranging from 100 to 300 feet into the hill until they hit the layer of coal. Labourers then crawl into the holes to dig out the coal. The pits have make-shift bamboo stairs for the labourers to use. Cranes then  pull up barrows filled with coal from the tunnels. In the more 'traditional' mines, labourers carry the coal out on their backs in conical bamboo baskets. While the open cast mining done in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Odisha destroys the hills entirely, rat hole mines leave the top cover of the hill intact. But conditions here are much more dire. Safety gear is not used and conditions inside the mines are dangerous. "Manmade pillars or payas are built to prevent the mines from caving in but quite often they collapse," says Elisa Manikken, project manager with Impulse, an NGO. The incident which set off the domino effect which led to the ban was the case of 15 coal miners being fatally trapped inside a mine in July 2012 in the South Garo Hills.

Impulse NGO Network is one of the parties that had filed a PIL against illegal coal mining in the state. For the past eight years, they have been demanding an immediate shut down of mining activities which, according to their estimates, employed approximately 70,000 child labourers four years back. The coal seams below the ground vary from 8 inches to 3 ft in height, for which children are used to manually dig out the coal. The burrows are pitch-dark and the ground is slippery with constant water seepage. Stale toxic air makes it difficult to breathe inside.

And then there is the environmental devastation. Toxic mine run-off, which has to be constantly pumped out, flows into the streams and rivers. This becomes a major concern during the monsoons. In December 2014, newspapers reported that two rivers flowing to Bangladesh from Meghalaya had turned blue, an annual occurrence apparently due to the high acid content in the water. The colour of the Lukha river in East Jaintia Hills district and Myntdu river in West Jaintia Hills district had changed to a bright sky blue. In its 2012 report, the Meghalaya State Pollution Control board blamed mine run-off and acidic effluents from the mines for this.

HH Mohrmen, an environmental activist in Jowai, Meghalaya, has been voicing concerns about the deteriorating environment in the state. According to him, the first incidences of fish dying in the mountain streams were reported in late 1980s by locals living downstream of the river Myntdu. This was when commercial mining picked up in the Jaintia Hills district and spread across Meghalaya. Over the years mining increased in leaps and bounds and so did the acid content in water.

The dam on the river Kupli at Umrangso, which gives electricity to Meghalaya and Assam, suffers as well. The water has changed the colour of its surroundings to bright rust, visible with the reduced water level in this season. At the 275MW hydro electric project run by the North East Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO), officials find it tough to counter the acidity in the reservoir. The government of Meghalaya has been informed of the acidic corrosion of metallic parts and the resultant frequent failures of underwater parts - first noticed in 2006 - but no action has been taken.

"If the government is serious about it, all the materials to curb water pollution are available in the state. Limestone is widely used to neutralise the acidic effluent or Acid Mine Discharge from coal mines. Meghalaya is rich in limestone reserves, in a quantity much more than coal," says Mohrmen.

Mining PowerThe lack of political will in implementing the state mining policy to check unregulated mining and environmental degradation can be linked to vested interests. In its order, the NGT says that 'by such illegal mining of coal neither the government nor the people of the country are benefited'. 

The truth is every aspect of life in Meghalaya, including politics, is linked to the coal trade. While declaring his assets ahead of the elections, Mukul Sangma, Meghalaya's chief minister, had mentioned owning several non-agricultural lands including coal mine quarries in West Khasi Hills district, estimatedly worth upwards of Rs 2 crore. His wife and daughter too own several mines.

Mining in the region started with the advent of the British but took off commercially in the late 1980s. According to a mine owner it is easy for anyone to get into the coal business. "Businessman from outside the state, mostly Marwaris, finance you to start mining in return for a certain amount of coal. It's like a loan. So, any Tom, Dick and Harry can start if he can find a mine. All you need is a small investment and a lot of luck," he says.

The money made from coal mining made it possible for coal barons in the state to kick start their political career. The Directorate of Mineral Resources (DMR) earned royalty at the rate of Rs 675 per metric tonne of coal. As per the 2010 DMR reports, 57 lakh metric tonnes of coal were sent out of the state. Of this, 37 lakh metric tonnes were from the Jaintia Hills alone.

In a July 2014 parliamentary session, Vincent Pala, an MP from Meghalaya, mentioned that since the NGT ban on mining, many parents have had to sell their children to survive and that truck drivers and industrialist had stopped work. Pala owns 30 mines in the Sutnga area in the Jaintia Hills. The state faces a severe financial crunch because all along Meghalaya has been dependent on the royalty earned from coal mining. In February, Sangma had said that because the ban on mining, expected revenue generation in the state will go down by Rs 600 crore.

A report in the local daily, The Shillong Times, in December last year, mentioned varied ramifications of the ban. The crime graph had spiked in the coal belt areas. It also reported closure of several privately-run schools, local cement factories were affected and a major paper mill in the Assam, Cachar Paper Mill located in Barak valley faces a threat of closure.

Money from the coal trade not only gave power to the 'mafia', but also emboldened militants. Once a year before Christmas, mine owners have to pay protection money. For every truck of coal that went from the mine, militants would ask for Rs 15,000. They charged  Rs 5000 for every entry door inside the mines. "Now, they have increased it to Rs 25,000 per truck and a flat Rs 50,000 for every mine dug. They charge  Rs 3 lakh if machines are used. But you can negotiate with them," says the mine owner. He fears that if the ban continues more people might take up arms or get involved in smuggling coal. Considering the plea of the miners to allow the sale of already extracted coal, the NGT had ruled that all royalties from mining would go to the government which, in turn, would use this money for the rehabilitation of people and restoration of the environment. 

As indicated in the report, nearly 6.3 million tonnes of extracted coal valued at Rs 3078 crores is lying out in the open in Meghalaya. The royalty payable to the state in reference to the extracted coal would be approximately Rs 400 crores. Locals contest the survey done by the officials to reach the figures mentioned by the NGT. "A lot of money was expected but it hasn't reached the government because they [mine owners] keep asking for more time. So we gave them the option that in case they are not able to sell the extracted coal which is lying out in the open should be put back into the mines," says Makinen.

The cost of prosperityHenry Lamin, in his book Pnar Economy and Society in Meghalaya (1995), observed that unlike tribals in other parts of India, the tribals of Meghalaya - the Jaintias in particular - didn't suffer from land alienation and exploitation from outsiders. While that may be true, trends reveal that poor people here too have lost their lands to rich local coal merchants or, as the NGT call them, the coal mafia. Any resource beneath the ground is considered public property but locals people believe that, because of the sixth schedule status of the state, they have exclusive access to these. The schedule also gives the community a right to distribute land to landless tribals. But the lure of coal has led to incidents of land grabbing in many parts of the state.

Coal mining and the easy disposable income it brings has also hiked prices of essential commodities. "Children are sent to Delhi or Bangalore to study. Some even go to China and Russia to become doctors. Gambling, alcoholism and prostitution had increased in coal-trade towns like Lad Rymbai," says Dr JN Shullai who runs an organisation called Mih Myntdu Community Social Welfare Association in Jowai. The organisation runs a programs of targeted intervention among sex workers and community monitoring. "There has been a rise in domestic violence in the state. The number of single mothers is going up in the Jaintia communities. For every 1000 sex workers we work with, around 600 turn out to be single mothers," she says. Meghalaya follows a matrilineal system where family property is inherited from the mother by the youngest daughter. However, most of the coal businesses are owned and run by male members. Coal barons spend heavily on consumer goods, automobiles and also on property. All of this is at stake.

At Phramer, on the road to Lad Rymbai from Jowai in Jaintia Hills district, people have stockpiles of coal in the depots, lying open on the roadside. The depot had workers, mostly women and children, who separated slate from coal, grinding it and mixing it with coal before the trucks take them away for sale. The labourers are all gone now. The local market which once was swarmed by people holds a deserted look. Shankar Sanuwar who has been working in the coal mines in Jaintia Hills since early 80s as a child labour laments the loss of livelihood. "We don't even have enough money to afford the fare back to our place. It's been around eight months since we received any payment," he says.

The loss of livelihood is a major concern for the migrant population in the state which entirely depended on the mines. Now with the mines shut most have gone back but some still remain working in the illegally operated mines. Mine owners protest that similar unscientific mining goes on the Assam's side but the NGT didn't take an action against them. While others fear that once the scientific mining policy is imposed it'll weed out thousands of small players, only the rich politicians and businessmen will be able to tap the reserves left. "There is no doubt that people have lost their livelihoods but we might have also saved many lives," says Rosanna Lyngdoh, board director, Impulse. "People should see this ban as a wakeup call. There are alternatives to livelihood but not life. There is no alternative to the environmental damage. And what happens when the coal reserves finish?"

Coal files: Estimates suggest that around 70,000 child labourers were employed in the 'rat hole' mines in the Jaintia Hills.

Government of Meghalaya estimates that coal reserves in the state are around 576 million tonnes.

Over 57 million tonnes of coal were dispatched from the state in 2009-2010, according to the last updated figure by the Directorate of Mineral Resources in Meghalaya.

Last month, CM Mukul Sangma had said that the expected revenue realisation of the state has gone down substantially by Rs 600 crores.
26 February 2015

Manipur and India’s ‘Act East’ Policy

Manipur and India’s ‘Act East’ Policy
Image Credit: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Manipur and India’s ‘Act East’ Policy

Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May, he has sought to project to foreign-policy watchers a renewed commitment to India’s Look East Policy (LEP) – or, as Modi’s administration has renamed it, the “Act East Policy.” The LEP was put forward in 1991 to reorient Indian foreign policy towards East Asia and Southeast Asia. But half-hearted commitment to the policy has severely restricted India’s footprint in these regions, even as Chinese influence destabilizes Indian hegemony in South Asia. Major deals with Bangladesh and Japan, in addition to a flurry of meetings between top Indian officials and their regional counterparts, have been taken as early signs that Act East represents a genuine shift in Indian foreign policy.

With Myanmar, deliverables under Modi thus far have been fairly modest: an agreement to crack down on regional insurgencies, a route-mapping exercise for the long-awaited Imphal-Mandalay bus service, and continued progress on the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Project. The LEP framed Myanmar as India’s overland bridge to the dynamic ASEAN belt, and Modi’s rhetoric on Myanmar has stressed his dedication to realizing this vision. But the two countries have no rail links; the only road link (Asian Highway 1, or AH-1) is insecure and poorly maintained; and there are no flights to Mandalay, northern Myanmar’s most important city. India-Myanmar bilateral trade has grown steadily over the past several decades, from Rs9.8 billion ($163 million) in 1997–98 to Rs131 billion in 2013–14. But those gains have been made entirely through sea trade. Whereas Myanmar’s overall border trade volume jumped from 8 percent in the late 1990s to almost 14 percent 10 years onwards, border trade with India actually regressed during the same period: from $72 million (cumulative, 1995/96–1999/2000) to $38 million (cumulative, 2005–06/2009–10).

The deficits in India-Myanmar overland connectivity reflect a complex array of factors: Yangon’s limited control in northern Myanmar, Delhi’s fixation on transnational and internal security threats in the Northeast, and uneven bilateral relations over the tenure of Myanmar’s erstwhile military junta. But within India and Myanmar, Delhi and Yangon are not the only players influencing the progress of bilateral connectivity. If Modi wishes to live up to his rhetoric on boosting Indian ties with its eastern neighbors, he will need to work closely with local actors in the four states on the India-Myanmar border: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Of these, Manipur is the most important. Manipur’s border post at Moreh, on Asian Highway 1, handles 99 percent of formal overland trade between India and Myanmar, and also the bulk of the far vaster category that is India-Myanmar informal and/or illegal trade.

On a mid-January visit to Manipur, I had formal and informal conversations with an array of academics, journalists, activists, entrepreneurs, and current and former politicians and bureaucrats about Manipur and the future of India-Myanmar connectivity. I heard plenty of optimism there about the sincerity of Modi’s ambitions for boosting cross-border connectivity, but also major questions about the practical scope for change. Policy implementation in Manipur involves engaging with a variety of actors – the state government, insurgents from Manipur’s 30-odd insurgent (“underground”) outfits, the Indian Army units stationed to fight them, central infrastructure bodies – whose agendas do not always align with the needs of cross-border trade. These issues are of particular concern because India is not necessarily operating from a position of strength in border trade here. Present-day patterns favor Burmese businessmen, and Chinese and Southeast Asian manufacturers, more than they do their Indian counterparts. What’s more, even if India’s border trade position improves, it is an open question to what extent Manipur’s economy will benefit. The state’s economic struggles drive many of the dynamics that interfere with connectivity initiatives today; these dynamics will continue to cause trouble so long as those struggles persist.

Overland connectivity with ASEAN has long been presented as priority for the LEP and for developing the Northeast. But those expecting that Modi’s emergence will spark a rapid transformation in the connectivity scenario – for the benefit of Manipur, and of the rest of India – would do well to temper their hopes. Reshaping Indo-Myanmar connectivity requires rewiring basic features of the development environment in Manipur, through persistence, attention to local perspectives, and skillful bureaucratic management. Success in this matter will prove a stern test of the substance of the Act East pledge.

Connectivity and the State in Manipur
Both Delhi and Imphal have sought over the past few years to demonstrate a serious commitment to strengthening Indo-Myanmar connectivity via Manipur. For Delhi, at least, this is a somewhat new development, and certainly not an uncontested one. For most of the past seven decades, what attention the Northeast has received from Delhi has mostly come in the sphere of security: The region’s active insurgencies, and their links with Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China, provoked a policy framework that prioritized border security and anti-insurgent crackdowns. Since the early 2000s, Union (Central) Government agendas have placed greater emphasis on development and international connectivity in the region. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 2012 visit to Myanmar focused on trade promotion, with deals signed to boost air and road links between Manipur and Myanmar. Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh took a delegation to Myanmar in May 2013 to liaise with Burmese officials on ways to boost cross-border trade. Modi’s administration has even put forward the improbably bold idea of developing Moreh as one of its 100 new “smart cities” around India.

But if government-to-government initiatives suggest enhanced support from Delhi and Imphal for stronger connectivity, the actual workings of Manipur’s state apparatus – not just local authorities, but also the Union bodies engaged in the state – are far less helpful. Failures of governance have produced major levels of corruption and insurgency that generate an ugly gap between policy formulation and implementation.

Corruption and Infrastructure
As noted above, cross-border transit infrastructure deficits are a major drag on India-Myanmar trade. Redressing this issue on the Indian side will require substantial investment, especially in railways and roads, the most natural channels for large-volume trading in this region. In the railway sector, such efforts are ongoing, but progress is slow. A November 2014 presentation by India-ASEAN connectivity expert Prabir De suggests that efforts to connect Imphal to India’s railway map, initiated in 2003, are slated to be completed by March 2018. An extension from Imphal to Moreh, likewise set in motion during the mid-2000s, finished its engineering survey only this year, according to the Bangkok Post; and links from Moreh into Myanmar are further off.

For roads, at least, the basic infrastructure of trade already exists. Manipur connects to mainland India via two major highways. National Highway 102 (NH-102) is the extension of AH-1; it goes northwards into central Assam. National Highway 37 (NH-37) runs westwards into southern Assam. These two highways are essential not just for overland trade to Myanmar, but also for providing Manipur with the rice, petrol, cement, and other basic commodities which the state imports from other parts of India. However, both highways are plagued by shoddy construction, especially NH-37: Even in the dry season, traveling the 220 km from Imphal to Jiribam on Manipur’s western border can take 13–14 hours.

The border trading environment itself is characterized by a combination of weak basic infrastructure and byzantine bureaucratic procedures. A June 2014 report by Manipur-based Hueiyen News Service notes that the town struggles to guarantee five hours’ power daily – a major obstacle to state government plans for establishing a cold storage center, a must-have for high-volume trade in a host of food products. In 2006, central government authorities approved the development of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Moreh – a single complex for border management authorities, intended to improve inter-agency coordination. Construction is currently halted on account of Myanmar’s claims, announced in December 2013, that the ICP site lies on its territory. In the meantime, a 2011 report on border infrastructure at Moreh suggested that maintenance of current customs facilities had dropped off since ICP development began. Such deficits work against the sort of professionalized trading operations that Delhi policymakers seek to encourage, and in fact, the vast majority of Moreh’s trade goes through informal and illegal channels. Official statistics for these channels do not exist; but estimates I have heard – both publicly available (as in these reports) and in my own conversations with experts in Manipur – indicate that the annual volumes moving through each of these channels today stands somewhere in the billions to tens of billions of rupees, far above the hundreds of millions of rupees in annual formal trade.

Indeed, the volume of informal trade can be understood to indicate the mismatch between the infrastructure of formal trade and the demand for trade at Moreh. Informal trade here consists primarily of “headload trade” – goods carried across the border on one’s head, which are largely exempted from standard customs procedures. But much of this trade is actually coordinated by high-volume traders, who hire large armies of coolies to carry goods across the border. Ch. Priyoranjan Singh, an economist at Manipur University, says that, of the forty traders who obtained licenses to operate at Moreh’s formal customs station upon its establishment in 1995, just three still use them.

The issues of slow execution and unsatisfactory results in connectivity infrastructure projects in Manipur follows from the authorities who implement the projects: a nexus of central and state bodies with a nasty track record of corruption and poor performance. I heard estimates of standard graft levels on road projects in Manipur reaching 66 percent of project fund allocation, with skims demanded variously by Delhi mandarins, local politicians and bureaucrats, and underground groups, among others. The most functional road in the region is actually the 160 km Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road in Myanmar, built from 1999–2001 by India’s Border Roads Organisation as the easternmost link in a longer intended road between the Myanmar border town of Tamu and Mandalay. But the Border Roads Organisation is now facing a central inquiry into major non-performance of maintenance and construction tasks on NH-37.

Some observers offer examples of interest groups positioning themselves on connectivity issues according to their prospects of financial gain. The Indian army, for instance, has long expressed concerns that steps to boost India-Myanmar connectivity, by loosening the border, could undermine efforts against Manipur’s insurgent groups, a number of whom have permanent camps in northern Myanmar. But Priyoranjan of Manipur University questions the army’s motivations. He notes that local army figures are also important sponsors of nighttime smuggling operations whose traffic is worth billions rupees annually.

Managed Insecurity: Insurgent-State Relations
The politics of insurgent-state relations in Manipur have also generated serious obstacles to connectivity. Ethnically speaking, Manipur’s three major ethnic groups – Meiteis, Nagas, and Kukis – are closer to the peoples of northern Myanmar than they are to those of mainland India, and the accession of the state into India in 1949 occurred under heavy pressure from the Indian government. These issues were aggravated by economic alienation, as Partition severed Manipur from most natural trading links to the outside world, on the coast of modern-day Bangladesh. Violent Meitei insurgencies had emerged in Imphal and the surrounding valley areas by the late 1970s. Delhi responded with aggressive paramilitary campaigns backed by the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which sanctioned the use of deadly force by central security forces against citizens “acting in contravention of any law or order.” The law has weakened the foundations of criminal justice in counterinsurgency operations in Manipur while also generating what many observers have called a “culture of impunity” extending into state security personnel as well.

This governing strategy has worked as ideological justifications for underground groups, as organizations fighting back against maltreatment by the Indian state. Like many other Northeastern insurgencies, the Manipur underground’s penchant for criminality has seriously weakened their legitimacy in recent years amongst large segments of Manipur’s population. But the insurgencies’ persistence and strength owes much to the fact that, for decades, they have found popular support on these grounds. The underground forces have declined in manpower over the past several decades, but the security establishment has fought aggressively against revisions to AFSPA. In late 2014, Home Minister Rajnath Singh ruled out revisions to AFSPA in the near future. Given the BJP’s assiduous courting of key security players, a change seems unlikely.

In the meantime, the insurgents, and their appointed state handlers, create major hassles for cross-border traders. Insurgents’ influence today follows partly from their use of violence. Fatalities in the state have declined substantially over the past several years, but the threat of violence still forces traders to invest time and money (and take personal risks) forging and reforging links with different players in the ever-shifting insurgent landscape. Strikes and blockades targeting NH-37 and NH-102 are another source of trouble. The most frequent instigators are the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), a Nagaland-based insurgency with a strong presence in the Naga-dominated hill districts of northern Manipur. The NSCN-IM uses these tactics to press for the integration these districts into “Greater Nagaland,” a vision fiercely opposed by the Imphal Valley-based Meiteis who form the majority of Manipur’s population. Calculations based on data from a 2014 Observer Research Foundation report by Subir Bhaumik indicate that, between 2004–2005 and 2011–2012, strikes and blockades shut down one of NH-102 or NH-37 for a cumulative average of 129 days annually. (Students associations and other civil society groups also carry out strikes and blockades, but such organizations are often themselves close collaborators with the insurgencies.)

Even when the roads are open, passengers and truckers along these roads contend with an extensive series of extortion checkpoints set up by the underground or army and police officials. Fieldwork presented in a recent thesis by Sanabam Gunjait Mangang of the University of Calcutta claims the existence of 20 such checkpoints along each of NH-37 and the Imphal-Moreh stretch of AH-1, as well as another 15 along NH-102 from Imphal to the city of Dimapur in Nagaland. Security officials use bribes and political connections to jockey for position along these routes, with Imphal-Moreh the most desirable, followed by Imphal-Dimapur. Insurgent extortion often occurs with the blessing, tacit or otherwise, of local officials.

As regards the impacts of corruption and insurgency on connectivity, the stakes for improvement are high. At Moreh today, the most powerful traders are businessmen from not India but Myanmar, selling Chinese and Southeast Asian goods. Dulali Nag’s 2010 report for the Calcutta Research Group describes how the Burmese military’s establishment of Namphalong market in the 1990s, right by the gate for headload trade on the border, undid the patterns of trade that had ruled Moreh since the early 1960s. Historically, imports into India were coordinated by Moreh-based Indian businessmen with diasporic connections in both Myanmar and India. But wholesale and retail customers now skip the middlemen at Moreh to purchase directly from Namphalong market, whose shops stock mostly Chinese and Southeast Asian goods – cheaper, and often of better quality, than their Indian counterparts across the border. More recent writings on Moreh confirm the persistence of these basic dynamics.

A major part of the blame for Indian goods’ price disadvantage lies with poor infrastructure and endemic extortion along the transit corridors running up through Moreh. The existing imbalance means that Indian goods will not gain competitive edges by steps that nibble around the edges of the connectivity deficit; such edges will follow only from major progress.

Manipur’s 2017 Elections: Hopes for Change?
Could a change in local government improve conditions for boosting cross-border trade? Congress’s Okram Ibobi Singh is enjoying his third term as Manipur’s chief minister, and his second at the head of a simple-majority Congress administration. His reputation for graft earned him the nickname “10 Percent Ibobi,” for the cuts he demanded from sundry projects; a number of people in Manipur joked with me that the nickname was outdated, his takes had increased. Singh’s long tenure owes also to good ties with the insurgencies and the local security establishment.

The next two strongest parties in the current legislature, the Trinamool Congress (seven seats) and the Naga People’s Front (four seats), pose no threat to Congress’s rule; neither have the capacity to be more than side players. Instead, the most likely challenger is Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, whose share in the legislature has never exceeded 10 percent. Its capacity suffered in the early 2000s under a ban in the Valley imposed by the Meitei underground, in retaliation for gestures by the BJP-led central government in 2001 that signaled (very) tentative acknowledgment of the NSCN-IM’s demand for Greater Nagaland. The BJP did not win seats in either 2007 or 2012, even as enforcement of the ban was already waning.

Nonetheless, most observers I spoke to in Manipur suggested that the BJP stands a real chance of forming a coalition government in the 2017 elections. State BJP figures have based their appeals on an anti-corruption message and on their association with Narendra Modi, whose message of development-based governance seems to have been met with cautious interest in the state. Such is their public message. But there is good reason to question whether a BJP-led administration would do much to change the politico-economic environment that constricts cross-border trade through Manipur. As regards the anti-graft platform, the state BJP leadership’s reputations are not necessarily much better than the targets of their criticism: reporting by Imphal-based journalist Yambem Laba, for instance, has raised questions about corruption by state BJP president Thounaojam Chaoba Singh. The leadership is also riven with infighting, a issue which helped derail the BJP’s efforts in the most recent legislative election in Manipur, a state legislature by-election in October 2014. A number of people I spoke to in Manipur suggested that the BJP may end up relying on efforts to convince sitting Congress legislators to switch parties in the months before the poll. Such a strategy, of course, involves inheriting many of the networks that make meaningful changes in the state’s role with the political economy of Manipur even more unlikely.

For these reasons, the significance of a BJP administration for Manipur may ultimately depend upon the sort of relationship it builds with the national BJP – that is, whether Modi and his party are content with just having another state in its pocket, or whether they see BJP control in Manipur as a tool for reshaping local governance. Still, even if Congress holds its majority, New Delhi has a powerful tool for shaping its behavior: money. The state government is helpless without central government transfers, which constituted 89 percent of state revenues from 2010-13. Central government monitoring of state government projects (and those of the Border Roads Organisation, a central government body) has long suffered on account of a combination of influences in Delhi: graft, indifference towards the Northeast, political deal-cutting. Focused leadership could weaken the hold of these influences and make space for heightened accountability.

Connectivity for Whom?
Modi’s signals on Act East have spurred cautious optimism among many of Manipur’s elites that the new prime minister is genuinely committed to boosting regional connectivity. But my interviews in Manipur pointed to a complementary pessimism over the significance of pro-connectivity initiatives for Manipuris. Many observers fear that the benefits of greater connectivity will accrue far more to mainland Indians than to Manipuris.

Manipur’s weak economic base is the main cause for concern. Manipur’s proximity to Myanmar gives its one edge in supplying goods for, or in attracting businesses with an interest in, cross-border markets. But even as that proximity becomes more valuable, the state’s weak economic performance points to a host of other factors that will discourage capital from locating here. Gross state domestic product in Manipur averaged 5.19 percent annual growth rates between 2004–05 and 2012–13, well below the all-India average of 7.96 percent. Average output growth in Manipur’s industrial sector (from 2005–06 to 2013–14) was especially weak: 1.69 percent, versus the national average of 6.87 percent. Union government statistics on state industrial sectors in 2007–08, taken against 2011 population figures, allow for rough calculations on per capita factory density in each state; Manipur is securely in the bottom quintile. The sector is heavily constrained by poor infrastructure, most dramatically in terms of power supply. Manipur’s electricity transmission and distribution loss in 2007–08 and 2008–09 hovered around 50 percent – only Jammu and Kashmir are worse. Meanwhile, agriculture, per 2008–09 state statistics, employs more than half of the state’s labor force. But a preponderance of small-holding subsistence farmers means that the state relies upon imports for a variety of essential foodstuffs. Commercially-minded growers in more vibrant sectors like horticulture are held back by basic infrastructure bottlenecks – for instance, a statewide absence of cold storage facilities. In terms of human capital, literacy rates in the state are strong: 79 percent as of 2011, as opposed to the all-India average of 73 percent. But the lack of economic opportunities restricts the development of what one might call commercial human capital—business acumen and experience.

Even in the border trade sector itself, Manipuris have traditionally been marginal players. Moreh has long facilitated small-scale exchange between locals, but the town has served an important node in larger trading networks ever since the early 1960s, when traders from mainland India’s oppressed diaspora in Myanmar settled here. Most significant were the Tamils, who had grown from just 200 in the early 1960s to 13,000 in 1980, though Marwari and Punjabi families also played an important role. The mainlanders’ reliance upon kinship ties made these networks inherently difficult for Manipuris to penetrate. Manipuris also suffered from a lack of commercial human capital; the state had no tradition of capitalist commerce or of large-scale trading, and its economic isolation in post-Partition India had exacerbated these deficits.

In the past two decades, mainland Indian populations have declined significantly, and Nag says that Namphalong’s emergence has boosted the position of aspirant Meitei traders, who can leverage their diasporic links in Myanmar. But my interviewees suggested that any inroads by the Meiteis should not be exaggerated, and that, in regards to formal and informal trade coordinated from the Indian side, mainland India communities are still far more powerful. Instead, the Manipuris most effectively integrated into the local political economy of trade are largely those in the insurgencies and in army or state government positions, via highway extortion, graft, and illegal trade.

Left unresolved, the state’s weak economic base will restrict avenues for Manipuris to take advantage of the opportunities that stronger connectivity brings. My interviews suggested that some sectors are in relatively better positions – niche ones like medical tourism from northern Myanmar, and also potentially broader ones like horticulture, mentioned above, and standard-issue tourism. (Elevated investment in tourism has run into trouble with the sudden cancellation of the 2007 North East Industrial and Investment Policy and its investment incentives; but New Delhi assures that the cancellation is only temporary.) The best-case scenario would see such sectors survive the state’s formidable deficits in infrastructure and law and order to lay a foundation for a more competitive economy. Judicious central government engagement here will be essential: targeted infrastructure funding, steady incentives for investment, and somehow, some way, improved mechanisms of accountability.

Connectivity may not deliver much for Manipur without concurrent improvements in the state’s economic base. But local development will also be a boon for connectivity, by weakening the nexus of corruption and insurgency outlined above. With the underground’s ideological underpinnings corroding, their strength rests more and more upon their ability to offer Manipur’s youth access to income amidst a bleak local economy. Meanwhile, local underdevelopment boosts corruption’s hold on the local economy: Almost all large-scale investment in the state, and hence almost all opportunities for accumulating wealth, comes through public expenditure.

Connectivity: Why Manipur Matters
The place of Manipur within Indo-Myanmar connectivity represents a serious test for Modi’s government – of its ability to impose its agenda, and of its sensitivity to local concerns. Stronger connectivity requires major infrastructure initiatives: In one of India’s most corrupt states, can rails and roads be done right? Stronger connectivity also requires recognition of the development needs of Manipuris: To what extent will such issues feature on Modi’s connectivity agenda?

The Indian government, in policy design and implementation, does not have a sterling record on these questions. And its leverage is greater over some bodies than others. But only the central government has the combination of resources and responsibilities to coordinate between, and try to shape the behavior of, the various players of Manipur’s political economy – interest groups in the central government itself, state authorities, the security establishment, and local underground and civil society players. Success in these efforts would demand special persistence and focus from Modi and his team, and from those who follow them. But the benefits could be enormous: a more stable and prosperous Manipur, emerging overland trade corridors to ASEAN, and new diplomatic leverage in East and Southeast Asia for other priorities. That is truly Acting East.

Edmund Downie is a Yale University Gordon Grand Fellow at the Calcutta-based Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development, studying Indian regional integration with East and Southeast Asia.