The northeastern part of India comprising of eight states with their unique culture and tradition is often termed as a breeding ground for separatists' movement. The landlocked region nurtures more than 30 insurgent groups fighting the government.
The union government has drafted many plans and proposals to transform the region into a business
hub in South and Southeast Asia. New Delhi’s ‘Look East’ policy is meant for the economic benefit of the indigenous people of the region. The multi-million dollar Kaladan project, which is designed to develop the Sittwe port in the Arakan coast of western Burma and connect it with Mizoram, is on high agenda of the government. Moreover, the Indo-Burma gas pipeline, though in cold storage presently, was projected as a big opportunity for the Northeast (particularly after Bangladesh showed reluctance in allowing the pipeline to pass through its territory).
Things went well for New Delhi
until the sudden uprising in adjoining Burma (also known as Myanmar). While New Delhi invited critical comments from international communities including the UN and EU for its junta (Burmese) - appeasing policy, the real challenge has surfaced from the alienated region, where public meetings, rallies and other initiatives have received support, condemning the military rulers of Burma and visibly supporting the pro-democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
In a recent conference in Manipur, a Burma-bordering State in the Northeast, it was unanimously decided to extend support to the people of Burma in their struggle for democracy. Organised by the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights on October 13 at Ukhrul, the conference, which was attended by different social organisations, representatives of Churches, NGOs and institutions also called upon the Burmese junta to resolve the long pending issues in a democratic and peaceful way.
Earlier the State witnessed a solidarity meeting on October 2, which strongly urged New Delhi to withdraw all kinds of its engagement with the junta. Attended by a hundred participants including prominent legislators, political activists, human rights activists, peace activists and others, the meeting resolved to convey its unconditional support to the pro-democracy movement in Burma.
More recently, thousands Christians in Manipur
joined in a prayer campaign for freedom and democracy in Burma. Organised by the Myanmar Christian Fellowships on October 21, which is comprised of Burmese Christians in exile too, they expressed solidarity with Suu Kyi and prayed to almighty for the release of all political prisoners including the great lady.
Earlier on October 6, civil society groups of Meghalaya, Nagaland
observed a ‘global day of action’ for a free Burma with different activities. The simultaneous demonstration in these states highlighted the common concern for the agitating monks and peaceful protestors of Burma, who were brutally suppressed by the Burmese regime. Nearly 20,000 people assembled at Mawphlang, near Shillong and urged the centre to intervene in the Burmese crisis and apply diplomatic pressure on the junta for initiating a dialogue with the democratic forces.
In Nagaland, another Burma-bordering State, indigenous people took out a rally demanding tougher action against the Burmese group of Generals and sought immediate intervention by the UN in the prolonged Burmese crisis. Organised by influential civil society groups like Naga Hoho, Naga Students’ Federation, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, Nagaland Baptist Church Council and others, the October 6 rally showcased placards reading ’Stop Crackdown on Peaceful Demonstrators’, ’Free Burmese people from the Junta’, ’Do not repeat the 1988 Massacre’.
Similarly in Assam, hundreds participated in a Candle Light Vigil to express solidarity with the struggling Burmese people. Organised by the North East Peoples’ Initiative, the programme attracted hundreds to spread the message of support to the Nobel Laureate-lady, who is under arrest for the last four years in Rangoon. Guwahati
earlier witnessed a citizens’ meeting on October 4, which urged the central government’ to create diplomatic pressure on the Burmese junta to refrain from repressive measures against those carrying on the democracy movement’. Organised by the Journalists’ Forum, Assam, the meeting also resolved to call upon the government ’not to remain silent on the happenings in the neighbouring country and do the needful within its powers to facilitate a peaceful transition to democracy’.
Likewise, the ’Mizoram Committee for Democracy in Burma’ appealed to New Delhi to adopt a pro-active role in persuading the Burmese junta to change its constitution to a democratic set up. In a press meet at Aizwal on October 20, the committee asserted that it wanted democracy in Burma. Comprised of civil societies, human rights activists, intellectuals and concerned citizens of Mizoram, the committee insisted that government intervene in the present political crisis in Burma. Earlier, a solidarity meeting in the Burma-bordering state on October 4 unanimously demanded that New Delhi snap all diplomatic and business ties with the junta until democracy is restored in country.
The anti-junta meeting in Mizoram
assumes significance because the tiny State has nearly 40,000 Chin refugees (from Burma), who are yet to be recognised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These refugees, who entered India in different groups after the military crackdown during the 1988 Burma uprising, however feel safe in Mizoram as both Mizo and Chin tribes share similar linguistic accents and socio-religious morals.
New Delhi, even after attracting criticism for its strategic ties with the military rulers of Burma (known as the State Peace and Development Council) continues trying to justify its stand, when it emphasised on engaging (not alienating) the junta. During a recent visit to the Northeast, the Indian Foreign Minister reiterated that New Delhi had been involved ’in a variety of projects with Myanmar in diverse fields such as roads, railways, telecommunications, IT, science and technology
and power’. Delivering a lecture in Guwahati on India’s Look East Policy, Pranab Mukherjee
also affirmed, "As a close and friendly neighbour, India hopes to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Myanmar, where all sections of people will be included in a broad-based process of national reconciliation and political reform."
India, which supported the pro-democracy movement in Burma till the early nineties, is concerned over growing Chinese influence in that country. New Delhi later changed its Burma policy and decided to engage the junta in greater economic cooperation. Another major concern for New Delhi is insurgency in the Northeast. Armed groups are using the jungles of northern Burma for their training camps. India’s argument is it cannot ignore the junta since it is supporting its efforts in dealing with the insurgents along the 1,600-km porous Indo-Burma border.
But the ground reality is that public resentment against New Delhi in Northeast is usually high. The indigenous people here strongly believe that the Union government exploits the region keeping an eye on oil, coal, tea and forest resources of the region, but always turns a deaf ear to the perennial problems of the Northeastern states. It will be a challenge for New Delhi to deal with the public resentment that is growing in its alienated Northeast region.
There is however no doubt that the Northeastern people have been suffering for long on various fronts with significant implications because of an unstable Burma. While the region has been compelled to provide shelter to refugees from Burma, its residents have been exposed to illicit drugs and arms trafficking by the people of the poverty-stricken, troubled country. People in the northeast have been falling victim to HIV / AIDS at an alarming rate.
Manipur, which has given birth to some of the outstanding sports
personalities of our times, has now emerged as one of India’s highly HIV-infected States. The talented and promising youth of the region fall prey to addiction (thanks to abundant supply of illegal drugs from Burma), thus paving the way for contracting other dreaded diseases.
The question that arises is should New Delhi overlook all these developments, which affect our region? In fact, it is in the interest of the Northeast region to have a stable and democratic regime in Burma. The Central government must take note of the situation clearly while dealing with the situation in the Northeast, where anti-New Delhi voices have emerged and sustained since the days of India’s independence. It will add to New Delhi’s problems, if the growing anti- junta sentiment in the Northeast stirs up resentment against the Central government in the days to come.