Nothing captures the peopleís imagination in Indiaís Northeast like the hope of a new dawn of peace. The region of many ethnic insurgencies lived constantly in that hope for much of 2002, as an end to the 50-year-old Naga militancy seemed to come closer. But for a late change of schedule, the two top leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, Mr Isak Swu and Mr Thuingaleng Muivah, who are devout Christians, could have been in India during Christmas ó for the first time in over 30 years. They will be in the Indian capital in January, carrying the hope over to the new year. As the NSCN has been known as the mother of all northeastern insurgencies, its return to peace will spread the message far beyond Nagaland. Other groups will not only lose the material and ideological support they have long received from the Naga outfit, but will also see once more the futility of their small mutinies. Peace initiatives during the year brought some hope also in Assam where the Bodo Liberation Tigers were close to signing an accord on the creation of an autonomous territorial council for the ethnic group. The agreement did not come through because of bureaucratic delays, but the talks brought cheers to a long-suffering people. The Assam government, New Delhi and the BLT have a commitment now to translate the hope into reality in the new year. The signals for peace rang louder in 2002 than the gunshots of the United Liberation Front of Asom, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland or the National Liberation Front of Tripura.
There was little cheer, though, for the regionís economy that remained as starved of new industrial or commercial initiatives as ever. Even old government schemes like the hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh lagged way behind their schedules. In Assam, a cash-strapped government struggled to pay salaries to its employees. For the first time, the Union cabinet has a separate ministry for the economic development of the region. But the minister, Mr Arun Shourie, seems to have been too busy with his other charge, disinvestment, to be able to generate either funds or hope for the areaís economic growth. As economic deprivations are a major reason for the regionís youth taking up guns, it is important that both New Delhi and the state governments take up the economic agenda in earnest in the new year. Sharing its border with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, the area has a locational advantage for trade that can help change its economy.