| Dress rehearsal
The renewed focus on cow slaughter, given the approaching elections and even before, the proposed bill to ban it, brings into focus, once again, an enduring and shameful aspect of national policy, that is, the total disregard of the sensibilities and social characteristics of all the communities that go to make up the country. True, appropriate regard has to be paid to the sentiments of the majority, but that cannot be a reason to assume that theirs are the only sentiments that need to be kept in mind. For votes, politicians will have no scruples in doing so, but a government cannot prostitute itself for any political party, in power or not for that reason.
The fact that beef is a standard part of the diet of Indians in the Northeast — and is eaten by Indians who belong to other communities — is not the issue here. The issue is a larger one — the refusal, or the inability of those who make policy and take decisions that affect the country to see the Northeast as an integral part of the country, in the way Uttar Pradesh or Karnataka is. It is an inability, really; a deficiency of conception that no amount of reasoning can correct, or so it seems, after all these years.
Just consider the record. We’ve had more than fifty years of independence — and what have we done in that period to provide good, and I mean really good, communications with the Northeast' Oh yes, there is a rail link that goes as far as Dimapur. Big deal. It’s a shoddy link, just one line, and the trains run only when the officials feel like running them. There are plans to extend it, one hears, plans being resolutely blocked by the penny-wise in the finance ministry on grounds that the country can’t afford it'
Can’t afford it' We’ve just heard that they’ve cleared a project to send a satellite to the moon, costing over Rs 300 crore, and we can’t afford a network of railway lines in the Northeast' Ah, they will tell you in hushed tones, but the moon satellite is important because of its security implications. It may well have. So will many other projects. So why not scrap everything — education, health, water supply, rural development, everything, and concentrate on security alone'
We can have a nice militarized country, with security concerns overriding all activities, and lots of fences, gates, walls, machine guns pointing at frightened civilians who will have no drinking water, no schools, no hospitals, no work, but who cares, as long as tanks abound, and security concerns engage the attention of the great and the powerful'
Somewhere, sometime, policy-makers must get real, must smell the coffee. It won’t do to sit in the grubby rooms of North Block poring over files marked “Top Secret”. The Northeast needs a network of railway lines, linking as many parts of it as possible, as it needs good roads — not the pot-holed narrow strips of second-class bitumen that pass for national highways. It needs sturdy, wide dual carriageways to all cities, and towns and good wide roads from those to the interior regions. Of course it will cost money. That money has to be found because these are major projects of much greater importance than sending a satellite to the moon, whatever its security implications.
And that’s not all, by any means. The region needs to be treated like other parts of India — opened up for tourism, with good hotels and guest-houses, no permits to go anywhere, facilities for sightseeing and for enjoyment. We’re so busy sending tourists to Kashmir and Ladakh; how about exerting ourselves a little and sending tourists to the Northeast' What about industries' And the development of agriculture and animal husbandry, projects to protect the environment, to market local agricultural and other farm produce' Not by the creaking old public-sector outfits that need to be swiftly abolished, but by private enterprise, who will do it because they’ll be able to make money, as will the producers in the farms and in villages. What about all this'
Given that very little has been actually done so far — money has been spent, but it has gone to ministers and others, not really used for the purposes for which they were provided — surely a much greater effort is needed, a much greater importance given in terms of policy. It won’t do for the prime minister to go there occasionally, wear colourful headgear and drape a colourful shawl around himself; something much more substantial, something that will make a difference, must be done and done now.
The trouble is with the secret, dark recesses where decisions are conceived and policies born. This is where you find little men — little in every sense — whose idea of India is frightening. It consists of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana, for the most part, perhaps Punjab, Rajasthan (occasionally) and Madhya Pradesh. That’s it. The rest is a grey mass of land and people who are strange, often funny to these little men, whose chief function is to support what the India they know does.
And what does their India do' Rant and rave about temples and mosques, pseudo-secularism and other such fascination concepts, organize pogroms to kill, maim and loot, (ask that littlest of little men, Narendra Modi and he’ll tell you how to do it) and make loud speeches about Bharat Mata. You know what Bharat Mata. And where do these little men come from' Like the orcs in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, they come from the area that is a blasted, impoverished place where bigotry, casteism, illiteracy and hatred are endemic, and whose inhabitants breed like flies. They call it India, Bharat Mata. To other Indians it is the disaster area of India, the one region where most of the country’s ills are located.
And in the rest of India, as in the Northeast, the frustrating lack of infrastructure and basic facilities gives rise to resentment, all of which it is in the gift of the little men to provide. But going beyond that, the mindset of the little men gives rise to alienation, and bitterness. Not having something is bad enough; to be surprised that you exist at all is intolerable. If, then, there are separatist parties and groups, it isn’t so much because of the Northeast as a region as it is because of the little men in the dark holes of North Block.
And yet it is they who talk of India’s diversity, its “multi-faceted culture”. What they really mean is the diversity in Gorakhpur, Arrah and Muzaffarnagar. The multi-faceted culture is of Haryana and UP. Or — to the visionaries among them — the odhnis of Rajasthan. Beyond that it’s all to do with people in weird costumes performing folk dances on Republic Day, nothing more.
This is where the notion of India must change if it is to hold together. Perhaps some of the more enlightened among the power elite, like L.K. Advani, will realize the abyss in front of which we now stand and persuade these little men to step back. The true separatists are not those groups in the Northeast armed with AK-47s; they are the denizens of the “colonies” of Delhi to which they have come like locusts from the dark land around the capital city; the ones who set out the initial notes in files and start chain reactions which could end up in disaster. If lessons in diversity have to be given, it is to this lot that they must be given first, and over a long period of time.