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Standard portrayal of the North East has been that it is India’s periphery. Indeed, geography and to an extent socio-cultural realities have consigned it to the fringe of not only India’s nation-building enterprise, but also to the backwaters of the country’s collective consciousness. But the reality is that the region is not India’s periphery. It is central not only to the nation’s security, but also to its identity as a nation that seeks to showcase “unity in diversity.” Few other regions in the sub-continent possess a medley of peoples and cultures that together form a distinctive entity or assume a geostrategic imperative that is so central. But the North East continues to be characterised as a frontier outpost of a now forgotten empire. While this outlook is in some measure due to the colonial British policy of excluding a goodly part of the region from its primary administrative ambit—the annexation of Assam in 1826 by way of the Treaty of Yandaboo with the Burmese was primarily for commerce—later day guiding principles too has not completely abandoned the standards that the colonizers had adopted for administering the imperiled frontiers.

 

The geographical location of the North East has not only accorded the region the status of a defence zone, but has, as a result, led New Delhi to view it primarily through the prism of security. But, even in the quest to zealously guard the frontiers against external aggression, New Delhi’s policy towards the region has been less than holistic. In 1962, during the border war with China, even as a prime minister’s heart went out for the people, the region was abandoned to its own devices. The measures that should have been undertaken—after the Chinese withdrawal from the eastern sector in the aftermath of the war—to prevent another “Himalayan Blunder” is yet to be completely realised, a strange principle given that the region—in New Delhi’s perception—is primarily a defence zone.

 

The territorial aspirations of the external aggressor is not limited to the dragon in the north alone, which incidentally not only menacingly breathes down onto the plains from its commanding heights across the Line of Actual Control, but is also intimidating by way of aiding and abetting myriad insurgencies in the region in order to fuel prairie fires that would daunt counter-action were war-like postures to be adopted by it, but also by way of a systematic demographic invasion from the south. The quest for lebensraum in the North East by the invading hordes from the erstwhile East Pakistan is complete. The cry of the indigenous people of the region, despite a full-fledged agitation and a resultant insurgency, has fallen on deaf ears: dispensations after dispensations in New Delhi ignored the call of the periphery and it would be a matter of time before the enchanted frontiers would be lost. The North Easterner’s lament is, therefore, rightfully in place, and if New Delhi seeks correct integration of the region into its vision, then corrective steps must be taken in right earnest.

 

The ways in which the North East is bedevilled are numerous. A military threat from China and danger of an indigenous population being overwhelmed by outlanders that owe their allegiance to hostile, puritanical forces are only two of the perils. The region, were insensitivity to continue to reign, would experience not only insurgencies, unrest and hostility, but would begin to express a dissonance for the Indian heartland. Gratefully much of the North Eastern heart is still with “Punya Bharatavarsha”. Medieval Assamese reformers like Srimanta Sankardeva understood the imperative of uniting the land to the rest of India, even during a time when India was not a single political entity. A modern-day statesman like Gopinath Bordoloi, ignoring Nehru’s admonishments for not “falling in line” with Assam’s inclusion in Pakistan, approached Gandhiji and ascertained that Assam remained in India. Indeed, such is the legacy that has engendered the region, an aspect that must be taken notice of by New Delhi and the rest of India.

 

Polemics apart, brass tacks demand that a separate policy-making configuration needs to be anvilled for the North East. The vastness of India’s landscape and responsibility has not quite provided adequate attention to the region, which is not to suggest that the frontiers have been consigned to the flames of anonymity by New Delhi. In all probability it has not applied sufficient cerebration for the construction of a comprehensive structure that would resolutely attend to the essentials of the region. The need of the hour is, therefore, the constitution of a North East Security Council, which in its wider ambit would not only address traditional security issues like border management, illegal migration, drug-gun running, insurgency, Islamist terror, human and energy security (the listing above not being all-inclusive), but also development which is an important factor of security. The formation of such a council would also decisively inform the expanse that makes up the North East that New Delhi is serious about the region’s health.

 

A blueprint that might form the framework in which the North East Security Council may take shape is provided below.

North East Security Council

 

Prime Minister    

                                                                 

Chairman

 

Members

 

 Foreign Min                  Defence Min                DONER Min        Home Min                Finance Min

 

National Security Adviser

 

Convenor

 

Member Member Member Member [Special Assistant to NSA on NE] Member Member Member Member

 

There would be nine members, five from the North East and four from the rest of India. The Convenor of the North East Security Council would also hold the post of Special Assistant to the National Security Adviser (NSA) on North East and would hold an appropriate rank in the Government of India, ideally that of an Additional Secretary, Government of India. It is recommended that a person who has good knowledge of North East security is considered, and not necessarily a person from the annals of the government. He/she would also sit in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and regularly advice the NSA on the security of the North East and on the development of the region. The mandate of the North East Security Council would pertain to all aspects of security of the North East, adjoining countries and development of the region. The Special Assistant to the NSA on North East would have access to all information pertaining to the North East collected and collated by various agencies including the National Intelligence Agency, Ministry of Home Affairs, Research & Analysis Wing, Intelligence Bureau, Directorate General of Military Intelligence, Directorate General of Military Operations, Defence Intelligence Agency, Special Branches/Intelligence Branch of all the state police comprising the North East, North East Council, as well as Mission Reports from China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.

 

The Chief Secretaries of the eight states that comprise the North East; the Cabinet Secretary, Government of India; Home Secretary, Government of India; Foreign Secretary, Government of India; Finance Secretary, Government of India; Chief of Army Staff; Secretary (R); Director, Intelligence Bureau; and heads of intelligence of the eight states would be observers of the Council and may be summoned to attend the Council on requirement, singly or collectively. However, they would not be regular attendees of the Council and would have to be called upon by the Convenor on the recommendations of the NSA. It would be mandated by either an Act of Parliament or an Executive Order that the North East Security Council would have the faith of the Lok Sabha and would meet at least once a month, six times a year being in a capital of one of the eight North Eastern states.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.