They say, without darkness, there cannot be light, and without some dark days, can one set the good days apart? When we put our individual selves in consideration, we all have had our share of days good and bad, but if we are to imagine years of seemingly everlasting turmoil, we probably would be rendered helpless amidst the angst and pain of unfavourable if not devastating derelictions.
Now let us imagine a collective of about 4 crore souls, shunted out of the picture of prosperity, of development, of equal rights for more than 6 decades under the same sun we all live and breathe in. Stripped down of fair dignity, oppressed by the very hands they healed, cast aside from the mainstream prejudiced as primitives and the worst of all, often portrayed as aliens by their own countrymen.
Yes, I am talking about the North East and the citizen of the North Eastern states of India. It is dry humour to enforce the clarification that North East India is indeed a part of India, as opposed to the shameful ignorance shared by many. Post Independence, India as a country grew leaps and bounds piggybacking the commendable talent pool of the nation. History witnessed the transformation of cities to metropolitan marvels, roadways and railways saw fancier wheels, the aerospace thundered with the rumbles of jet engines mightier than the Wright Brothers’ imagination, the country folk were introduced to gradually standardized lives, but what iota of these were bestowed upon the citizens of the Northeast? The “Hill Folks” or “Adivasis”, as they were called, left dejected with the bare minimum priority the government could possibly give.
Neglected and ignored to the epitome that even in the late 2000s, 60 years after independence, an average citizen of mainstream India stammered in naming all the states of the North East, let alone name the capital cities. In my college days, I had a hard time explaining where Agartala was or that Tripura was a part of India.
Whose fault would that be? That particular citizen’s, or, of the system as a whole that failed to educate the citizen? This is rhetoric. Please refrain from answering. The system that also failed to provide proper connectivity, power, resources when these were under the jurisdiction of the Government then in office. History stands by my words as I write, fresh as the boiling blood of all those who were made to live a life they never chose, contrary to the popular beliefs.
I thank my fate to live to see the silver lining that shone upon us after the dark clouds of geopolitical katabatic. The timing could not be more right, just as the indigenous folks were finally making their voice heard and their presence felt, the wind bore the news of a sweeping victory.
It was the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, and BJP rode in victorious in a lotus adorned chariot, morphing the stagnant dynamics of the central powerhouse. Right from the onset of the new regime, the pro-development party kicked off with various schemes to boost the nation’s economy, trades, livelihood rural and commercial sectors. The Vision Document for Vision 2020, earmarked for the development of the North Eastern Region, otherwise coined as NER, brought about the first true rays of hope to the citizen of the states influenced.
What the Shri Narendra Modi led government dazzled the citizen of North East and the rest of the country with was the formation of the NEDA or North East Democratic Alliance on May 24th, 2016. Under the blitz wings and direction of Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma, Convener of NEDA, the till then dejected people of the NER started to trust the government and invited the shades of saffron into their home.
Strange? Not really, by the lines of the Look East Policy and the Vision Document, the sentiment of “Inclusive growth calls for Inclusive Governance” touched the heart of the masses, as it was evident that the government is truly looking for ontogeny and not simply expanding an empire. Through this democratic alliance, the local regional parties of the states, who were in opposition or struggling to get their voices heard had a backbone to count on and bring forth the much-awaited reforms to their own land, preserving their local sentiments and customs, state Acts and Rules. This way, they could empower themselves in ways acceptable to themselves and also be at par with the growth rate of the rest of the nation.
The alliance thus impregnated with the inception of various projects that focused on the upgradation of the highways, railways, power, internet, BPOs, organic food, assistance, timely implementation of projects & job creation, tourism and rural development sectors. The landform which was once considered inaccessible now had projects either approved or initiated that connected it even further than anyone had thought of, nationally and internationally.
The 1400 km long India-Thailand-Myanmar Trilateral highway project, the BBIN project, the Railway projects to Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar are to name a few. Apart from connectivity upgradation under NESIDS and NERSDS, the government also gave its prime focus on the agriculture and agri-based livelihood face, as 80% of the NER is based on the same. To uplift the domain, green revolution was initiated that ensures agri extensions, land reforms, rural credit and banking, export, as well as non-farm rural employment & income generation, handloom, handicrafts and animal husbandry. All these put together appear to be a mammoth of a task to practically execute any of it.
Hence, to the sceptical minds, I would like to bring forth one of the most practical approach that has been taken, which is the Track 10. The Track 10 scheme earmarks 10% of the Annual Budget of the Central Ministry for the NER that includes 53 non-exempted Ministry/Department that surrenders the unutilized portions of the funds to a get accumulated as a Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources or NLCPR. Through Track 10, the deficits of funds for the development of the NER are mitigated and that in terms aid the needs of the hour like North East Venture Fund (NEVF), Science and Technology Interventions in the North East Region (STINER) and better facilitate the World Bank initiative of North East Rural Livelihood Project(NERLP).
Through these schemes, the education and rural development sectors are armed to relentlessly wage war against all the odds that held the NER back. For the private sectors who are willing to come forth in the betterment of the regions are also welcome on a PPP basis for feasible projects. Such initiatives encouraged the local entrepreneurs to launch their startups. We have seen a great rise of the youth and especially the women in the battlefield of entrepreneurship in the past few years.
It really gladdens my heart to see the people taking charge of their own lives now, taking care of their families and also making a name in the world, carrying forward the glory of the Incredible North East. Tourism has started to flourish, and with better cooperation of the government and the local bodies, we can expect the North East to be the next happening hub of the country, especially as it shares multiple international borders, gateways and even the new International Internet Gateway in Tripura.
However, certain aspects are yet to be seen in effect. While the young minds and souls are now encouraged to start their own ventures and brisk a walk down the lane of entrepreneurship, we still face hindrances in the ground level. The schemes and plans set by the Government are attractive and pro-youth development, but the process of the same reaching down to the masses are still hazy.
Any entrepreneur seeking for financial help are made to go through an unnecessary series of ordeal. The sweet words of the government shall bear no fruit if they do not take the initiative to train the government employees at the lower levels to act upon the schemes and plans. It is indeed sad to see that many employees of the banking sector do not even know the full form of MSME, let alone help the customers avail the benefits.
One should bear in mind that the youth today are smarter than the people of older generation generally anticipate. Information of any kind are available in our fingertips, we can cross verify any law with a few taps on the screen and most importantly we know our fundamental and legal rights. It would be smart for anyone in the authority to proceed with caution if they seek to retain our trust. We want nothing else but the development of the region and the nation as a whole, along with the government in power.
Wonders happen when the right hands join instead on one’s own two hands in front of the world. What real development and prosperity takes are good intentions, proper communication and channels and most importantly trust and faith. The people of the North East put their faith in the BJP government to look for a brighter tomorrow together with the hope that the bond is not severed and the trust is not breached in this democracy.
On behalf of the 4 crore citizen of NE, I can boldly conclude with the sentiment “Humaara saath do, hum saath rahenge!”. Jai Hind!
Devid Debbarma is a Socio -political activist, writer, entrepreneur, and a former student leader from Tripura.