Northeast has a proud identity in a New India - Hindustan Times
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Northeast has a proud identity in a New India

Aug 15, 2022 08:58 PM IST

As we celebrate 75 years of Independence, we, the people of the Northeast, have won the love and respect of fellow Indians we embark on a journey to rebuild our nation into a New India where all citizens are united.

As India celebrated Har Ghar Tiranga (Tricolour in every home) to commemorate 75 years of Independence, people from Northeast India joined the festivities with elan. This sense of belonging — an emotional bond with each other and fellow countrymen — has been strengthened over the last eight years.

There has been a huge infrastructure boost in the region with many engineering marvels such as the Bogibeel Bridge, India’s longest rail-cum-road bridge. (PTI File Photo) PREMIUM
There has been a huge infrastructure boost in the region with many engineering marvels such as the Bogibeel Bridge, India’s longest rail-cum-road bridge. (PTI File Photo)

In this period, the government made a sincere effort to address various issues affecting the Northeast and find suitable solutions. Thanks to this approach, we have reached a stage where everyone is proud and respectful of India’s achievements. India has earned great honour both at home and abroad.

Look at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games, where our athletes delivered a tremendous performance and made every one of us proud. Such elevating occasions are celebrated across the country. There is a tremendous sense of belonging in the manner in which people from the Northeast cheer for Sharath Kamal or Nikhat Zareen as fervently as people from the rest of India cheer for Mirabai Chanu or Jeremy Lalrinnunga. This newfound spirit — this sense of belonging — in today’s India is the greatest wealth that the government under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has created. Ending years of neglect and instilling a sense of belonging among the people of the Northeast is one of the greatest legacies that PM Modi has fashioned, unique in its reach since Independence.

We, the people of Northeast India, have experienced occasions when a young person from the region would lament the apathy of the central government by citing then PM Jawaharlal Nehru during the Indo-China war. He referred to “our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment.” This created a sense of loss and even resentment among (other) people of the Northeast towards the central government.

The continued indifference from subsequent governments at the Centre towards the region only added to this growing resentment. The lack of economic growth and employment opportunities for people from a resource-rich region left many frustrated, angry, jobless, and poor.

Further, the indigenous people of the Northeast were threatened by waves of illegal immigration post the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971. The half-hearted attempt by the then government to check and prevent illegal immigration was ineffective. But the situation became worse when the then Congress-led government passed the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act to provide safeguards to illegal immigrants with the sole aim of gaining political advantage.

It was only in 2005 that the Supreme Court declared this law unconstitutional. Until then, the region was left to its own devices, beset as it was by a lack of economic growth, frustration at not finding employment opportunities, the growing feeling of alienation, poor development, and unchecked illegal migration. Ignoring the signs of resentment, successive governments continued with their near colonial mindset and made minimal effort to help the people of the region. The greatest tragedy of this alienation was the gradual loss of a sense of belonging. People found themselves in a hopeless situation, marred by violence, rising insurgency, economic problems, and the erosion of emotional capital.

Things started to change with the coming to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre under the leadership of Bharat Ratna, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998. Major infrastructure projects were announced and sincere attempts were made to address the issues of the region. One such step was the creation of a dedicated ministry of development of North Eastern region (DoNER) as a facilitator for growth and development in the region. The BJP always had a clear vision of the need to invest — both economically and emotionally — and to revive the sense of belonging in the Northeast. With the advent of the Modi government in 2014, this vision received a major boost. Decades after Independence, the people of the Northeast found the kind of leader they needed in Narendra Modi — committed to addressing their trouble and pain, and making a sincere attempt to find solutions to their problems — creating opportunities for younger generations, building avenues to improve the quality of lives of people, and giving the people of the Northeast much greater reason to take pride in their Indian identity.

In the government’s vision of New India, it is the Northeast which is going to play the role of the engine driving India’s next growth story. At the policy level, the government has been working on the Act East framework, moving on from the obsolete Look East one.

There is now a sincere attempt to rebuild the bruised consciousness of the people of the region and restore a sense of belonging. As a result, the peace and tranquillity that have eluded much of the Northeast for a long time is slowly coming back. The withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa) — a longstanding demand of people from most of the Northeast has been welcomed across India. It is also a testimony to the relative peace that has dawned after a long time. These conducive conditions have led to unprecedented development in the region.

In Assam alone, more than 1.25 million houses were built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY); more than 6.3 million rural households have got water connections in their homes under the Jal Jeevan Mission; more than 4 million women from economically weaker sections have got free LPG cylinders under the Ujjwala Yojana scheme; and more than 20 million people were brought into the banking system through the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. There has been a huge infrastructure boost in the region with many engineering marvels such as the Bogibeel Bridge, India’s longest rail-cum-road bridge, Jiribam Railway bridge, the world’s tallest railway bridge, and others finally being built. Such efforts validate the philosophy of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (with everyone, for the development of everyone).

As we celebrate 75 years of Independence, we, the people of the Northeast, have won the love and respect of fellow Indians we embark on a journey to rebuild our nation — materially and emotionally — into a New India where all citizens are united. Today, we are equal partners in building our home, society, and country for a better tomorrow.

Sarbananda Sonowal is minister of ports, shipping and waterways and AYUSH, and former chief minister of Assam

The views expressed are personal

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