The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Delhi fiddles while the northeast burns

by Tarun Vijay
September 07, 2007

Visiting Nagaland makes you feel different. You have to procure an inner line permit to enter. The permit demands to know why I am going there, where I shall stay and to be sure about my credentials I needed a guaranteer to vouch for me, my safe conduct and return within the stated period. Issued by the deputy commissioner's office this permit is governed under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act 1873. Yes, 1873.

The British left India in 1947. We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of that freedom obtained after our motherland's division and the massacres that followed. Still, I needed a permit, something that the British began to isolate these regions in the name of 'protecting' the local indigenous people. The same procedure is also in vogue in Arunachal Pradesh.

So, we, legitimate Indians, are required to obtain a permit -- another name for a 'visa' -- but these states are reeling under the heat of illegal Muslim infiltrators from Bangladesh, who, obviously do not need to get an permit to enter, buy land, marry local girls and become so dominant that even the state authorities feel afraid to oust them.

Arunachal Pradesh's student bodies recently compelled Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu to take action against the Bangladeshis. So what did he do? He pushed a couple of thousands to Assam and the matter ended. In Assam it created a furore. The Muslim bodies, specially the All Assam Minorities Students Union, threatened to oust Hindus from Muslim majority districts like Dhubri, Goalpara and Barpeta, so Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi 'certified' that all those ousted by the Arunachal Pradesh government are Assamese and shall be accommodated in Barpeta!

The situation is so serious and Delhi's apathy so mindboggling that the people have lost all hope. The All Assam Students Union, which spearheaded an unprecedented movement in the 1980s to oust Bangladeshi infiltrators, has in utter desperation said that in the next ten years Assam may have a Bangladeshi chief minister. Strong and alarming words indeed. But neither the media nor the political parties paid any attention.

Assam has been transformed beyond recognition. The state's cultural identity is symbolised by the great reformer and rejuvenator Srimat Sankar Dev. His birthlace in Dhing, near Bardowa, is a must-visit pilgrim centre for every Assamese Hindu. Now the Dhing assembly constituency has 90.02 percent Muslims. No prizes to guess how this Hindu pilgrim centre became a Muslim majority town because of the Bangladeshi influx.

Assam's latest political star is Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, a perfume tycoon, who formed a new political party, the United Democratic Front, in 2005 and won 10 seats in the 2006 assembly election, surprising everyone. Previously he used to remote control other secular parties. Now he has taken the reins in his hands.

Assam and other northeastern states have become more volatile than Kashmir, but Delhi's page three media and corrupt polity don't see beyond their immediate concerns.

After Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, it is Nagaland's turn now. Bangladeshi jihadi factories supplying men and material are creating havoc from Itanagar to Kohima and Hyderabad. They are there before everybody's eyes, yet no government has shown a steely resolve to identify them and send them back. Aliens are turned into voters for political gain. The lines dividing traitors and patriots are getting blurred. Patriotic people need permits, they are made to live a refugee's life, but aliens feel quite confident and vocal to aggressively enter our country, bomb it and yet find sympathies in the corridors of power.

In Nagaland, people are sandwiched between the insurgent groups and the Bangladeshi influx. The headquarters of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah group) is in Hebron, 30 odd kilometres from Dimapur. Everywhere, while going to Kohima one can see posters demanding 'quick results of peace talks' and a greater Nagalim which they want in the name of Christ -- a separate independent country. According to government sources there are about 75,000 Bangladeshi Muslims in Nagaland today.

I had come to attend a seminar organised by a daring tribal organisation, the Janajati Vikas Samiti, which had invited about 80 participants from the northeastern states. Nagaland Home Minister Thenucho inaugurated the conference. Former state secretary C M Chang headed the organising committee. It was incredible to see so many tribal leaders engrossed in what can be termed a free discussion on the problems Nagaland faces -- Bangladeshi infiltration being the foremost.

Minister Thenucho was forthcoming and said this problem has to be seen as a demographic invasion. 'The Naga people may be soon reduced to miserable sufferers by these infiltrators, who may appear as an asset for providing cheap labour and easily available hands for menial jobs. But look what they have done elsewhere and there is no guarantee that they will not do the same here. Today they work as labourers; tomorrow Nagas will have to work for them, if we do not stand up and say no to them,' the minister said. He was serious.

The only problem is the Centre does not share their anxieties. Nothing that binds Naga society with the rest of the country has ever been encouraged and strengthened. Natwar Thakkar started his Gandhi ashram in Mokukchang but could never expand his mission of spreading Gandhi's sublime thoughts beyond that.

To be in Kohima is still considered a matter of fear, pregnant with life and death questions. There is no icon of India that can be seen here. In the early 1980s a Gandhi statue was installed in Kohima, only to be desecrated and destroyed soon. 'Nagaland doesn't need any Indian's statue' was the decree issued by the insurgents.

Almost everyone, from IAS officers to traders and teachers, have to cough up a part of their earnings to the insurgents. Their 'freedom days', 'republic days' are celebrated in full public view with the media from Kolkata and Delhi in attendance. Presently there is a ceasefire between the NSCN (IM) and the Indian Army, but rumours are afloat that this period has been better utilised by the insurgents to reinforce its battalions with new recruits, procure better weapons and resources to press for its demand for an 'independent 'Nagalim', which seeks to 'add' parts of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh to its fold.

This has enraged Manipuri and Arunachali tribals and a tribal war cannot be ruled out if the Naga insurgents' demand is given any sympathy.

The press is lively but cocooned in its own world. "We have never been invited to join any prime minister's party on his foreign visits, Delhi and Kolkata papers reach us very late, after a day or two, that too the dak edition,' said Geoffrey Yaden, editor of the Nagaland Post, the main daily newspaper in the state. "They don't understand us properly, they write to please their egos. Nobody has the time and interest to understand our people or to make serious efforts to create bridges and strengthen national feelings here. Are politicians sitting in Delhi are bothered about us or the nation?" he lamented.

I know it is very difficult to have a Delhi leader or social activist or cultural tsar to find time for a northeast visit. How many of us would go to Manipur or Nagaland or Arunachal for a family trip? Do we know that the most scintillating lakes, mountains, rivers and forests are in the northeast, bettering even Kashmir's panorama? Unfortunately the northeast has yet to register in our minds as markedly as Hardwar, Manali, Goa [Images] or Rameshwaram.

Corruption to the northeast's politicians is 'taught' by politicians in New Delhi. Even to get a central grant released for these states, central ministers and their durbaris have to be suitably 'pleased'. The grants that go to the northeast finally come back in large parts to the Delhi durbar through traders, contractors, commission agents and sanctioning ministers. The rest is divided amongst local 'beneficiaries', including the insurgents.

In view of the infiltration threat faced by Nagaland and other northeastern states, an observation by E Ramamohan, the former director general, Border Security Force, who was with me in Kohima, should be an eyeopener. He warns about the insurgent groups' long-term planning for 2015 -- "Today there are several Islamic fundamentalist insurgent groups in Assam, all created with the help of the Director General Forces Intelligence of Bangladesh and Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence. The main groups are the Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam, the Muslim United Tigers of Assam and the Islamic Liberation Army of Assam... what is most interesting that these Islamic fundamentalist groups have not started operations so far. Interrogations of the suspects and intelligence reports have revealed that they are in a preparation phase. Motivating and recruiting cadres, training them in Pakistan, stockpiling arms and explosives for the insurgency is their present strategy. The target is (to launch an assault) in 2015."

Why can't we understand that India shrinks from every inch that is occupied by Bangladeshi infiltrators in our territory? In less than 100 years India has shrunk like no other nation on earth.

We lost Taxila, Karachi, Dhaka. Post independence, we lost 1.25 lakh square kilometres of land to Pakistan and China. Beijing [Images] still eyes Arunachal Pradesh.

Then Indians lost lands and homes in the Kashmir valley and became refugees for the 'sin' of supporting India. Now, jihadis, Maoists and church-supported insurgents want their share. Where will this all lead to? All the power, position, money and glitter weigh nothing before the question of the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity. At least in the northeast, people feel nobody listens to their woes in Delhi.

(Tarun Vijay is editor of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh weekly Panchjanya)



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