It’s also a reality that for most in north-east India, there is a far greater connect with so-called mainland India than within the twee construct of Seven Sisters. Photo: Hindustan Times A major gathering in New Delhi on 18 October to discuss issues related to north-east India is timely. Immediacy is provided by the most recent hate crime against a person from that region, that of a student leader of the Kuki tribe from Manipur who was brutally assaulted in Bangalore earlier this week. Alongside racial epithets, he was reminded by his attackers that he was in India, not China. It’s easy to explain it away as an assault by some sick people with deep insecurities, commonplace in a country that could easily receive a Nobel for ethnic and communal turmoil, and gender and socio-economic biases—without mentioning the word north-east. But mention it, and it’s a different ball game. “Kuki?” You might additionally exclaim, “Huh?” And before I can explain the ethnic mix of Manipur: “Ah, that’s where that woman boxer Priyanka Chopra played in Mary Kom comes from.” “Yes, the Kom are a small ethnic group, and…” “How interesting”, you may respond, perhaps thinking of those who showed you to your table in a restaurant serving Indianized Chinese food. Perhaps one such person groomed you at the salon. And then, you may attempt to score a point. “But aren’t they always fighting with India?” Often enough. And India with many of them, since the 1950s indulging in an on-again-off-again indulgence of denying dignity and development, and then applying overwhelming threat, torture, rape, burning, and shooting of thousands upon thousands to preserve the republic, democracy—in the name of making such people her own. In comparison, the application of the hated Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 across vast swathes of that region is like a spring bloom. A Strong Northeast is India’s Asset as a theme for the New Delhi conference is apt. So too is the participation of several achievers from the region, led by Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, and several young legislators, administrators and entrepreneurs. They hope to engage power players and citizens from the National Capital Region on various issues, including how the media has misunderstood the region, and economic growth being the driver of tomorrow. They will probe India’s hoary slogan Unity in Diversity, and talk of re-branding the image of north-east India. Such efforts must be replicated across metropolitan India. Each subject befits discussions on the way ahead, as I underscore at every opportunity, for India’s collective security and prosperity. Each buttresses the point that there can be no meaningful Look East policy by overlooking the North-East. If this region—this under-rated strategic sweet spot—implodes, it will take nearly a seventh of the country with it, and become a permanent feast for geopolitical and geoeconomic hyenas. Of course, north-east India is a volatile stew even without being stirred much by India’s intelligence apparatus, that super cook with a predilection for slice and dice, a play of divide, stall and bribe—and start over. In an ironical admission a couple of months ago, a senior intelligence official in north-east India told me: “We don’t even know where to begin fixing things.” The eastern and western parts of Meghalaya are hardly examples of ideal brotherhood. In Assam, ethnic minorities have been systematically denied development and dignity by the state’s ethnic majorities. Several rebellions have been more against the government of Assam than the government of India. Nagaland, for all the talk of Naga nationhood, is a jostling entity with more than a dozen tribes pushing for dominance. Manipur on a good day resembles a shriller, ultra-compact version of the worst ethno-political aspects of India, with nearly every ethnic group ranged against others, or in uneasy alliances. The domination by the immigrant Bengali of indigenous, non-Bengali Tripuri is an old and continuing travesty of harmony. Mention the word Bru in Mizoram…and so on. It’s also a reality that for most in north-east India, excepting the creamy layers of activism and rebellion, there is a far greater connect with so-called mainland India—for education, jobs, business, political networking, corruption—than within the twee construct of Seven Sisters. But that is no excuse for mandated ignorance and apathy. It is rooted right from hundreds of millions of childhoods, as mainland Indian textbooks ignore key north-east Indian histories, major historical figures, tribes, cultures and even geography beyond the most cursory mention of the Brahmaputra and its plains that help to water and feed much of north-east India and Bangladesh. If the so-called rulers act this way, what of the so-called rabble? Not enough said. Not enough done. Not for a long time yet. Sudeep Chakravarti’s latest book is Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India. His previous books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays. Respond to this column at

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