It is unusual to hear a person in a high position of authority enunciate so accurately home truths about the North-East. This was precisely what the Chief of the Indian Army, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, had done during his address at the annual seminar of the Assam Rifles and United Services Institution over evolving security challenges in the North-East and the way forward. The General hit the nail on the head in stating that the perception India was the mainland and the North-East must align itself to the ways of the rest of the country was flawed and contemptuous. He pointed out that another factor which reinforces feelings of alienation in the North-East was the dismissive indifference that people from elsewhere often display towards this region. This has, of course, been a sore point with inhabitants of this region, as mirrored by the racist remarks that they are occasionally subjected to elsewhere in the country. Naravane was particularly perspicuous in pointing out the harsh reality that national priorities, political compulsions of the States and local aspirations were seldom aligned, creating dissonance in execution. If, despite its rich natural resources, the region lagged behind the rest of the nation, it had been because, according to Naravane, of protracted insurgencies, legacy issues further accentuated after the Partition, and inefficient integration with rest of India.

The Army Chief asserted that the policy disconnect was also reinforced by the feeling that affairs of this region were being run from Delhi, as reflected by the fact that most of the Central Armed Police Forces and Central agencies were headquartered at Delhi. Another adverse outcome of this was the lack of coordination amongst various agencies operating in the North-East States. Yet this extraordinarily diverse and colourful area, containing States that share almost 98 per cent of their borders with five countries, far from being a remote outpost, was in fact the centre of gravity for sub-regional connectivity and thus remained the launch pad for Act East initiatives. According to Naravane, in order to unleash the tremendous potential of the North-East, there was a need for establishing an organization that could synergize multi-agency coordination and optimize resource and effort. This entails the setting up of a robust and effective North-East Integrated Security Council, with the Minister of State for Home as the Chairman at the apex level, to galvanize the efforts of all stakeholders, including policymakers as well as the authorities responsible to execute these policies. This is a suggestion worth following up since it will go a long way towards tackling the “disconnect” which exists between the North-East and the rest of India, and also help in establishing greater coordination between the various agencies operating in this region.