Friday, December 19, 2008

Some Lost Maps and an Obstinate Dream

It’s official now। The Assam government has lost the original maps of Nagaland from its archives. On December 17, the Assam Government admitted that original maps demarcating the borders of Nagaland have been lost. As a concerned Assamese I can only think where our relationship with the Nagas will head to now. Already we are having a troubled history with the Nagas over border disputes and this incident will only go farther in increasing misunderstandings. One thing is for sure, that the Assam government has now to tackle with an infrastructure that is collapsing day by day.
My first reaction, to this incident of maps getting lost, was to loath the Assam Government for their inefficiency in almost everything! Archival materials are highly important things and have to be preserved with the highest care. But to report the missing of maps with such casualness is highly callous in nature. Who is to blame for the loss that has occurred? Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram told the Rajya Sabha that the Nagaland government had submitted the maps in September 1979 and they were forwarded in October 1979 to the Assam Government for its comments. But the Assam Government has informed the Centre that the maps are untraceable now. Nobody knows what the Assam government has been doing with those maps since then. No comments have ever been forwarded to the Centre on the purpose. I doubt if the Assam Government has ever cared to look into those maps due to which they have disappeared from the government archives as pieces of useless papers. What is more surprising is that the Central Government did not care to keep a copy of the maps. They were sent in the original. This, too, highlights the Centre’s lacklustre attitude towards the problems in the North-East.
Chidambaram’s statement is significant as the separatist National Socialist Council of Nagaland has been fighting for six decades to create a Greater Nagaland by slicing off parts of three neighbouring states to unite 1.2 million Nagas. Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh strongly oppose the demand. The issue of Greater Nagaland is an issue which has vexed the Assamese-Naga relations for a long time. Who knows what important links those maps might have given towards solving this problem? And this problem is not only of Assam, but also of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, Manipur will be the biggest loser if Greater Nagaland is ever formed. About half of the state will be sliced apart as they are all Naga dominated areas. Creation of a Greater Nagaland can pose huge problems for the Indian Government’s plans in the North-East too as such a huge chunk of Naga infested land can result in a united effort by the Nagas to renew their demands for independence or greater autonomy. Already the Naga militants harass the travellers on the way to Manipur from Assam. And there is no one to stop them as they do this on Naga soil.
I sometimes reflect back to older times when I was a little boy। My late grandfather used to narrate me incidents of skirmishes with the Nagas over territorial disputes. As a police officer, he had seen enough of such problems. He told of the brutalities with which the Nagas used to deal with their enemies. A colleague of his, who was known to deal firmly with the Nagas, was tied to a pole and rounds of bullets were fired at him. Not to speak of the merciless way in which the Nagas like to butcher their enemies to this day. These are all bitter memories which the North-East of India has witnessed post-independence. And every state in North-East has its own tale of bloodshed and violence. Manipur still burns from the Naga insurgency in it. Most of my Manipuri friends tell me of the excesses committed by the Naga militants with the travellers on their way to Imphal as the route to Manipur from Assam goes through Nagaland. The opening up of a railway track to Imphal or an alternate route to Manipur via Silchar in Assam can bring some relief to the travellers. But what about the overall problem that afflicts them? There are no answers to that yet.
Though Assam has not faced this problem in the same calibre as Manipur has, it suffers from occasional border skirmishes with the Nagas। There are occasional reports of Nagas entering Assam’s territory and occupying large tracts of land. As Assam has a very low percentage of Nagas living in its territory, this is deliberately done to settle as much Nagas in these areas as possible so as to facilitate its incorporation in Greater Nagaland. The State Government and the police have been totally inefficient in handling these marauders. And I often wonder if we Assamese people have lost the martial spirit we were once famous for. But then why should I doubt my entire race just because the government is corrupt and the police force is inefficient! I have always favoured dialogues over open conflict. Assam, along with the rest of the North-East, has seen enough bloodshed till date. And conflict should always be avoided so as to facilitate dialogue so that an amicable solution can come up to any problem. What I have stated here is nothing like a new gospel for peace. These are things which are said again and again and the common people also know their inherent relevance. But even then talks and dialogues are sidelined and every unethical and extra legal method is taken to take a stand. And this has to stop if peace is to ever flourish in the North-East of India.
Greater Nagaland is not just a Naga problem. It is a problem which has created discomfort for the common people of all the states concerned. Border disputes, insurgency and separatism are all venomous seeds sown by this. And the loss of the original maps is only a reminder of the hurdles we will face in reaching up to a solution to this problem. And there is seriously no use of any more comments on the Assam Government or the State police for that matter. Because it is really of no use! We just have to remember one thing. Maps or no maps! A solution has to come up to this problem before it is too late.
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