Either the Home Minister of India is asking us to relearn the geography of India’s Northeast — or he is just joking , as he often does with his ‘jhumlas’ (light-hearted chat not intended to mean much).
But this is all in print — that too, in India’s most circulated English daily, the one and only ‘Times of India.’
The million plus readers of ‘Times of India’ were greeted to Amit Shah’s tall boast about great achievements of the six years of Modi rule under the headline “Undoing Six Decades in Six Years”. The edit page , 10 in this case, is branded as the ‘Ecstasy of Ideas.’ The article appears on Amit Shah’s byline with his picture and a a brief intro at the bottom saying “The writer is Union Home Minister of India.”
Of course he is , which is why the shock .
Without contesting any of the tall claims , one should zero into the third column of the article , as it appears in the print version .
in lines 2-5, Shah writes : ” The Bru-Reang Refugee problem pending for years was also resolved in the first year of Modi 2.0 , under the Bodo Accord.”
“Under the Bodo Accord” ! , Come again , Mr Minister . Which Bodo Accord ! And why the Bru-Reang refugee problem between Tripura and Mizoram lingering since 1997 will be solved under a Bodo Accord which is supposed to deal with the Bodo tribes fighting for greater autonomy or separate state they want carved out of Assam.
The Union Government signed the historic Bodo peace agreement on January 2, 2020, with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), one of the dangerous militant groups in Assam. The All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), agitating for a long time demanding Bodo state, also signed the deal.
The Bodo Accord provides political and economic benefits to the tribal areas without seeking a separate Bodoland state or union territory. The tripartite agreement was signed by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, the leadership of four factions of NDFB, Satyendra Garg, Joint Secretary of ABSU, Ministry of Home Affairs and Kumar Sanjay Krishna, Chief Secretary of Assam.
Home Minister Amit Shah, who was present on the occasion of signing the Bodo Accord claimed it was a ‘historic agreement’ and that it would ‘ ensure the bright future of the people of Assam as well as the Bodo tribe.’
He said the Accord will bring peace to Assam as ‘1,550 Bodo members will surrender on January 30, 2020, with 130 weapons.’
Some may question why so few weapons were to be surrendered by so many, but I have seen the signing of many such Accords in Northeast since the 1980s . Either the rebels don’t surrender all their weapons or they drag unarmed collaborators into the surrenders to ensure they are not left out of the rehabilitation package. But that is another story.
I have no reason to doubt Shah’s claims that this was an important agreement and if implemented properly could bring peace to a strategic corridor , an extension of the Siliguri corridor, that connects seven Northeastern states to the rest of India.
But Mr Shah, how on earth can this Bodo Accord solve the Bru-Reang refugee problem between Mizoram and Tripura ?
The four-party agreement signed also in January resolves the 23-year-old crisis of Bru tribal people displaced to Tripura from Mizoram and Mr. Shah, present on the occasion of the signing of that agreement, welcomed it as the “best possible solution” in the circumstances.
Though some angry Bru-Reangs claim the four-party agreement ” has only normalised the “ethnic cleansing” of the community in Mizoram since 1997,agreement ” , one may give Amit Shah the benefit of doubt that this was indeed the ‘best possible solution’ under circumstances.
Both the Bodo and the Bru-Reang agreement may have been timely breakthroughs, but they are two separate agreements in two separate parts of Northeast, absolutely unconnected and indeed separated by hundreds of kilometers.
I remember Mr Shah’s predecessor P Chidambaram and indeed all other senior Congress ministers like Pranab Mukherjee , A K Anthony , Kapil Sibal and surely Manmohan Singh being real feisty about what appeared under their name and signature. The lawyer in Chidambaram and the politician in Mukherjee were at their best as they tweaked expressions, calculated implications, corrected typos and grammar and went through their drafts with the proverbial fine tooth-comb. Even the younger Congress leaders like Shashi Tharoor are very careful with what they write.
Assuming Amit Shah, a very busy minister, has not written this piece in English himself but left it to some official in the Home Ministry or some party colleague to draft it, there is no way he could escape responsibility for such a gaffe that reflects very poorly on a senior politician’s basic knowledge about Northeast.
A word about ‘Times of India’. My articles also appear occasionally in the same space as Mr Shah’s and I am left uncomfortable with such a huge slip. Assuming a busy minister and his less-than-knowledgeable official made such a huge faux pas in drafting the article , how could the ‘gatekeepers’ left this pass ! Unbelievable.
In my 39 years in Indian journalism, 17 in BBC as East-Northeast India correspondent, I have not infrequently come across headlines in ‘national media’ like Meghalaya chief minister calls for trust vote on an Imphal deadline , meaning it was actually a Manipur story but the sub-editor in Delhi desk did not know Meghalaya and Manipur were different.
So when a Delhi mob attacks a Northeastern man or woman thinking or she is a ‘Chini’ , why blame them?
Amit Shah has promised not to ‘sleep soundly’ until India takes back Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Aksai China, which some military analysts like former Northeastern Army Commander Lt Gen H S Panag feel provoked Beijing into their current forward policy in Ladakh. He has called Bangladeshis ‘termites’ , the one single verbal fusillade that turned the whole nation and even the Hasina government, otherwise so friendly to India, against Delhi. Let us not get into the handling of Delhi riots and the Markaz Nizamuddin issue, which were finally sorted out by NSA Ajit Doval.Nehru’s ” I leave Assam to its fate” in 1962 at the peak of the 1962 Chinese offensive still rankles among many in Northeast. The region deserves a better understanding of both its problems and its geography — surely from the Home Minister of India.
(Subir Bhaumik is former BBC & Reuters correspondent and author of three well acclaimed books on Northeast India)