It was the twilight of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2004 when it came to the notice of the then Union Home Secretary that the Indian Army has used the word "liberated zones" in the context of rampant militancy in Manipur state.
At a social gathering, the plucky Home Secretary confronted the then Indian Army Chief and asked him what did his force mean by "liberated zones" to describe Chandel and Churachandpur districts of Manipur. While the Chief tried to make light of the description in official documents, the Home Ministry official told him that either the Army does something to "liberate" these zones or he will have to go to Cabinet Committee on Security as this could be construed as violation of the Indian Constitution, of which the government was the protector.
Within days, the Army was forced to send a brigade (around 3,000 men) of troops to Chandel and Churachandpur to restore the authority of the government in the strife torn districts by freeing the highways from brigands and "Khushi-Khushi" money being doled out to extortionists operating under the garb of militants.
Churachandpur is just 137 kilometers from the Myanmar border at Moreh-Tamu crossing and some 3,000 kilometers from Delhi.
This perspective is very important for Delhi to understand the gargantuan effort made by Churachandpur lass Mary Kom and West Imphal lad Devendro Singh Laishram to show case the Indian presence at the 2012 London Olympics.
While both have the potential to give India an unheard of gold medal in boxing, they also provide an opportunity, yet again, to the cow-belt dominated Indian state to revisit its North-East policies.
The overarching domination of Hindi speaking politicians in handling the Indian state has ensured that New Delhi strategic area of influence strictly speaking does not go beyond Lucknow and Patna.
Mary Kom and Devendro Singh give UPA II a chance to integrate back of beyond states like Manipur to mainstream Indian society as well as give hope to our Kashmiri brethren that legitimate anger against the state should be vent out in the sporting arena and not by taking to a gun.
The time has come for the Indian state to look at the fringes from development perspective and not only from the national security point of view.
This unfortunately is the story of North-East as whole what with a department with unhappy acronym DONER (Department of North-East Region) looking after economic and infrastructural development.
The fact is that situation in NE states is very precarious with ethnic clashes in Assam, presence of ultra left rebels in Arunachal Pradesh, clashes between NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (K) groups in Nagaland and virtual insurgent rule in Manipur.
It is not only Mary Kom and Devendro who push the NE cause but also change of politics in the nation states of Bangladesh and Myanmar.
With India friendly government in both Dhaka and Naypyidaw, there is an opportunity to push trade and economic ties between N-E and these countries so that there is economic growth and vested interest in peace in the region.
There is no harm in importing sticky rice from Myanmar to feed the North-East rather than distribute it through corrupted and leakage prone FCI system. Socio-economic improvement and infrastructure development of Manipur will yield peace dividend as well as build internal resistance to insurgent groups who held the state to ransom by blockading national highways for more than 100 days last year.
It is another matter that the blockade last year was also inspired by the state politicians in order to polarise the urban Meiteis against the Naga groups on the eve of the Assembly elections. It is time that New Delhi understood that it is Myanmar and Bangladesh that need to be co-opted into NE growth triangles and not far away Kolkata or Delhi.
It is important to note that both Mary Kom and Devendro Singh are outstanding aberrations of a society that is wracked by violence and fed by Central apathy.
While both Dhaka and Naypyidaw have promised to New Delhi that they would not allow any anti-India camps on their territories, time has also come for UPA II to act and not merely talk up the neighbours. In this context, it is important for New Delhi to over-ride West Bengal government veto over Teesta water sharing and exchange of enclaves accord.
Diplomacy and least of all security is not a one way street. Draining of militant swamps in the North-East and surrounding region particularly on Myanmar border is only part of the solution as the development aspect is equally important.
Mere doling out Central aid without any accountability will only produce a cabal of fat cats who would be equally corrupted as their brothers and sisters in Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru or Hyderabad. This new breed of fat cats has no interest in NE states except that it is the source of money to invest in condominiums in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
So before New Delhi suffers from yet aother short term memory loss syndrome after much feted Mary Kom and Devendro are back from London, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should ensure that these brave hearts are not forgotten and neither is the state from where they come from.