The vast swathe of land in India's northeast is still restive with eddies of turbulence. Writer-columnist Sudeep Chakravarti says northeastern India has remained an "outland"-a region which is out of sight of the majority of Indians living "inland" and, therefore, outside any digestible construct.
Chakravarti, the author of "Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country" published in 2008, has moved to a new terrain from the boondocks of eastern India to unravel the history of insurgency and civil strife in the northeast in his new book, "Highway 39: Journeys Through a Fractured Land".
Published by Harper Collins, the book was released in the capital July 13.
The book is set along the National Highway 39 which begins from Numaligarh in Assam and ends at the India-Myanmar border, covering a distance of nearly 436 km It is the trajectory of Chakavarti's northeastern journey.
The writer says he is "driven to tell stories from areas where he senses conflict".
"The northeast is a vast land in the republic of India with close to 50 million people. It is as if this vast area, which makes up nearly 1/7th of the Indian landmass, has largely not existed in the imagination or consciousness of political leaders and policy makers; and when it has, it has been led by administrative arrogance. It continues to be a big black hole of perception and policy," Chakravarti told IANS.
The writer observes that for decades, governance in the northeastern region "has been driven largely by the principles adopted by the rulers of India that while the region has strategic significance in geo-political terms, the people who occupy these spaces exist merely as pawns in that scheme; more ethnic artifacts than thinking species with definite identities and aspirations".
And besides, these spaces accounted for a minuscule number of Lok Sabha seats and were perceived to be of little consequence to national politics, the writer says.
Chakravarti puts the feudal outlook of "Mainland India" towards the northeast to an in-built arrogance and superiority bolstered by ignorance and a "paternalistic narrative dished out by administrators, intelligence officials, and those of the armed forces posted to the northeast".
This is also increasingly reflected in India's big cities. The making of the book is partially grounded in this divide.
Six-and-a-half decades after Independence, attitudes towards the region have not changed much, Chakravarti says. This is also reflected in "the relative absence of conflict in Assam-particularly to do with the Ulfa-but no resolution of root causes that led to the birthing of ULFA. Nagaland's absence of war, as a ceasefire prevails, is not the same thing as peace -indeed, a peace deal has been stalled since 1997. Manipur continues to be a administrative mess, conflict zone and human rights nightmare," Chakravarati said.
The writer said: "In Nagaland since the National Socialist Council Nagaland (NSCN) factions entered into a ceasefire with India there has been no war"
"But there is no peace deal. They (the members of the Naga rebel groups) live in designated camps, they train armed recruits and carry out patrols. But the ceasefire agreement with the Naga rebel factions does not extend to the Naga areas of Manipur," Chakravarti said. "It's a bizarre ceasefire."