Monday, December 31, 2012

Frindship is a two-way street

Both India and Nepal have faltered in strengthening their historical ties in recent years. But now, as Kathmandu struggles towards democracy, New Delhi must be a more understanding and supportive neighbour
As the political transition in Nepal progresses, the country’s political institutions have become a hub of sorts for intermingled ideas. These ideas are neither being shaped nor developed constructively to end the political impasse that has plagued Nepal’s journey to democracy. Consequently, key challenges such as drafting the Constitution, delineating the nature of Nepali federalism and more recently, accepting a national unity Government before general election next summer, still remain. It is against this backdrop that President Ram Baran Yadav’s recently concluded trip to India must be viewed. In fact, many were a bit surprised that Mr Yadav made this visit when his country was at such a critical juncture. After all, the President is the sole stable authority in Nepal today.

Mr Yadav’s official visit to India took him to Banaras Hindu University, where he was conferred an honorary DPhil, but his time in New Delhi was also quite hectic as he met with leaders of the ruling and Opposition parties, besides inviting his Indian counterpart to Kathmandu. At a time of receding trust in India’s role in Nepal, President Yadav’s India visit holds strategic value that can lead to greater cooperation between these formidable allies. The beginning of this new dialogue will hopefully infuse dynamism in the India-Nepal diplomatic engagement and economic partnership.

Hailing from the Madhesh region of Janakpur in Nepal, Kolkata-educated President Yadav is well-connected in India. His understanding of India-Nepal relations is better than that of the average Nepali politician. Even though President Yadav doesn’t have the charisma of someone like Girija Prasad Koirala, as a long-practicising doctor, he knows how to treat maladies well. It is an ability that is sadly lacking in many leaders who have been entrusted with handling India-Nepal affairs.

For instance, even Indian representatives and officials who are otherwise sensitive and responsive towards Nepal, try to run down their counterparts in Kathmandu during diplomatic visits. This makes India, a less dear ally. Also, Nepal has never really received the kind of attention it deserves from India’s Tier-I leadership, even though it is one of New Delhi’s important neighbours. This is an unwavering trend that has continued since the period of Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is time that India brings to its relationship with Nepal more in action, rather than friendly mannerisms alone. This is the need of the hour, especially if New Delhi wishes to keep at bay Nepal’s India-baiters. The first generation of Nepali leaders had also fought for India’s independence and they shared with their Indian counterparts a desire for democracy. Leaders like BP Koirala, MP Koirala, Manmohan Adhikari, Ganesh Man Singh and others had also dealt with the politics of two countries, and this was possible only because they had leveraged the power of people-to-people relations between India and Nepal.

In New Delhi, President Yadav’s presence at the Mahendra Malangia Natya Mahotasav (organised by the Maithili Lok Rang), which saw the participation of a number of reputed artists from India and Nepal including leading Maithili thespian Ramesh Ranjan Jha and his Mithila Natyakala Parishad, was a reminder of the golden moments that India and Nepal once shared in the cultural-political field. In fact, it is events such as these that really have the potential to boost bilateral ties.

Listening to the voices of aggrieved Nepali youth (mostly because of their ignorant biases) at a New Delhi conference, organised by the Nepal-Bharat Sahyog Manch a few weeks back, however, offered an altogether different experience. A blunt question put to one of India’s seniormost diplomats at that conference by a young Nepali continues to haunt the mind for it also represents the mindset of a reactionary section in Nepal. The youth had asked why Nepal should give priority to India, and not favour China instead.

Such wild ideas are causing the current mess in Nepal. In this case, for example, it is amply clear that China will not think twice before disrupting Nepal’s close relationship with India, but still there are talks about China taking over India’s place in Nepal.

There is, of course, no doubt that Nepal will overcome its political hurdles in its own time, especially if its leaders and its people were to exude more confidence in democratic values. Since the massacre of 2001, the royal family of Nepal first became a nefarious and later a ghostly object. Now, it is no longer in a position to offer itself as a system of alternative governance. Still, while the physical end of the monarchy was painful, the collapse of the idea of the monarchy is a healthy development for Nepal’s democratic aspiration. Still, unless the duplicity of political leaders is brought under control, change as desired will not happen.

Ideologically, the radical Maoist movement in Nepal is impure and reflects the personal cynicism of its leadership. Next to the ideological line, these leaders have been nurturing their political ambitions by pumping up a ‘sovereignty phobia’ which naturally leads to anti-India sentiment in Nepal. The Maoists are a divided entity now, and those who sit outside the power circle are trying to carve a niche for themselves. They hope that the anti-India demonstration will give them the leverage to do so.

Over the last one and a half decades, China has made various efforts to proliferate a certain version of communism inside Nepal. Sect and sub-sects of Maoist ideology have marred Nepal’s development on all fronts. Nepal has a lot to deliver with its untapped natural and human resources; here, the political leadership of Nepal has a pivotal role to play. It must decide on how it will move collectively on the bigger issues of foreign policy and trade negotiation and how it will rid Nepal of the ‘underdog’ tag that has prevented the country from embarking on a regular course of development. President Yadav too must remind the political elite in Nepal of all its unkept promises to him and the country.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer, 31 December2012)

Land Of(Missed)Opportunity

In spite of being endowed with fertile soil and a favourable agro-climatic condition, Bihar’s agricultural sector has remained short of cutting edge in recent times. Since the benefits of Five Year Plans couldn't reach the state, the total food grain production continues to stand below the minimum requirement. In the recent years, however, Bihar’s economy has shown signs of resilience, visible through the constructive approach towards development. Nevertheless, rural Bihar is not getting its due from the opportunities generated by rapid economic growth. This is because the languishing rate of agricultural growth caused by an inadequate support mechanism, asymmetric new wage rates followed by the rise in public spending and natural imbalances (such as floods and drought).

The general perception about the agricultural scenario in Bihar is that it can be the food bastion for India but the current state of affairs is not very encouraging on that front. The agriculture linked industries are not really working out and conventional farming is not generating profitable returns, which is delinking the productive cycle from traditional set of systems.

In the initial decades after Independence, agricultural productivity in Bihar was better compared to other states, but now it is trailing below the national average. Statistically, some achievements have been established on the scale of production with the state government stepping in but the lurking dangers from 'unnaturally high farming wage rates' and the 'dwindling size of land holding' are being ignored. The most worrying reality is the average size of a farm, which is 0.37 hectare or less; one of the lowest in India (according to The Planning Commission of India’s estimation, 2009). At this rate collective farming would remain the only option if farm land-fragmentation isn’t checked using a more effective, alternate mechanism, soon.

The bifurcation of Bihar in the year 2000 has made the role of the primary sector even more critical, as Jharkhand now houses most of the industries and the mineral resources. So, Bihar’s economic prospects strongly rely on agriculture. It is the most vital component of the state's socio-economic structure, as the sector provides 90 per cent of the rural population their livelihood. It also contributes to about one-third of the gross domestic product of the state, which is a staggering figure.

Over the last few decades, Bihar has witnessed remarkable agricultural development with the adoption of scientific methods, but shockingly such growth has been inequitable and imbalanced. The basic reason is the highly problematic land ownership pattern which, with some geographic variations, still persists in most parts of the Bihar. For example, with radical movements for land reform, north Bihar has a progressive system of land ownership as compared to south and central Bihar, where feudalism has not been uprooted. In other parts of Bihar, land reforms could not take off as the situation on the ground remains at status quo.

According to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO-2003), marginal and small farmers, who constituted 96.5 per cent of the total landowning community, owned 66 per cent of land. The medium and large farmers, who constituted only 3.5 per cent of the landowning community, owned 34 per cent of the land. Of the latter, the large owners (constituting only 0.1 per cent of total) owned 4.63 of total land. In absolute terms, this 0.1 per cent of large owners owned a little over eight lakh hectares or 19.76 lakh acres of land-a big size of land in a land starved state. The wrong landholding pattern hampers the healthy prospects of agricultural progress in the state and creates a skewed picture of economic growth altogether.

With a high density of population, the absolute level of poverty continues to be high in Bihar, making it one of India's poorest states. Both rural poverty at 42.1 per cent and urban poverty at 34.6 per cent were significantly higher than the national average (28.3 per cent for the rural areas and 25.7 per cent for the urban areas) during 2004-05 (Government of Bihar 2008-09). As a result, marginal land holders, individual labourers and casual non-farm labour are poor. The politics of state governance could be attributed as the force behind such pathetic arrangements, where 'non-issues' have been given prominence over basic livelihood issues: the irresponsible phase — from 1990-2004 — was the height of such follies.

Social security systems such as government educational institutions, public healthcare facilities and public distribution system have improved in recent years and when combined with the phenomenon of migration, as powerful means of social mobility, engenders mixed outcomes for rural Bihar. Migration was once a suitable option in Bihar's agrarian society, empowering the poor against exploitation as well as helping them escape the ironies of economic distress and caste exploitation in their home state. Things have changed a little in the last eight years and no longer are the temporary migrants from Bihar — who hitherto worked as farmhands for meagre wages —a cheap source of labour.

This would have counted as constructive change but greater social mobility is not enhancing entrepreneurial zeal in the state. The new agrarian atmosphere is in fact killing the conventional productive mechanism due to the unaffordable cost of services and goods, which has surfaced in recent years. Besides the effects of public spending, the state's rapidly growing housing upsurge poses a severe challenge to farming and related activities. We all know, the days of ‘kachha’ housing are over but the way unplanned construction is being given the name of 'progress' blurs the real state of affairs. The truth of matter is that the growth of other sectors comes at the cost of farming and allied occupations.

Today, the ground realities of rural Bihar are hardly being noticed by institutions or experts working on policy matters: their placid demeanour is largely shaped through the 'bandwagon' of applause for changing Bihar, even where it is changing in an unhealthy manner. It is true that now manual labourers from Bihar can negotiate better for their services but it is disappointing that 'money from outside' at cost of local productive engagements is being preferred. This damages the natural/social fabric, and distances the state from the control of economic policies. It further attracts the wrath of cynical regional biases towards these 'unsolicited migrants' from Assam to Maharashtra.

Worse than the national average, Bihar has received attention from self proclaimed 'policy think tanks' and genuine research organisations, supported by the government. In the absence of proper statistical data and insights, the local government officials have less to say 'on record' in response of any queries made about the pathetic agricultural conditions in state. Bihar government's initiatives look progressive, but there is a huge discrepancy between what was promised and what has been delivered. So far, against the claims of near about 200MOUs related to industrial set-ups in Bihar (including agro-processed industries), few are actually working.

Bihar could have retrieved in well shape, a losing co-operative system through channelizing investments in the cash generating agri-businesses like, fisheries, sugar production, fruits farming, dairy etc, alas, the tall claims were mostly forgotten and north Bihar remained without major industries.. The two prominent and erstwhile industrialised districts, Darbhanga and Madhubani have more than a dozen dysfunctional industrial infrastructures, where once paper, spinning products and sugar were produced on a large scale. These industries were based on local agricultural inputs and hence were supported local farming and enterprise. At that time farmers were not in a wretched condition although their reliance on external money was negligible.

Despite these impediments, rural Bihar is likely to be less gloomy than other distressed terrains of the country, as the people of the state are witnessing change in a positive direction. In absolute terms, Bihar has a long road to walk to generate balanced growth and attain its lost edge in agriculture, besides acquiring a continuing flow of public spending and attracting private investments.

The National Council of Applied Economic Research’s agricultural outlook and analysis report states: "The global scenario for the food commodities has also been affected by the adverse weather conditions. The estimates by FAO, USDA and other international agencies indicate decline in the world production of grains in 2012-13 as compared to the previous year." So, time is ripe now for Nitish Kumar’s government to focus on core areas to save the state’s agriculture from a vicious tailspin.

Atul Kumar Thakur
(The author works on policy issues. He can be reached at
The views expressed here are personal)
(Published in Businessworld,19December2012)

Democracy Revisited!

Book Review: Non-fiction/Patriots& Partitions by Ramchandra Guha, Penguin/Allen Lane, 334 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)
Between India after Gandhi and voluminous biography of Gandhi (the next in line of publication); Ramchandra Guha has produced two excellent anthologies-first came Makers of Modern India, and now Patriots& Partitions, which is maintaining the rigours of earlier books .Guha’s Patriots& Partisans is a collection of essays, some of which were published previously but they are extensively revised and rewritten for this anthology. The book is divided into two sections (titled “Debating Democracy” and “The Word and the World”)-both sections are engaging, as Guha is naturally fit to analyse India’s modern social history and dynamic changes at large.

In this wide-ranging collection of essays, Guha defends the liberal centre against the dogmas of left and right. Though he also forwards a case where the receding credibility of Congress and BJP is giving strong chances of left’s revival. Time will test, how effectively India’s democratic left parties would approach in a favourable time, but under the complex electoral fight. The book gives an overview of the major threats to the Indian Republic; also it reveals the dangers of fundamental political ideologies, the radical left, and the dynasty-obsessed Congress party. This way, he looks after on the current political scenario, which is perplexed and full with confusing ingredients.

In essays focusing on writers, scholars and institutions, Guha presents (from close personal angle) sensitive portraits of a magazine editor (Krishna Raj, EPW), a bookshop owner (Shambhag, Bangalore), a publishing house (Oxford University Press) and a famous historical archive (Nehru Memorial Museum and Library). Being a pre-eminent chronicler of India’s democracy and the modern changes, he unveils many subtle facts and perception, which normally surpassed by the most of scholars working under a confined mandate. His way of history writing is though comprehensive, but not so easy as it doesn’t have a strong backing from sources that is considered sacrosanct by myopic scholars.

Markedly distinct from the academic historiography, Guha’s writing heavily relies on social realities than on the stodgy loads of escapable facts. At the one end, where his works add the significance of social history, on the other, it maintains equal distance from over-simplifying the truths of history. This way, we get the comprehensive pictures of our immediate past, which is more important to understand, rather knowing the undated artifacts for getting in proper terms with the current challenges that India’s democratic political system offers. Lately, the time is up to make the historical narratives more akin to holistic approaches, as further maintaining stringent status quo would harm the purpose.

With working on broader realm and purposes, Guha’s gives fresh hope to the inter-disciplinary interface, which reestablishes the forgotten chapters from the recent history among a generation being drifted away from collective purposes. As a public intellectual and writer of utmost sensibility, Ramchandra Guha has much to offer for his readers and he is consistently trying to make his views (With his ideas shaped through long painful research) open in public. Also, living in India could be a real bliss for an intellectual. As in no other part of the earth, such warm responses one can get for his or her works. Guha reminds this and probably similar spirits give him energy to find the difficult details of history.

Guha’s writing converges for a noble goal and that is to keep faith in India’s constitution and the struggle of freedom struggle and in later period that made this nation a living reality. His positive take on Gandhi, Nehru and other leaders makes complete sense, as falling from their legacy will lead the collective psyche to an imagined territory. For stopping such causality, it’s better to appreciate our accomplishments and accepting the shortcomings. Either in collective or personal scheme, one can have disagreement with the State’s way of functioning or atrocities of nefarious private capital but alone that should not restrain any Indian citizen to have respect for the principal and edifices of its democratic system.

Like his all previous works, Patriots& Partitions also makes effort to revive people’s concentration on the beauty of India’s democracy but without ignoring the lot of challenges it faced on many fronts. Most of the essays from this collection are though published but have presented here with greater revision than one can expect, so reading them becomes essential for those, even who have read some of these essays earlier. This book is to know all about the strides Indian democracy has made in more than six decades and the path ahead for it.

Despite his best efforts, Guha supplies less than his readers demand from him-the new book is rattling good read, so it could be delight for book lovers. Also point to remind that, Guha writes only with major aims and research, so no work from him can be taken as “sandwich” between his own historic projects. Patriots& Partitions has maintained Guha’s track-record as a perfectionist with vast range of knowledge, spread in different areas and in capacity.
Atul K Thakur
(Published The Kashmir Monitor,30December2012)

Dalrymple outlines lessons in history for imeprial ambitions

Book Review: Return of a King by William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury, 567 pp; Rs799 (Hardback)
Imperialism never gives of its own accord. The all-season historian, William Dalrymple, echoes this message in the thickness of his latest scripture-sized book, 'Return of a King'. In comparison to his research on India, which is always submerged in complex historiography, this new book is a rattling good read.

Afghanistan has one of the most difficult geographies on earth. Its morphing into a strife-torn country has much to do with its history of conquest and warfare. Many warriors have crossed this land over the ages, laying it to waste over and over again. Western "engagements" in Afghanistan have long been determined by strategic impulses to control and colonize the land. (The secondary reasons, such as rescuing Afghanistan's beautiful human and natural resources, were no less nefarious.)

Dalrymple's book focuses on the 19th century and analyzes the ill-fated reign of King Shah Shuja of the Sadozai Dynasty. The fluctuations in his reign, caused by the loosening of power and marked by humiliating defeats, forced exile and planks of homecoming, gives ample material to Dalrymple for his mammoth book. The book begins with an inquisition of Shah Shuja's overtures to the British East India Company. The "game" was to initially counter Russian advances in Afghanistan. But soon enough the Afghans turned against British occupation. (The Afghan natives are shown by the author to be a genuinely losing side.)

Anyone with a sense of history knows that the insurgency in present-day Afghanistan has striking parallels with its predecessor in 1842. The Game is repeating itself, concludes Dalrymple at the end of this book: President Hamid Karzai, in his dummy position, resembles Shah Shuja; and the Taliban are a re-enactment of the virulent Dost Mohammad. Dalrymple supplies lots of juicy details, including the sexual temptations of men at different levels of the hierarchy, not all of them suited to serious historiography.

Afghanistan has long been used as a battleground for wars by mighty and territorially ambitious external powers. This is because of its strategic geographic position between the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Moreover, the fragmented and polarized nature of Afghan society, which is made up of many different ethnic groups, has led to endless internal struggles, in which neighbors and external powers can participate by deploying proxies. Afghanistan in the mid-19th century was therefore a story of imperial struggle and local resistance to external aggression.

Today, despite neo-imperial intervention, Afghanistan is a better place than it was 15 years ago. But the US is repeating follies similar to the ones committed by imperial Britain in the 19th century. Dalrymple doesn't suggest that this besieged nation will attain complete peace in the foreseeable future, though his guess - that first the US, and later China, will be the defeated imperial powers here - is probably a little far from the probable outcome.

Nevertheless, this book persuasively shows how powers become blinded in the race for strategic domination. The US has to pay, and is still paying, a heavy price in economic terms to maintain its occupation in Afghanistan, and there are fewer and fewer chances that it will recoup the money thus squandered on a land where prospects are dim for peace on the ground, much less for the extraction of mineral wealth under its soil. The US has definitely overreached in its strategies and has only made the world more violent and full with regional confrontation.

Though the author has some sense of China's imperial ambitions and likely role in the region's future, he overestimates it by placing the country on the side of the US as the next superpower to suffer a fall. China has no territorial loads like Afghanistan or Iraq. Why would it be in deep trouble like the US in the future? The author fails to supply persuasive reasons for why China will supplant the US from its superpower status, and in the terms familiar to us today.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Friday Times(January4-10,2013)-a different and short version of this review was also published in The Financial World, on December26,2012)

On faith,with reason

Book Review: In Good Faith by Saba Naqvi, Rainlight-Rupa, 191 pp; Rs 395(Hardback) A long stretch of history has been driven by the complexities of religion, seldom it allows anything more normal than keeping practitioners, either sycophant or intolerant under its extreme persuasion. But beyond that maliciously institutionalized trajectory, there is still a way open for the believers, who are not steadfast and have better consine to adjust with the historical realities. In dwelling with those uneven realities of India, mere relying on the western notion of ‘syncretism’ would not be adequate, as the long walk of colonisation and shaping of religions on this land happened much unusually than the rest of the world.

Saba Naqvi’s In Good Faith basically deals with those fogged issues, mostly taken for identity politics and hatred than as tools for revisiting the deepness of identity itself. Unlike the academic researches, Saba’s journey as a political journalist is indeed to search for “an unknown India”, which is a living reality even in adverse shades. The book is splitted in chapters and each part deals with the peculiarities of common religious practices of a community - there is no repetition in exchanges of contents but still the chapters altogether establish the mandate that is broad and remarkable.

Through her beautiful journalistic account, Saba aptly breaks the preoccupied version of religious blockings and advances the case of “common god”, which people and communities have given accord before religion turned into a profitable segment. Her quest is for those forgotten realities, whose effects would have countered the easy flow of fundamentalism in popular politics and social life. In its end result, pluralism missed to go further, as the downside of cynical politics has maintained its virulent character intact, even when Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’ speech have crossed its sixty-fifth anniversary this year.

Every Indian has the right to learn about its shrines and monuments, sadly few of us apply our temptation for this. For reckoning the pulse of history (only few historians find it essential, so the disciplinary formalities are of little value) and religion in action, the social and individual interpretation of life and its monuments would be more worthwhile than spending hours reading the dictum of follow-up texts on the scriptures. What even the ‘social history’ project would be unable to attain on spiral of identities could be easily conquered by the journey of simple and sensible travelers.

This book comprises rich detail, “From the Muslim goddess of Bengal to an unknown facet of the Shivaji legend in Maharashtra; from the disputed origins of the Shirdi Sai Baba to shrines across the land that are both temple and dargah”. Here the author sees a tolerant India is still surviving though only on the margins. This book is important as it has so much to offer on the ‘identity debate’. It unravels many myths and follies. In fair probability, religion should not have meant for tussle, but it is in vogue, hence a book like this has much relevance.
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Kashmir Reader on December26,2012)

The open and top secrets of Rushdie!

Book Review: Autobiography/Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Cape-Random House, 633
pp; Rs799 (Hardback)
Mark Antony says well in Julius Caesar-“The evil that men do lives a er them; the good is o interred with their bones.” Shakespeare’s aphorism has become more important to remember in today’s time, as lives getting increasingly involved in a never-ending present.In categorical explanation, writers live with their own prejudices and a balancing amount of fairness to judge the conditions, shaped mostly through the imaginative processes.

Popular trend allows a writer to have ‘one or two’ writer in mind… but unlike Pico Iyer (he adopts Graham Greene as an alternative paternal figure), Rushdie seems using Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov more for punch mark than for personal affection. Joseph Anton, an extraordinary fictitious name chosen by Rushdie for a compelled autobiography narrates in essence, how the Islamic world has returned to the fever of violence, and how a section is turning violent on surpassable issues.

In introspection, he seems right till he follows the right quest, but lately Rushdie fails to set the limit of tone, with a faith or community should be targeted. Though beyond the book, he appears in a position to give us some actual reflections on the unusual condition of the Islamic world, but his memoir doesn’t meet the level seriousness, generally expected to deal with a concerned sensitive theme like this.On personal level, rather he has much to offer in opening his life and that feeds well the Rushdiophile.

The book is packed with details and Rushdie seems to have hyperactive memory for petty incidents. Sadly, as the book progresses, it leads for only a shocking purposelessness. Even a fter more than two decades a Muslim cleric condemned his to death for interpreting Islam on his own terms (read recklessly), The Satanic Verses remains the central drama of the book, as the no other books of Rushdie wri%en a er that could fetch either renewal of fatwa or extraordinary attention.

Following his own trend, thickness is very much alive in this memoir, even though the memoir is brutally long, and heaves no sigh of relief in recounting the dramatic pain and luxury came with the fatwa, and lateral complexities of living in its shadow. Those odd circumstances were totally idle, as one could think only before reading this over informing memoir, which generously talks on dinners, glimmering launch parties and boring accounts of various deals hatched by agents and publishers. He also recall quite o en than not, the pain of finding and
losing his girlfriends in graying years and under fatwa.

Against the current trend, one could not simply overlook the ever dominant role, religious politics plays in all sorts of systems that command the government and lastly mould the geo-strategic scenario and bigger picture of world order. Solely relying on the western wisdom (as Rushdie does invariable), for pondering over the myths and realities of East adamantly places towards inaccurate finding. Religions including of Islam are in living state and faces the ugly absorption of malicious elements more frequently than Rushdie anticipates. He appears acerbic in criticism, so only he secures the ‘hype’, constructive critics lack regularly.

It surprises, when Rushdie tells the tale with a generic choice of the third person and in ambiguity. The narratives, he has used in the book is not of standard he used to known for creating the Midnight Children╩╣s phenomenon, neither the facts are as astute and well informed, as it should have for his autobiography. Still one could strive to read this book carefully in search of covert brilliancy, struck down somewhere in midway.

Joseph Anton is a book that comes with a writer’s endemic isolation, an inner state about reader would be not able to understand even when the all accounts would be thrown out without any second thought. It’s not a book that has to be read because it was written by someone with seven big bestsellers to his credit, but for knowing a different writer.

The writers of a historic generation are entwining with varied choices, so are true with the readers of present time. Still assimilation of thought and responses are essential, this way Joseph Anton deserves reading, not matter if not on mass scale!
Atul Kumar Thakur
(Published in Kashmir Dispatch on December19,2012)

A forgotten terrain!

Book Review: Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land by Sudeep Chakravarty, Fourth Estate/Harper Collins, Non-fiction, 371 pp; Rs450 (Paperback)Once Highway 39 was a footpath with a long past until the Naga Hills was occupied by the Britishers. In the further course, the endemic political conflicts made this historic route dominated by the cycle of violence. The wave of violence took off unusually, as neither the State agencies nor the countering armed groups were seen doing any rational exercises. Consequently, political turmoil substantiated at greater scale and later damaged the conventional social pattern of the adjoining regions, making Highway39 a perfect synonymous of ‘troublesome way’.

Sudeep Chakravarty heavily relies on the collective memories and political developments that made the highway less normal and more an odd stretch of Northeast. The merit of his argument comes through taking into account of the Centre’s lackluster approach towards the Northeastern States. Though he fails to elaborate, why technicalities of term- ‘Northeast’ is the too easy definition of wider truths that begins with India’s independence and the merging of the States of this region in a confused stream called, ‘mainstream’.

The plights of these seven states are mostly generated by the unresolved issues of ‘integration’, whose processes intensified post1947. Though the level of disagreement is not uniform in all these States, as a State like Arunachal Pradesh presents much calmer picture than the fantasies of gross evaluation, abundantly available lighter research offers. This book strongly presents a narrative in this regard through going in deep behind the actual reasons, which makes State, a less competent authority than otherwise it should have in actual.

Highway39 is a sort passage for these States to converge with rest of the India. This convergence with the outside world brings, both sense of the achievement and humiliation for the people of this region-but lately now, the convergence is taking place for good as it providing the chances of assimilation in the developmental process and also empowerment to migrants with better economic benefits. Earlier, this region was never given the kind of planning that could have made it ease with the broader national framework.

The chapter on Manipur brings in to attention the State’s natural insensitivity towards the peacefully protesting activist, Irom Sharmila and others. Irom has spent more than a decade without the real taste of life opposing the AFSPA in State-if the situation would be normal with sidelining such ambiguous powers from the hand of State authority, then a thought for change must be given by the center over this issue.

After all, more than the provisions of administrative rules, a fair delivery of justice would make rather a fair sense. As a nation, India has made significant advancement in last six decades, now the time is more suitable for a looking back to approach fresh on some of the contentious issues, which requires straight dealing. Overcoming the internal hurdles in Northeast will allow India to play a formidable role in the East Asian region. This thought should essentially leverage India for making balanced strides.

The book forwards the plight of the Northeast to the readers in clear tones and also keeping itself shy away from the popular way of seeing things with pre-occupation. So, it establishes with examples and opinions, how the correction in policies and end of regional marginalization can do real well in this region of high potential. Sudeep makes vital points by showing belief in the positive changes, which have came in the course of time. Probably, Highway39 would be known for better reasons, if atleast for once, given a normal status to function!
Atul Kumar Thakur