Were we too hasty in jumping to conclusions?
Now that the dust has settled over the exodus of our countrymen from the eight states of the North-east and we have moved over to meatier issues such as cricket, films and social media, it is time to step back and take a look at some of the conclusions drawn after that episode.
One, the exodus was driven purely by rumours and had no basis in reality. Here is the Business Standard story on the exodus, which says that ‘Not just SMSes & posts on social networking sites, panic happened due to concrete instances’. Another story in the Outlook magazine also suggests that the reasons go beyond the rumours carried via SMS/ MMS/ social media. Now recollect how the exodus, when it happened, was explained as being driven solely by rumours. The conclusion was simple: the Indian state is so effete that it can’t stop 30,000 of its citizens (see update at the end) who fled solely because of some ungrounded rumours. And then the verdict: no Indian trusts the Indian State now.
This is not to argue that Indian state isn’t effete or the level of trust among Indians on their government is very low. That is a fact well-established by many incidents and anecdotes in the recent past. But is it as bad — all gloom and doom — as it was made out in the immediacy of the exodus? Did the media and social media contribute to further erosion of the little trust that middle India still has in the State? That is a question we will have to honestly answer at some point. Bangalore hadn’t become Karachi and Karnataka wasn’t looking like North Waziristan with drones hovering above. Heck, India hadn’t become Somalia, a land where practically no state exists. Really, it doesn’t take much for many among us to swing from ‘India Shining’ to ‘India Whining’.
While arriving at conclusions about trusting the Indian State, we must not forget that the people who chose to move were North East Indians. Since independence, when India inherited the concept of Inner Line and Outer Line from the British, the Indian State hasn’t exactly done much to win the trust of these people. If you have lived through turbulent, conflict-ridden times in the North East, marked with insurgencies and counterinsurgency operations, and have been brought up on horrid tales about the Indian State, you will find it difficult to overcome that instinct even if the Police Commissioner of Bangalore or the Karnataka Home Minister assures you personally. More than an administrative failure of the South Indian states, the exodus is a legacy of last 64 years of maladministration and poor governance in the states of NE India. This blogger would like someone to seriously explain what more concrete steps could the governments have taken to stop the exodus.
Look at it in another way. Across the country, most middle-class Indians would trust the Indian army to secure them, if it so assures them. But if you were to ask the same question in Kashmir or Manipur, you would get a radically different answer. It is the same people, it is the same army but our responses are conditioned by our experiences and the tales that our families have brought us up on. Would anyone draw the conclusion that the whole of India doesn’t trust the Indian army because a vocal section of urban Kashmiris or Manipuris says so? Obviously, the sample being used isn’t representative. Perhaps, it was a similar case for North East Indians moving out of some South Indian cities. We must not jump to hasty conclusions and indulge in collective breast-beating about India based on skewed samples. That time and effort can be better spent in creating public pressure on our political leadership to undertake police reforms and fix the criminal justice system.
P.S. – Jinnah created Pakistan on the premise that an exclusive territory is required to protect a community and its identity. Look where that experiment has brought Pakistan today. Some of our leaders in the North Eastern states need to look at Pakistan closely and ponder. It is not the exclusive territory that safeguards a community but the rule of law. That is the only lasting solution to most problems faced not only by the North-Eastern states but also by the rest of India.
Update (26/8): Even though 30,000 is big number, this story from The Telegraph puts it in context:
Altogether 34,627 people from the Northeast, including students, had left the southern city in special trains, fearing reprisal attacks after the Assam riots. Officially, 3.5 lakh people from the region stay in Karnataka, of which 2.5 lakh stay in Bangalore as professionals and students.[Telegraph]