'An Insider's Experience of Insurgency in India's North East'
Though written by an (Indian) Army officer, this book tells the story more from the perspective of a social scientist than a military officer, who for many years was responsible for counter-insurgency operations in India's northeast. It is also a labour of love, for John Ranjan Mukherjee ('Johnny') was for long the 'Colonel' of the Assam Regiment and a gallant soldier who played an important role in stabilising the region. Hence, the bias is understandable, though it does not detract from the merit of the book. In some areas, the soldiers of the Assam Regiment comprise 35 per cent of the population, like among the Thangkul Nagas in Ukhrul district. Ensuring their loyalty and welfare will be a significant contribution to peace in the northeast.
This is a rare amalgam of sociology and humanities. Mukherjee has aggregated some three decades in the northeast, he is married a Mizo and is a Christian by faith. His unique perspective has manifold benefits providing the study both insight and balance.
For the reasons above, the book has the ring of credibility lacking in many other studies. Most soldier-scholars have merely focussed on the insurgency and its military solutions and not on the larger human dimension of the issue. Mukherjee deals with insurgency as well, but with rare panache and with the tender touch of a mentor rather than a ham-handed military commander intent on finding quick fixes and military responses.
Johnny attributes insurgency to the delay and apathy towards resolution of the long festering ills of the northeastern conundrum. He cites the instance of Manipur, where the situation is worse than in J&K, but owing to the disregard of the region by the Centre and the media, it does not merit the attention at Delhi. While discussing the role of the security forces in a disturbed area, he emphasises that the army should not have been used so early in the region. According to him the army should be assigned the task only when all others have proved ineffective. Once the dissidents have been brought to the negotiating table, there should be ample scope for discourse, discussion, debate and dialogue to seek a consensus solution to the economic, political and cultural issues that are often the root causes of disaffection. That Indian response over the years has matured and the fact that India has successfully managed to weather out insurgency movements and defeated them in the Punjab, Mizoram, Nagaland and elsewhere are testimony to that fact.
Mukherjee's larger strategic view was developed perhaps during his tenure as the Chief of Staff of India's Eastern Command. For example, in the case of the demand for a 'greater Nagaland" - the main stumbling block in the negotiations now - he rightly recommends a total and holistic solution to the northeast's ills of fissiparous predilections that can hardly be curbed if the underlying economic, cultural, and political problems are not resolved. Fire-fighting measures are never the appropriate responses to resolving major internal insurgencies. This is nevertheless easier said than done given the diverse and intermingled demographic pattern in the region. Mukherjee recommends a holistic solution with the long-term view of conditions desirable by 2020, when the East Asian Highway becomes a reality and economic opportunities open up for the youth at the grassroots and in tribal societies. The tribal people have high literacy and awareness; they need this connectivity with a wider region to prosper. He highlights this reality in a separate chapter. The opening up of Bangladesh and Myanmar should be an essential ingredient in this strategy.
Mukherjee addresses the issue of the paramilitary forces and their impact on the northeast. This is erroneous, as the only truly PMF in India is the Assam Rifles and it is the best in the region. Among all groups, only they have retained a "friends of the hill people" image.
The book appears to be pitched at the 'Western' market and readers will find it useful and enable a better comprehension of India's problems in governance in the region. The common Indian administrator and strategist will also find it very useful for its historical perspective. The administrator/strategist will need to study this to understand that there is much more than merely the much derided 'divide & rule' tactics of colonial rule. The historical background has been lucidly narrated by the author for each of the seven states and North Bengal in separate chapters.
In essence, this remains a lucidly written soldier's account about insurgency and development in the northeast. It is a must-read for all Indians with an interest in the region.