The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (BJP – NDA) government headed by Narendra Damodardas Modi for the year 2019 have honoured one Bharat Ratna and five Padma Shri for the achievers of North Eastern Region; however, the region missed Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan awards. The awards were announced on the occasion of Republic Day 2019. These awards are conferred by the President of India at ceremonial functions which are held at Rashtrapati Bhawan usually around March-April every year.
The highest civilian award of the country- Bharat Ratna- was conferred to Dr Bhupen Hazarika posthumously. He was a singer, balladeer, poet, lyricist and film maker who was widely admired not only in native Assam but across the country. Hazarika’s songs resonate among music lovers of all ages and he was considered a legend in his lifetime. He is one person who has seen his own museum.
The other two achievers for Bharat Ratna are Nanaji Deshmukh (posthumous), Senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader who later also represented the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Chandikadas Amritrao Deshmukh also known as Nanaji Deshmukh was a social activist from India. He worked in the fields of education, health, and rural self-reliance. He was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan in 1999.
The other recipient- Pranab Kumar Mukherjee is an Indian politician who served as the 13th President of India from 2012 until 2017. He is also a senior Leader of Indian National Congress.
The five achievers, out of the total 94 Padma Shri awardees, are Dr Illias Ali, from Assam for Medicine-Surgery. Uddhab Kumar Bharali also from Assam for Science & Engineering-Grassroots Innovation, Thanga Darlong from Tripura for Art-Music-Flute. Draupadi Ghimiray from Sikkim, for Social Work-Divyang Welfare and Bombayla Devi Laishram from Manipur for Sports-Archery.
For the year 2019 there are four Padma Vibhushan and fourteen Padma Bhushan awardees.
The recognition has elevated the social, political and cultural rich region of India. During a session at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet 2019 on January 27, 2019, the Writers and Intellectuals from the Northeast have said that the region is full of ethnic and linguistic diversity and urged the rest of the country to stop stereotyping the people living there as peripheral.
Noting that the North-eastern states have a strong cultural harmony but are marred by political conflicts, they claimed that the region can become “a great force” if the political ideologies match.
Here at the home ground, most of the public and politicians blame the national media for wrongly representing the region by carrying only negative issues, while, the media here too has failed to highlight the positive aspects and development of the region. They are actually flowing along with the national tide and it is time that the regional media take a pledge to feature the positive aspects here to the outside world.
The Union Minister, Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), Jitendra Singh a couple of years back assured that the NDA Government would take all steps to bring the Northeast region closer both in terms of development and culture. He also assured an increase of the budget for the northeast, provided the Chief Ministers utilize the central funds as Rs. 600 crore or 73 percent of the budget allocation for the North Eastern Council (NEC) remains unutilized.
Also, while stressing on the Chief Ministers of all the eight states to discuss and resolve various strategies and plans on agriculture, railways, road transport and highways, civil aviation, shipping and waterways, power, communication and information technology, the DoNER Minister expressed that one of the most important priorities is to empower the youth of the region by way of providing employment and generating opportunities which could be achieved in a number of ways.
Such is the present situation in the region, where all the eight states – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and Sikkim are encouraged to improve international relationships even though internal security is at stake. Inter-state and even inter-district conflicts have displaced innumerable families. Here, foreign tourists are warmly welcomed, but, the domestic tourists are considered as a threat and even as influx. The World Bank is always looked upon for financial aid, while Indians from outside the Northeastern region are not allowed to invest or do any business.
The central government, through DoNER, must wake up and accept that Northeastern states are in a dilemma. There is no peace internally and they cannot reach out for assistance directly from the neighbouring countries with whom they share the international boundary. While the Central government is amending the law and making it punishable for racial slurs against the people from this region in the capital, the DoNER Minister himself referred to India as the ‘mainland’. Unless the whole nation sheds the mendacious concept of this region, the identity crisis will remain in the North East.
The central political parties should not invest in the region only to secure their respective stance as a National Party while ignoring any assistance to the region, otherwise such political debacles will continue to take place.
The nation’s highest awards for six achievers this year hopefully will arrest the attention of entire country that the region too has contributed to the nation building at par with the rest of the states be it politically, culturally or socially in order to bridge the gap between the so called Mainland India and North Eastern Region.