Identity and Development :

Twin Challenges in India’s Northeast

A Two-Day National Workshop by CDPS
In collaboration with British Deputy High Commission, Kolkata

Jan 28-29, 2008


[Organised by the Centre for Develoment and Peace Studies (CDPS) with support from the British Deputy High Commission, Kolkata, at Guwahati, 28-29 January 2008. The Workshop was inaugurated by Assam Chief Minister Mr Tarun Gogoi, in presence of the British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, Mr Simon Wilson, who was a special guest.] 

The Featured Speakers

Dr M. Govinda Rao, Director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi and Member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.
Prof T.K.Oommen, Sociologist and Professor Emiritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Bimol Akoijam, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
Dr Udayon Misra, Author and Analyst; formerly with Dibrugarh University, Assam.
Dr Sajal Nag, Assam University, Silchar
Dr Nani Gopal Mahanta, Gauhati University, Assam
Mr Rajesh Dev, Researcher on Ethnicity and Democracy, Shillong, Meghalaya.
Ms Jarjum Ete, Social Activist, former Chairperson, Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Commission.
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray, Institute for Conflict management, New Delhi
Mr Chandan Mahanta, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati
Mr P.D.Rai, Chairman Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim
Dr Debadatta Barkataki, Director, State Resources Centre, Assam
Mr Tridiv Hazarika, Oil India Limited, Duliajan, Assam

The Premise Behind the Workshop 

CDPS decided to hold a national workshop on the above subject on the premise that the issues of identity, governance, development and insurgency in Northeast India are interlinked, and, therefore, there is need to deliberate on these issues so as to establish these linkages in the context of conflict and development discourses in the region. The identity question is linked to the aspirations of different ethnic groups in the region and results in assertion of rights by these groups. Agitations by student groups, political formations as well as insurgent outfits are seen to revolve round the issue of identity of the communities they seek to represent, although there are other trigger factors like lack of development or absence of adequate livelihood opportunities. Governance obviously has been a key factor both in the rise of these concerns as well as in allaying the apprehensions and fears of communities in the region. The idea of holding this workshop was to examine whether addressing the issue of identity and development in the Northeast in a holistic manner would reduce conflict in the region and help remove the sense of discrimination among different groups and communities in the area.

Key Observations Of The Workshop

The premise that the issues of identity, governance, development and insurgency in Northeast India are interlinked was established by the presentations of the resource persons who addressed the Workshop.
It needs to be recognised that sub-nationalism and nationalism can co-exist without being hostile or antagonistic towards each other.
Inclusive development in the region will require participatory governance and planning, of which self-governance is a critical ingredient.
Overcoming economic stagnation in the Northeast calls for a paradigm shift in development strategy, supplemented by reforms in policies and institutions, including capacity building and strengthening governance.
The issue of insurgency has to be treated as primarily a political issue. Only secondarily is it an issue of law and order.
Trust-building should begin from educational institutions where attempts to organise dialogues between children/students of various communities must be undertaken to dispel stereotypes that form the foundation of inter-ethnic discord and acrimony.
Every community organisation must be informed and made aware that unless the gender issue is addressed at the lowest unit of the society, the benefits of development will always remain skewed.
South Asian states should abandon the aspiration of creating nation-states which pursues cultural monism and should instead pursue the idea of national states which endorses cultural pluralism.
To overcome the challenges of development faced by the Northeast, a people-centric development strategy is the only means.
Through the ecotourism intervention, the Identity of the people can be harnessed as a resource. When this is done, development would naturally follow.
A comprehensive dialogue involving the various stakeholders of the state is the most urgent initiative required to arrive at some level of durable peace.
Democracy, not confined only to voting and contesting elections, should mean people’s participation in all matters that concern their identity, autonomy and development. This is very important in a identity-spurred hotspot like Nagaland.
There is need for a regional management approach in implementation of energy projects for the Northeast.
Young people in the rural areas must once again fall in love with the primary sector and look at agro-based activities as a dignified and profitable avenue for sustainable self employment.
As most of the potent challenges to the Indian nation-state have come from the Northeast, India has plenty to learn from its experiences in this region.


Director of CDPS Mr. Wasbir Hussain pledged the commitment of the Centre in undertaking research on critical aspects of conflict and search for meaningful solutions.
British Deputy High Commissioner Mr. Simon Wilson called upon the world community to unite against the scourge of terrorism.
Dr. M. Govinda Rao observed that the Northeast of India has tremendous economic potential; however colossal investment to the tune of Rs 1,156,785 crore will be required to bring the region at par with the rest of India.
Assam Chief Minister Mr. Tarun Gogoi contended that despite insurgency, the State is surging ahead on the development front.
President of CDPS Mr. Topon Lal Baruah said that with the launch of its website, the Centre is committed to facilitate greater interaction with a wider audience on the issues concerning the Northeast.
Dr. T.K Oommen said the state is primarily a politico-legal concept while nation is essentially a psycho-cultural entity. As the two elements pull in opposite direction, the way out is to shift the gaze from nation-state, which is anchored to the project of cultural homogenization, to national state which consciously pursues the goal of cultural pluralism.
Dr. Bimol Akoijam categorically stated that development in the region ought to be an independent enterprise and not something as a counter to insurgency.
Dr. Rajesh Dev wanted the three main ethnic groups of Meghalaya—Garos, Khasis & Jaintias, to show greater understanding and maturity in quelling simmering tensions in the state on ethnic lines.
Ms Jargum Ete called for equal participation of women in the development process for attaining tangible growth.
Dr. D Barkataki said that only a people-centric development strategy could usher in the necessary changes at the grassroots level.
Mr. P.D Rai stressed on the importance of ecotourism in acting as a driver for economic growth in the region.
Mr. Chandan Mahanta rued the fact that disadvantaged sections of society always find themselves at the receiving end during initiation of every big energy project.
Mr. Tridiv Hazarika, while outlining Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives of Oil India Limited (OIL), said corporates should not to treat CSR as a liability, but always treat it as an earnest social initiative.
Dr. Nani Gopal Mahanta said that the Indian state needs to completely overhaul its counter-insurgency strategy for the Northeast, and exhibit more honesty.
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray observed that the crisis of identity is not exclusive to the Northeast, only that the problem is acute in the region for a variety of reasons.
Dr. Sajal Nag wanted a greater role for civil society groups in conflict-torn regions and asserted that military solutions would only prove futile.


Welcoming all the participants to the workshop, Mr. Wasbir Hussain outlined the activities of the Centre and informed that CDPS is committed to meaningful research in the field of conflict and development in the region. He said that identity and development have been chosen as the twin subjects for deliberaton as they have a direct bearing on conflict in the Northeast. Mr Hussain said regional and national identities do not work at cross purposes and that strong regional identities can actually lead to a strong national identity. He later introduced all the speakers and gave an overview of their background and activities.


Mr. Simon Wilson informed that the workshop is a follow-up to the peace dialogue supported by the Deputy High Commission in 2005, the outcome of which was a book, Order in Chaos: Essays on Conflict in India’s Northeast and the Road to Peace in South Asia, that received positive reviews. He said that the Northeast of India faces many formidable challenges and the last thing that the region needs is conflict, which unfortunately has retarded the process of economic growth. He regretted the fact that a conflict situation invariably breeds radical elements and terrorists, and the disadvantaged sections of society always have to bear the brunt of violence. The Deputy High Commissioner also outlined some of the prominent measures that the United Kingdom had taken in collaboration with the world community in eradicating terrorism. He expressed happiness at the fact that both India and the United Kingdom have pledged at the very highest level to jointly fight the scourge of terrorism. He also spoke on values of democracy, human rights & women’s issues and expressed the hope that the workshop would deliberate threadbare the critical issues plaguing the region, and come up with viable solutions.

TALK: India, the Northeast and the Development Challenge

Dr. M. Govinda Rao  

Dr. M. Govinda Rao at the outset informed that a ‘Vision 2020’ document for the Northeast has been prepared by the organization he heads, the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, with a view to guide the region in attaining economic prosperity. Terming the Northeast as an extraordinarily diverse and colourful rainbow country, he stated that it is home to over 200 of the 635 tribal groups in the country with a strong tradition of social and cultural identity.

Speaking from a historical perspective, he said that the region was in the forefront of development some 150 years ago. The vast river systems and small rivulets were a means of livelihood for the majority of the population. Infact, the railway network between Dibrugarh and Chittagong was one of the earliest projects in India implemented by the British in the late-nineteenth century. The first tea garden was established in 1835 and the export of the first consignment of tea to London took place in 1838. The discovery of oil in Makum and establishment of a refinery in Digboi in 1890 laid the foundation for the development of undivided Assam. Missionaries also played a pivotal role in spreading literacy.

Partition played the spoilsport and the region now lags the rest of the country on various economic and human development indices. In quantitative terms, by 2020, if the people of the Northeast should attain living standards comparable to people in the rest of the country, the growth rate in the region will have to be accelerated to 12.95% between 2006-07 and 2019-20, and growth of per capita income will have to increase to 11.5%. This shall entail a colossal investment to the tune of Rs 1,156,785 crore or 41.9 per cent of GSDP in the region. Sounding optimistic, he said that this is certainly not an unrealistic call, but the private sector would also have to lend a helping hand.


A paradigm shift in development strategy for the region is required, supplemented by reforms in policies and institutions.
The development strategy has six components—m aximising self-governance , h arnessing resources for the benefit of the people through rural development , d evelopment of sectors with comparative advantage , b uilding capacity in people and institutions , s trengthening infrastructure and connectivity & r esources for development.
The vision of achieving peace and prosperity is eminently feasible but by no means easy, and the emphasis should be on concurrent implementation of these six interdependent components.


Crediting CDPS for sustained research on fundamental areas of conflict, the Chief Minister Mr. Gogoi said that the State urgently needs to build up a research culture, in the fields of both physical and social science, and appealed to intellectuals to take a lead on this. He identified lack of connectivity as the major hurdle in the process of development, and firmly stressed on the need for growth to be inclusive. Diversity in the region is not responsible for conflict, but the problem arises when some people fail to respect this diversity and try to scuttle the same. Therefore, people need to cherish the diversity and learn how to live with it. The Chief Minister also called for an overhaul of our education system and said the thrust of modern education should be on better skill generation. He asserted that despite insurgency, Assam is making rapid strides on the development front and cited the ever increasing real estate prices as a pointer to this. He also made a mention of the important measures taken by his government for economic development of the State. Through the CDPS platform, the Chief Minister assured that empowering grassroots institutions and the womenfolk of the State has been and shall remain the priority of the government always. He said the State cannot wait for big business houses to come and open shop and have, therefore, focussed its attention to the development of the small and medium-scale industries.


Mr. Baruah said that this is a red-letter day for the Centre as its website has been launched and a major handicap in its functioning has been addressed. He expressed optimism that an interactive website would enable the Centre to reach out to a wider audience and the feedback received shall prove to be fruitful. He thanked everyone for participating at the workshop to make it a success.

TALK: Identity & Nationalism: The Paradox

Prof. T.K Oommen

Prof. Oommen in his incisive presentation said that South Asia as a political construction gained currency during the Cold War period, which now is bracketed in the Third World. The Area Studies Programme (ASP) initiated by the First World at the behest of the United States, gave a fillip to the notion of Third World. Though the ostensible purpose was scholastic—to analyze and understand developing countries— the hidden agenda was political—facilitating their induction into the First World.

He expressed reservations at the fact that post-colonial states of South Asia endeavoured to create modern nation-states modeled after their West European counterparts, an untenable proposition given South Asia’s empirical realities. Rather, he adviced South Asian states to abandon the aspiration of creating nation-states which pursues cultural monism and instead pursue the idea of national states which endorses cultural pluralism. He also pointed out that culture is crucial in facilitating and/or hindering inter-state interactions and yet this fact is not yet recognized adequately.

Dr Oommen also delved deep into the concepts of identity and cultural pluralism, and made four critical observations as regards identity—abbreviation and even abrogation of identities versus elaboration of identities, the tensions between identity and equality driving them in opposite directions, identity as the basis of inclusion and exclusion of citizens in the participatory processes in the polity and economy, and perceiving identity of minorities as a source of insecurity for the nation and the state by the dominant majority as against invoking identity as the route to justice by the weak/dominated minorities. These are all relevant to understand the situation in South Asian states, Prof. Oommen categorically stated. As regards Cultural Pluralism, he effected certain conceptual clarifications before proceeding to discuss the notion in details. He also discussed elaborately the basic tensions that are prevalent in contemporary social theory.

Reverting again to South Asian dynamics, he discussed the case of India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar & Sri Lanka, by categorizing them on the basis of their dominant religious collectivities. He made it clear that state formation in post-colonial South Asia is substantially conditioned by religion. Even in those cases where it is not explicit, religion has great potency in moulding the societal ethos. He also admitted that the case of India is more complex, not only because of its stupendous size but also because of its staggering cultural diversity.


The state is primarily a politico-legal concept while nation is essentially a psycho-cultural entity. As the two elements pull in opposite direction, the way out is to shift the gaze from nation-state, which is anchored to the project of cultural homogenization, to national state which consciously pursues the goal of cultural pluralism. But with the exception of India, all other South Asian states seem to be pursuing cultural monism.
Beginnings have been made in India to create a national state which explicitly nurtures cultural diversity. However, the required consensus is yet to be evolved and several vigorous steps need to be taken.


Speaker: Bimol Akoijam

Mr Akoijam at the very outset said that the Government of India’s position vis-à-vis the Northeast is ‘not honest’. The issues of insurgency and conflict in Manipur are reflections of a general crisis of the very idea and institution of “nation-state”. This crisis is marked by (a) contestations of identities and competing centers of power/authority, (b) matters of governance that seek or provide legitimacy to a “nation-state”. Therefore, insurgency and conflicts in Manipur are not simply matters of localized “law and order problems”, but matters that deeply implicate the Indian “nation-state”, both as an idea and a geo-political institution. Such an understanding should be the basis for any initiative to bring about a meaningful (both ethically and instrumentally) “solution” to the “problem” in Manipur.

The hitherto existing approaches to the issues have not been informed by such an understanding. Instrumental thinking and inability to acknowledge and confront political issues have been the hallmarks of these approaches. Incidentally, these approaches arguably come from the same causal premise of the “problem”. And hence, the purported instruments of solution continue to aggravate the “problem” by making it both prostrated and prolific.


The issue of insurgency has to be treated as primarily a political issue, and secondarily as an issue of law and order.
The legitimacy of the state has to be sought primarily in terms of governance rather than in terms of performance and display of (coercive) physical force.
The issue of development has to be taken as an independent enterprise of governance rather than as a “measure” of “counter-insurgency”.
The issue has to be treated not as a “localized” issue but something that is married to a larger framework that goes beyond Manipur.

Akoijam contended that these four approaches are based on authentic understanding of the historicity and materiality of the phenomenon called insurgency and a commitment to strengthen the democratization process of the polity. He also said that these approaches do not merely seek conflict management but rather a lasting peace.

IDENTITY & GOVERNANCE: The View From Meghalaya

Speaker: Dr Rajesh Dev

Dr. Rajesh Dev, at the very beginning of his discourse, endeavoured to locate the meanings of Identity and Governance from the perspective of social theory, and said that the core concern in this deliberation about the engagement between Identity and Governance is the way we deal with the concept of Identity and how it influences and structures the processes that defines our social life.

He said that in the Indian context, it is religious identity which had been the basis of polarisation and conflict that debilitates the possibility of formulating an inclusive process of Governance; whereas in the Northeast Indian context, it is ethnicity that forms the core of identity related conflicts and polarisations that influences the processes of Governance.

In the context of Meghalaya, he said that the disruptions in governance is most glaringly revealed in the inter-ethnic bitterness between the three dominant ethnic groups—the Garos, the Khasis and the Pnars (Jaintias)—and the feelings of animosity and difference amongst the dominant and non-dominant ethnic groups. And among the dominant ethnic groups, the contest related to issues of neglect in equitable distribution of resources and share of the development pie. He made the points clear with the help of relevant examples of this schism in Meghalaya. In his presentation, Dr. Dev also discussed the prevalent legal and traditional institutions of the state and their dynamics.


The creation of a “vertical hierarchical model” of ethnic superordination and subordination through the privileging of ethnic identities by institutions of the state needs to be dismantled. This should be undertaken not in a manner where ethnic identity is erased but in a manner where all ethnic identities are equally privileged.
The state should undertake Cadastral Survey most immediately to precisely understand the land tenure status and the related control mechanisms.
The entrenchment of democratic governance through broad-based inclusion of different ethnic groups must be undertaken. The political class and formations must restrain from utilising the ‘ethnic card’ as political totems and must pursue integrative political coalitions.
Contrarily, delegitimising ideological underpinnings of ethnocentrism by crafting institutions that emphasise inter-ethnic trust and building civil society initiatives that express an incompatibility of intolerance with democratic doctrine must be undertaken.
The “Social Common Sense” that sustains the polarising trends must be reformatted so as to allow participatory engagements in “simple routine interactions of life”, like festivals, children playing in common areas etc.
A genuine political pluralism must be nurtured by both state and non-state actors and political formations.
Public institutions that include the police, bureaucracy and the political authority and the larger society must reflect radical neutrality and dislike for ethnic animosity.
Trust-building should begin from educational institutions where attempts to organise ‘dialogues’ between children/students of various communities must be undertaken to dispel stereotypes that form the foundation of inter-ethnic discord and acrimony.
Attempts to “Nationalise spaces” must be undertaken. This would entail a more visible and publicised role of the central (national) government in development activities.
Institutions, both rational-legal and traditional, must have well defined jurisdictional spaces and each higher body must have control and appellate authority over its subordinate body.

Gender and Identity in India’s Northeast

Speaker: Ms Jarjum Ete

Sharing her experiences of over two decades in areas of gender and identity, Jarjum Ete said that in the Northeast, the gender concern is not at all in focus – neither in the identity debate and ethnic assertions nor in the development discourse of the democratic processes.

She said that ethnic assertions based on identity in the Northeast are well known the world over. But on the flip side, women’s contributions in these ethnicity/identity based movements have never been acknowledged. Whether it is the Naga movement or the Assam agitation or the Bodo movement, issues concerning women have always been relegated to a secondary position. She emphasized further on this glaring neglect and discrimination, and expressed surprise at the facts that in a highly literate state like Mizoram, polygamy is practiced with impunity, and the menfolk always pull the strings from behind in matriarchal Meghalaya.

She pointed out that neither policy planners nor regional development institutions like the North Eastern Council (NEC), the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) or North Eastern Development Finance Corporation (NEDFi) have seriously looked at gender concerns either in formulation of policies or their execution in the region. And therefore, she called for underlining gender mainstreaming to ensure parity in the sharing of development benefits.


Every community organisation must be informed and made aware that unless the gender issue is addressed at the lowest unit of the society, the benefits of development will always remain skewed.
That can happen only if there is specific directive from the source – the respective state governments, the NEC, the DONER, and the Government of India.
The women and pro-women bodies and media in states like Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and parts of Assam and Tripura ought to be sensitized on this concern. The tribal states, particularly the Sixth Schedule states are still hanging on to outdated anti-women customs in the name of tribal identity and culture.


A People-centric Development Strategy

Speaker: Dr Debadatta Barkataki  

Speaking on the challenges of development, Dr Barkataki drew his arguments and recommendations basically from his rich experiences of working at the grassroots level. He contended that the challenges are formidable, both at the national and international levels. And a defective handling invariably leads to unequal development.

Speaking from the local perspective, he said that migration from across the borders to the Northeast further inflates the population growth rate and puts tremendous pressure on the existing resources. To overcome the challenges of development faced by the Northeast, a people-centric development strategy is the only means, he asserted. He said that a glimpse of this was visible in Assam subsequent to the Assam agitation, when many primary level schools were initiated through collective effort and also sustained without any constitutional support.

Dr Barkataki spoke on various statutory provisions relating to Panchayati Raj bodies and discussed in details the Gaon Sabha dynamics prevalent in Assam. Regarding State Resource Centres (SRC’s), he informed that 25 such Centres have been opened all over India, 3 of which are in the Northeast. Dr Barkataki made a very important point—awareness about existing rural development schemes and programmes are minimal and needs to be improved. This is vital for rural development because people can come forward to avail of the schemes meant for them only if they are aware of them and know how to proceed to secure the benefits.


Follow up activities to be taken up on the basis of need-based survey through Gaon Sabha.
Panchayat Level Women Empowerment training programmes need to be arranged.
Training should be provided to Panchayat functionaries including activists to identify needs of Panchayat.
Need-based survey training should be extended to all Gaon Panchayats & 6th Schedule areas of Assam.
Based on need-based survey, short term (1 Year) & long term (5 Years) development plans should be prepared.
Gana Chetana Kendras (people sensitization centres) should be established under CEP.

Ecotourism and Participatory Development: The Story from Sikkim

Speaker: Mr P.D Rai

Drawing from the Sikkim experience, P.D Rai in his presentation emphasized on ecotourism as a potential driver of economic development in the region. He informed that Sikkim is the best performing Northeastern state in the tourism sector and ecotourism has been its showpiece.

Speaking on the ecotourism initiatives, he said that ecotourism was started in 1996 as a strategic initiative in the state and christened as the Sikkim Biodiversity and Ecotourism Project. He said that there was no looking back after said that the Sikkim model, if replicated elsewhere in the Northeast, could bring sustainable development in the region.

Elaborating further and sounding optimistic, he said that Northeast of India is a biodiversity hotspot and a lack of economic development in the region has also ensured that the virginity is not yet lost. This only implies that banking on our biodiversity, we can reap rich benefits in future by investing in this sector.

On the positives of ecotourism, he said that both tourists and local people are stakeholders in this process. Local capacity building is possible and equity is embedded at the heart of this programme. The revenue model of ecotourism is also easy to understand and people are ready to invest in it. It is responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and brings sustained benefits to local people. He cited the examples of Dzongu in North Sikkim, Pastanga in East Sikkim, Yoksum in West Sikkim and Kewzing in South Sikkim where community based ecotourism projects have been launched.


There is need for a replication of the Sikkim ecotourism model in the rest of Northeast as well. At least 2000 of these models can be replicated all over the Northeast.
An investment of Rs 800 crores over 5 years shall be required for the purpose. The investment per ecotourism centre shall be Rs 30 lakhs while investment per livelihood comes to Rs 15,000.
The varied cultural traits and different types of people who live in this part of the world add huge colour to the traditional and cultural equity of this region. Thus, the Identity of the people can be harnessed as a resource with this kind of intervention. When this is done, then development would naturally follow. From river dolphins to Naga tribalism to birds in Arunachal, there are a host of areas where potentialities exist and some work has also been done.

Energy Resources & Development

Speaker: Mr Chandan Mahanta  

Mr Mahanta’s paper brought into focus a new aspect—harnessing energy resources for the purpose of development. He threw light on both renewable and non-renewable resources, and emphasized primarily on hydro-energy in his paper. Terming hydro-power as entirely sustainable and a benign energy source, he said the aim should be to derive its benefits in a proper manner without harming the environment or causing a catastrophe.

In this context, he also raised the pertinent question whether we should shift from mega hydro-power projects to micro-level ones, as mega projects also bring with them gloom for many. While discussing the hydro-power potential of the Northeastern region, he also made a mention of the impediments in initiating big energy projects with the NE being a seismic zone, high sedimentation of its rivers etc. He also provided statistics of state-wise installed hydro-power capacity in the NE and pegged it at approximately 15% of the total potential.

He also touched on the sensitive issue of displacement and rehabilitation of people affected by energy projects and went into some of the recommendations of World Commission on Dams (WCD) in this regard. The relevant example of Subansiri project was also cited. He summed things up with the warning that unplanned moves at energy generation would ruin our biodiversity and spell an environmental disaster.


A shift from mega hydro-power projects to micro-level ones should be seriously considered, depending on feasibility.
As decisions are taken by Central agencies unilaterally while conceiving energy projects for the region, there is need for a regional management approach for achieving better results.
The states of the Northeast should also play a complimentary role in this regard. There should also be a thrust on micro-energy training.
The electricity boards of the region should revamp themselves; discarding musty ways of functioning and taking to progressive ones.

Corporate Initiative at Participatory Development

Speaker: Mr Tridiv Hazarika

Emphatically stating that Oil India Limited (OIL) is a Responsible Corporate Citizen deeply committed to socio-economic development in its areas of operation, Mr Hazarika said that this legacy runs back to many decades. Comparing the situation prevailing in 1960-80 period with the present, he said that earlier people’s expectations were less and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives were driven by primarily operational needs. But in present times, OIL’s operations have increased to far-flung areas and the stakeholders have also become aware of their rights and privileges.

In the wake of new developments, the CSR approach has been fine-tuned to suit emerging needs. Covering a total of 1400 villages, the CSR philosophy aims at improving the quality of life of people in operational areas and stresses on partnership rather than charity. He said that the present strategy is based on a survey conducted by Dibrugarh University in 1983 to chart out a CSR roadmap. The milestones achieved in the fields of healthcare & family welfare, education, employment generation and infrastructure development were also mentioned.

Focusing on the ambitious Project Rupantar of OIL, Hazarika said that it inspires and facilitates the residents of OIL’s operational area to form Self Help Groups and engage themselves in various agro-based economic activities towards achieving self-sustainability and economic empowerment. This project has made a very positive impact on the target population, he informed. Not to be swayed by the success wave, Hazarika also made a pointed reference to the still existing problem areas like the huge number of unemployed in OIL’s operational areas, and suggested matter-of-fact solutions.


The ITIs and Polytechnics must re-look at their course content and introduce new trades which responds to the market demand and increases employability of the students.
The primary sector (agro-based business) continues to be a very potent area for providing ample opportunities for long-term sustainable self employment. This area needs to be given focused attention by the Government/Corporate Sector/NGOs etc.
Young people in the rural areas must once again fall in love with the primary sector and look at agro-based activities as a dignified and profitable avenue for sustainable self employment.
Key elements of the participatory rural appraisal approach should be self-awareness, equity & empowerment, and diversity.
Traditionally, the belief was that the role of the company towards development was to write out cheques. OIL has been showing that this is not necessary because there are many other resources that can be used effectively for ensuring development.

OVERVIEW: Identiy Movements, Ethnic Nationalism & Insurgency in NE

Speaker: Dr Udayon Misra

Dr. Misra categorically stated that some of the most potent challenges to the Indian nation-state and the entire process of nation-building in post-independence India have come from the country’s northeastern region. Beginning in the early 1950’s with the assertion of the Nagas for a separate political space outside the Indian Union and ending with the current demands of small ethnic nationalities/communities for political and territorial autonomy within the parameters of the Indian nation-state; identity, ethnicity and insurgency have developed deep interfaces, with the dividing line between these becoming quite thin at certain points.

He said that each of these identity movements, some of which have developed into long-term insurgency against the Indian state, claim to draw their inspiration from their “unique” history which has been in many cases re-invented and re-written. But, each of these identity movements, while claiming to speak on behalf of an entire nationality, builds its thesis on an exclusivist agenda; thereby giving rise to a few pertinent questions.

Stating that there are distinct socio-cultural and historico-economic factors that have given rise to identity related insurgency in the Northeast, he said recent experience of inter-ethnic violence has shown that state maneuvers in carving out separate territorial spaces for certain communities could result in creating fresh killing fields in the region.

He raised the question whether it would really be possible to ensure peace by giving exclusive territorial and political rights to certain small nationalities merely because they happen to constitute the largest ethno-national group among several other smaller groups. Or, would it be necessary to work towards a more inclusive social space by initiating economic programmes which would eventually involve the co-operation of the different nationalities/communities in the development process.

The presentation suggested that the way out of the present fragmentary politics does not seem to lie in political empowerment without collateral economic development. While questions of mindset and cultural factors do form important aspects of identity struggles in the Northeast, yet the link between economic underdevelopment and insurgent politics has not merited the attention it certainly deserves. For instance, economic deprivation, land alienation and unemployment are issues which need to be tackled seriously by the state if violence involving identity struggles is to be contained. The failure of the state to ensure distributive justice and the rule of law—two of the fundamental requisites of a democracy—may be seen as major factors which have contributed in large measure to the rise of ethno-national militancy in the Northeast. Dr Misra ended on the premise that India has plenty to learn from its Northeast experience.

From Durable Disorder to Durable Order: Democratising the Means

Speaker: Dr Nani Gopal Mahanta

Dr Mahanta began by making it amply clear that there are no readymade solutions to the problems afflicting the Northeast. He pointed out that the State is the most powerful stakeholder when it comes to addressing or solving issues revolving around the question of identity or insurgency. As such, the Indian State has to play the most decisive role in bringing these issues to an amicable solution. He provided a critique of the State’s conflict resolution mechanism in the Northeast in general and Assam in particular and categorically stated that the State must abandon some of its old fashioned techniques of conflict resolution and develop a mechanism to respond to these issues by involving civil society and other stakeholders.

Applying the tenets of Kenneth Boulding’s threat system to Assam, he said that the Indian State had always adopted a piece meal approach towards conflict resolution; also listing some of the sinister means adopted by the State in this regard. He was categorical in his comment that this policy of threat based on hegemony and deterrence did not work for the last sixty years.

In the light of all this, he strongly suggested that the Indian state deviate from a symptomatic treatment of the problem and seriously look into the causes that sustain such a disorder in the region.


A comprehensive dialogue involving the various stakeholders of the state is the most urgent initiative required to arrive at some level of durable peace. This could be started by more neutral platforms with civil society groups and NGOs working in the field.
Take into cognizance the State audited reports and implement them. The Indian State from time to time has appointed a number of such commissions to suggest measures on better governance.
Many problems of the region will have a different dimension if we involve our neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal for a common South Asian destiny. For that, India will have to take the initiative by giving a final shape to the so-called ‘Gujral Doctrine’.
Such initiatives must be backed by a vibrant civil society initiative at multiple levels like sports, academics, culture, tourism, health and economics. If such a relationship takes off, it will definitely result in the denial of facilities which some of the neighboring countries are providing to the militant outfits of the region.
There is need for a conflict transformation framework in opposition to a ‘Conflict Management’ approach, which is typically based on State security paradigm. The argument is for a security from below (rather than ‘security from above’)—which essentially gives primacy to the people’s security.

Identity and Insurgency: The Linkages and the Scenario in Northeast

Speaker: Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray

Dr Routray began by saying that in a society where ethnicity has a dominant say over one’s world view, assertion of identity would precede anything else and would be harmless. Movements for identity are often the product of the absence of due recognition that tribes/group of people demand in a potentially competitive social and political set up and these do not always end up in becoming insurgency movements. What actually transforms the essentially socio-political identity movements to violent campaigns or insurgency movements are factors like decreasing political opportunity, existing mobilizing structures with violent repertoires and effective framing of the opposition. He said that India’s Northeast has been a witness to many such movements.

He regretted that poor state of economies in a majority of the northeastern states is one of the reasons why the governments have allowed the state of inequity to persist, thus aggravating the sense of alienation among the aggrieved lot. Continuing the diatribe against regimes of the region, he said that so many of the identity movements have actually ended up being insurgency movements because regimes have either tended to neglect issues that at some point of time have appeared trivial or are in conflict with their own world views. Also taking a dig at the Central Government, he said that successive regimes in New Delhi have also tended to handle the region in a blatantly brazen manner.

He said that tribes within the region also engage in feuds and delved on the reasons for the same. He also castigated the Assam government for taking an extremely liberal stand on granting Autonomous District Councils, despite the fact that the ADC experiment has been one of the most colossal failures. He also touched on the new phenomenon of Scheduled Tribe (ST) status demand by certain groups and the ad hoc response of the state to this.


It needs to be recognised that sub-nationalism and nationalism can co-exist without being hostile or antagonistic towards each other.
It also needs to be recognised that there will always be grounds for protest in modern, politically pluralistic societies because there is constant discontent, grievances or deprivation. The key to the solution of the problem is a receptive government which does not let things go out of hand. But given the fact that governments of the day do not display such characters, the civil society groups in various states will have to play a far greater role as conscience keepers.
Advancing simplistic solutions such as creation of autonomous district councils have only promoted the tendency to make similar demands by all and sundry. There is a need, therefore, to inspect the record and discover whether autonomy actually helps resolve any of the problems it was intended to, and if so, under what circumstances.
Majority of the identity issues are desires for new orders and are inherently linked to the failure of the administrative mechanism. Decentralisation of governance that promoted participation of people can provide a magic wand to keep identity assertions at bay.
People must organize themselves to fulfil their own expectations and needs in the daily tasks of life; not to confront the state, but to act as if the state 'does not exist'. In doing so, they would gradually but inexorably whittle away the power of the state.
Given the fact that most insurgency movements of the region have acquired criminal characteristics, movements not based on real issues can be dealt with and neutralized through purely military means.

Identity, Insurgency and Development: The Naga Case

Speaker: Dr Sajal Nag

Dr Nag observed that the Naga struggle for sovereignty is the first and longest of the secessionist-turned-insurgency movements in South Asia; at the core of this self assertion is the question of identity. When the Naga demand for right to self determination was rejected by the Indian state, they appropriated the politics of secessionism to achieve the goal of Naga nation-state. As the Indian state deployed armed power, it had to be shifted to the underground and took the form of organized insurgency. And since then, it has been sustained guerilla warfare against Indian army (symbolizing the Indian state) which also endeavoured to repress it with equal might.

Throwing light on the Naga tribe, he said that the Nagas are a group of myriad un-conglomerate tribes, each of them a complete individual community, who had to be harnessed into a single generic Naga identity. Thus, conglomerations of tribal identities were submerged to construct a national ‘Naga’ identity.

He said that theearly Indian leadership, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru, appreciated and empathized with the Naga identity crisis; promising greater autonomy and adequate safeguards. When even the Sixth Schedule provisions failed to pacify the Nagas, Nehru, overruling massive opposition, granted statehood to the Nagas—a population of just about seven lakh then. But as a new leadership took over from the forward-looking Indian leadership, the capacity and sincerity to understand the Naga issue also dwindled. Nag also disapproved of the practice of signing accords at the national level and termed them as unconstitutional.

He also alleged that the army operations, starting in 1953 with the mass arrest of the Naga National Council (NNC) leaders and continuing to this day, has disfigured the social fabric of the Naga society and economy. The core issue of identity has never been addressed either at an academic or political level and there has been very little initiative from the Indian State in developing an economically progressive Nagaland.


The exclusion of Nagaland from development plans on the excuse of it being a disturbed area and frontier region has to be discarded forthwith and it must be included in all development plans of the country.
Nagaland has to be opened up to Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar as the Chindwin river is not very far. Through it, an opening to the Bay of Bengal is also a possibility.
Naga thinkers (not politicians) and economists must be consulted while framing development strategies. Also, the social capital of Nagaland has to be nurtured. However, care should be taken that development initiatives do not affect the identity, tradition and culture of the Nagas, which they consider very dear.
Other than the economy, Nagaland also requires considerable investment for building its socio-cultural infrastructure. Quality medical and engineering colleges are a must to improve the abysmal health facilities and creating skilled manpower.
Aside from its scenic beauty, Nagaland is also naturally endowed with geographical features which would allow trekking, rock climbing, river rafting and such other adventure sports. Therefore, steps should be taken to harness the tourism potential adequately.
Democracy, not confined only to voting and contesting elections, should be given a free flow in the Naga Hills. It should actually imply people’s participation in all matters that concern their identity, autonomy and development. Women, who constitute half of the population, cannot be excluded from this process.

The Broad Conclusion

The Workshop debated threadbare the possible interlinkages between identity, governance, development and insurgency. They were unequivocally established. The Workshop called upon the Indian state to intervene positively in the Northeast, and promote development in the region as an independent enterprise; not as a counter to insurgency. Further, the need for the Government to bring into reckoning civil society groups in its endeavour to resolve intractable conflict in the region was stressed. Approving a core contention that the fear of losing identity often results in movements for self assertion, that at times takes the shape of violent insurgencies, the Workshop called for adequate comprehension of the diversity in the northeastern region. The Workshop emphasizd on a more inclusive social space to counter parochial propaganda, and stressed on a participatory development model for empowerment at the grassroots level. Finally, accepting the argument that good governance is the only panacea, the Workshop appealed to every stakeholder in the process to apply compelling pressure for realization of this elusive dream.