Any discerning analyst of developments of the north east after Partition and especially the 1962 Sino Indian border conflict must have noted two thoughts always dominating the political and economic mindscape and actions of its diverse people. First, awareness about the region’s remoteness from and being turned into a landlocked one after Partition which inhibit access to market, and hence capital and technology.
This results in a much lower return on capital invested in the north east Region as compared to the rest of the country; and hence a vicious cycle of slow develelopment and growing signs of ” economic retardation “and not just under development.
While this puts the onus on the centre to push additional investment in all sectors to modernize the physical and social infrastructure for growth, the political class of the region seems also to resent the ” central dependency” syndrome while demanding at the same time larger central support and direct investment and flow of private capital- domestic and foreign to the region. And as if to counter the dependency syndrome the other response that emerged in all states has been ” identity politics ” which often takes a violent form against the ” other within”- ” foreigner ” or the outsider.
The liberal use of terms like “non Bodo” in Assam or Non Mizo in Mizoram conceptually puts the entire humanity on the ” other” and the wrong side!. Sad to reflect that it is not realized that every person has ” multiple identities” as Amartya Sen argued brilliantly in his seminal work” Identity and violence- the illusion of destiny”and therefore every individual is at once a consumer, saver, investor and a taxpayer and hence a part of the market economy.
The economic consequences of the identity politics of the north east in whatever form are a steady fall in the return on capital invested and it worsens when it turns violent generating thereby a vicious cycle of low investment- low return- low income and effective demand leading to a shrinking market perpetuating poverty and backwardness. The development experience of Sub Saharan Africa where situation is somewhat similar to what is prevailing in the North East suggest that it is the rural economy that suffers most which might be a major reason for failure of the NER Vision 2020 of the NEC to raise the per capita income of the north east states to equal to the national average.
This is because the market economy model that we have adopted since independence- with some trappings of Nehruvian socialism at times turned the rural production function totally subservient to the larger urban economy.
This point was stressed by Late Nanaji Deshmukh ( who was conferred Bharat Ratna posthumously this year) when he forcefully argued that the rural people are” the custodians of the natural resources and hence the life support system”. What Nanaji meant was emphatic- the rural area and the people are not just coefficients in the calculas of wealth generation and that their contribution to the economy cannot be measured in terms of share of the GDP. Nanaji’s efforts to restructuring the rural economy took the shape of the on going Swabalamban- Rural Self reliance project in Chitrakoot covering parts of UP and MP .
The project object has been to raise the productivity and income of small farm holdings by extending through Deendayal Research institute, a multi disciplinary rural development NGO that Nanaji founded and located in Chitrakoot a comprehensive package of technology capital and marketing support to promote watershed and irrigation , crop diversification, household ‘ non farm’ activities like cultivation of medicinal plants, food processing, dairy and poultry farming. These are supported by DRI’s health, education and character building activities especially among the youth . DRI’s main objectives – to check migration to urban areas by creating jobs in the rural areas and to raise income and consumption and thereby the size of the micro economy have been achieved in good measure despite a policy environment unfavourable to the rural economy as evidenced by the facts outlined below.
Presently DRI’s holistic Rural Self reliance ( Swabalamban) project is going on in villages of UP and MP covering 522 villages in 108 clusters in about 50km radius of Chitrakoot- a process that began in 2002 with 80 villages and completed in 2005 and 432 villages in the second phase in 2010. The project activities have been designed to achieve the UN sustainable development goals . It works primarily through DRI’s specialist field staff in health, agriculture, animal husbandry, irrigation and watershed management, afforestation and medicinal plants, livestock and poultry rearing with special efforts to convert homestead especially in tribal villages into ‘ micro economic’ units by promoting scientific kitchen gardens, production of bio fertilizer ,food processing and crafts for domestic use and sale of the surplus.
What distinguishes the DRI project from usual government rural development projects is its core ” multi purpose ” extension staff especially the” Samaj Shilpi Dampatis” meaning a couple – both educated and who on being selected and trained by the DRI are posted in a village to live in the assigned village and work as a part of the village community towards all round ” social develelopment”- Samaj Shilpa.. Their tasks include transfer of a wide range of skills and technology and motivating the people especially the women to form Self Help Groups and to effectively participate in the state develelopment schemes.
In addition ” Uddamita” – DRI’s rural entrepreneurship development Institute provide training to the rural youth and women to take up businesses in micro and small scale manufacturing and arrange institutional financial support and market access. DRI managed Krishi Vigyan kendras- Rural Science Centres, hospitals and mobile health clinic support development efforts in a way that have created a sense of ownership among the people of the entire project which is rarely observed in usual government schemes because of its base in social mobilisation and emphasis on cultivation of core Indian values and healthy habits along with material progress.
The results on the ground are impressive:
As of now 32613 households have been covered benefitting 202607 persons in multiple ways such as expanded irrigation to 4345 hect, 17 watershed management projects through construction of checkdams, contour trenches,farm ponds and such other water holding structures, provisioning of 8 seed banks and develelopment of 8 seed villages. Increased participation of women in the SHG led activities, fall in school drop out ratio,improved health status of the women and children are signs of progress. More importantly the villagers have become stakeholders and are no longer just ” beneficiaries”and seem to feel that all the activities and achievements are really their own; and this is Self reliance through integration in the true spirit of Gandhiji in this 150 th year of Satyagraha he launched for freedom and social justice and also in tune with the pholosophy of ” integral humanism” of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay, the Patriot visionary.
It is this force of ” integration” that is missing in the develelopment efforts all over the north east at all levels as everything boils down to assessment of the gains and losses for the special groups and in the process the goal of common good or progress is ignored. The formation of a number of Autonomous Councils all over the region only contributed to the rise of ” localism” obstructing growth of a comprehensive develelopment strategy for the region.
It is thus felt that DRI might consider taking up its Rural Self reliance project in the North East– to start with in Assam to develop a model replicable to the region with local modifications to demonstrate how the region’s “divisive economic model” actually obstructs develelopment.
Interestingly, the basics of the DRI’s Chitrakoot experience appear close to Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee’s thought on management of micro economics ( as he called himself a micro Economist in a recent TV interview) because under DRI schemes ,development assistance is provided on assessment of the response of individual poor to the incentives already extended to help him to get out of poverty. These facts suggest need for early extension of the DRI project approach to the north east towards building a new ” cohesive economy” .