By Pradip Phanjoubam
Text courtesy: An editorial published by the Imphal Free Press on 15 May 2017
If the Northeast was a barren, uninhabited desert, any small amount spent to develop civic infrastructure here would probably have been justifiably called redundant and a waste. The script, we all know is a lot different. The Northeast is peopled, and it is not a barren desert. Yet, the myth that has been created that money is being “pumped” into the Northeast persists.
The emphasis, it will again be noted, is on the word “pumped”, as if money is a liquid with which the Northeast is being flooded. The story is also motivated. It is always told as an illustration of how the people here have flushed all these money down the drain all these many years so that the place is still bereft of any worthwhile infrastructure. We do admit, much of this part of the story is true. A good percentage of the money meant for development have indeed ended up lining pockets of men in positions of power and their brokers. But between percentage and absolute numbers, there is a world of difference. While both are important measures, actual quantification can tell quite contrary stories. Example: If a multinational automobile company like Suzuki posts a profit of 2 percent in any particular year, and a pan vendor in Imphal makes 200 percent profit from his wares during the same period, Suzuki’s 2 percent profit is going to be many billion times the pan vendors 200 percent in actual terms.
We suspect that an illusion has been successfully created to make people forget this fundamental equation by erasing the base from which percentages are calculated. And this has been achieved by incessant barrages of misinformation, meant to implicate the Northeast as the only ones guilty for all their failings. Yes, the Northeast must be capable of introspection and have the courage to own up guilt, for it has without doubt contributed liberally in its own miserable fate, but this burden of guilt cannot also be disproportionate, and grossly so as is being pushed today. Another strategy of this same deceptive portrayal of the Northeast is to resort to per capita investment.
In actual volume, a per capita investment of Rs 5 in Uttar Pradesh will be several hundred times more than a per capital investment of Rs 500 in Mizoram for instance. But in infrastructural development, it is the volume and not the per capita investment which counts. Making a state-of-the-art highway in Pune will cost the same as making it in Imphal, but if because there are less cars in Imphal the investment is any less, there will only be half a highway in Imphal. We belong to the school that believes Machiavellianism can only have short term advantages for its exponent, but in the long run will ruin more than create. Gandhism would be more appropriate, for we believe policy honesty pays in the end. We are making these observations from the ground, but even mathematicians have found out how tricky and flawed comparing percentages can become, hence the evolution of the notion of “percentage points” to make the scale more accurate and reliable.
Leave mathematics for the university dons, but even some hard, simple and easy to understand ground comparison should help in bursting the bubble of this sinister illusion. And what better example there is to quote than the two neighbours, India and China. Every visitor to China, including Indian Prime Ministers and cabinet ministers, even to the country’s backward regions such as Tibet and Yunnan, have always returned awed. A lot of them, have been honest enough to admit, the money China has invested in building infrastructures in these regions is a lot more than the money India has supposedly “pumped” into the Northeast. It is another matter that the Tibetans are not happy, and we sympathise with them, after all development or money cannot buy happiness, but it remains a fact that China has even built a modern railway through the vast uninhabited wastelands of the Tibetan plateau to touch its capital Lhasa, developing special locomotive engines that can burn as powerfully even in the rarified high altitude atmosphere.
When the British left, it left India a very elaborate railway system. It is another matter that this railway was built not for Indians but for the benefit of Britain and with Indian income as Shashi Tharoor alleges in his bestselling book, An Era of Darkness, but the fact is India started off as an independent country with a well-established railway. At about this time China had only a rudimentary railway. Yet, 70 years later, while the total length of the Indian rail lines have increased only marginally, China has caught up with India. Our contention is, India has not invested enough in building civic infrastructure in the Northeast, but so many spin doctors have been able to create the illusion of the Northeast rolling in money that the Centre “pumped” into it through the decades.