If you ask people about the north-east, not many can describe the place. Although very much a part of India, few would be able to tell the states apart on a map, and even fewer would be able to name their capitals.
If you ask people about the north-east, not many can describe the place. Although very much a part of India, few would be able to tell the states apart on a map, and even fewer would be able to name their capitals, leave alone describe their culture.
While the government is partly to blame for this willful ignorance, even people in the mainland have paid little to no attention to the north-east. Until the elections this year, not many even knew about the leaders in these states, and even TV channels gleefully ignored their issues. So Avalok Langer’s book is a good starting point for anybody wanting a peek into the politics of the north-east and in understanding why the region is always on the boil.
In Pursuit of Conflict may not be the first text on the region, but Langer, in an autobiographical account, presents a much clearer picture of the politics and problems of the north-eastern states. For those well versed with the government’s stance on such issues, the author presents an alternative view via interviews of critical separatist leaders. In doing so, he does not take the mundane task of going interview by interview, but shows a vivid picture of life in the north-east and, at times, accounts of life of north-eastern folk in the mainland. The interviews provide useful insights into issues concerning the heads of underground movements. By no account can a 240-pager do justice to the whole region, but the author does try to include tidbits to give readers a sense of history, which has been one of the primary forces for the conflict.
However, where the author scores well is in the simple and easy-to-comprehend detailing of the nuances and the invaluable insights banking on the wisdom of others. Besides, the interviews of separatist leaders—along with the author’s observations—offer a refreshing account of the region’s problems. At a time when journalists are increasingly forcing their views on their readers or followers, the hallmark of Langer is that he knows when not to insert his opinion.
Where the book fails, however, is in the autobiographical account. In a diary format, Langer simultaneously details his life in the book as well. A typical approach to add emotion, this makes the book more of a melodramatic account than a journalist’s foray into the region. Langer, having spent a few years in the area, does bring out details that only an outsider can be privy to, but misses out on the beauty of its landscape or even in describing the life of the people.
Problems are aplenty and are highlighted well, but the author’s personal life takes over the issues. Although there are valuable lessons to draw from his sojourns, the Bollywood-esque touch that he provides to his love life often takes over the primary issues of the book. Personal details seem to have been added to make the book more readable, but these distract from the facets of the north-east.
For those already initiated with the politics of the region, the book may seem like a repetitive account of the problems, and those trying to understand it for the first time may find the account lacking in vital information. The author misses out on detailing the history of the region or in explaining issues like Greater Nagalim in detail.
Even with all its problems, however, it’s a must-read for those wanting to figure out a part of the north-east in a brief account. Langer, after all, does raise some important questions. While he over-emphasises the shortcomings of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, unlike other opinion writers, he does not constrict himself to blaming just one issue for the failure.
The writer is a former journalist