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Next Vice President should be from the North East

July 11, 2017 12:31 IST

'I am sure the BJP can find a highly educated, respected, non-controversial party man from the North East to be elected India's vice-president,' says Sudhir Bisht.

A scene from Shillong.Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/

A few weeks ago, on a flight from Delhi to Kolkata, a bright young girl was seated next to me in the aircraft.

She was a pleasant co-passenger who apologised to me as I got up from my aisle seat to make way for her to get inside the narrow passage between the front row and ours.

She apologised again when she had to go to the toilet and I had to get up to make way for her and she thanked me as I got up again after she came back to occupy her seat.

As is normal during flights, at least in the 'cattle class' section, we started conversing. She worked for an advertising agency and was part of a creative team making a short commercial that had to be shot in various locations in Nagaland.

During the conversation, she said, "You know Sir, when I started working on this assignment, I spoke to a lot of young people from many parts of India to know their impression about Nagaland."

"And what is the conclusion that you derived from your interactions?" I asked.

"This will surprise you, but most college graduates I spoke to said they didn't know anything about Nagaland. And what is shocking is that a few young Indians even said they didn't even know that Nagaland was a part of India."

"You will be further shocked if I told you that a young English Honours graduate working in my industry said he thought Nagaland was a foreign country... like England, Finland, Nagaland..."

I know that Nagaland is a small state. It is in fact amongst the smallest of the 29 states that constitute our motherland, in terms of area and in terms of population.

But the fact is that Nagaland has been part of India since Independence and came into being as a full-fledged state since 1963.

How is it that the average middle class Indian has virtually no knowledge about Nagaland?

How could an English Honours graduate say that he thought Nagaland was a foreign country?

A scene from Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/

Upon my return to Delhi, I asked many young men and women if they knew what the capital of Nagaland was. I drew a blank!

I asked some boys and girls what comes to their mind when I say words like Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal, Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, the stock first reactions were: "Chow mein" and horror of horrors, "Chinese types"!

I deliberately didn't ask them about Assam as most North Indians are well aware of Assam due to its being in the news, due to its recently acquired political importance as it became the first state in the North East to elect a BJP government.

Another question I threw to some young professionals in Delhi and the National Capital Region region was if they knew what comprises the North Eastern states. Most stopped at saying, "the seven sisters."

Out of thirty to forty young professionals I spoke to during their nicotine breaks in the big towers in Gurgaon and Noida that house the BPOs, not one knew that the term North East referred to eight states and that it included the state of Sikkim.

Those who asked "Is Sikkim in India?" were not insignificant in number.

My own haphazard, unstructured and verbal survey left me emotionally drained and mentally depressed.

We read a lot about the unfair treatment given to the young boys and girls from the North East who live in thousands of rented houses in the unauthorised buildings in Lal Dora, Delhi.

The newspapers are full of cases of discrimination against our children from the North East.

Their girls are ridiculed as being too 'bindaas'. The boys are scoffed at for being too yellow.

They are whistled at in the by lanes of Delhi's numerous 'sarais' where they live in rented accommodation and even though it is a punishable offence to call them 'chinkis', even the humble autorickshaw driver refers to them with the same derogatory term.

And it is not as if these brethren of ours are subjected to just cat calls and rude hollers. They are made to pay substantially higher rentals and asked to deposit higher security money that is never refunded.

A scene from Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/

Why is it that our own people are so misunderstood and so misjudged? Just because their skin has a different colour or their eyes are not as wide as our own eyes?

The answer lies in the fact that a different looking person from the North East does not fit into our imagery like a person from Mumbai would.

These faces are not registered as our type in our subconscious. It could be because most of them haven't achieved newsworthy heights in the fields of business, the bureaucracy, films or cricket.

There is no cricketer from the North East, no major bureaucrat who is often on television and except for the charismatic Danny Denzongpa, there is no other big actor who can claim a close connection to the North East.

There are many national football players from the North East, but who bothers about any sport in India if it is not cricket?

I believe we need more representation from the North East in public life.

A Purno Agitok Sangma, the late former Lok Sabha speaker, here and a James Michael Lyngdoh, the former chief election commissioner there can't fill the vast gulf that exists between the people from the North East and other parts of India.

I had started a Twitter campaign that the next President should be from the North East. Since I am not a celebrity, even my limited Twitter followership didn't heed my prayer.

Imagine the change in perception in the minds of millions of Indians, especially us North Indians, if someone from the North East, say from Nagaland or Meghalaya, had become our President.

The choice of candidates by both the NDA and UPA for the coming Presidential election indicates that our political masters want to send out a signal of encouragement and kinship to a particular community that has been at the receiving end of all the bad things that come happen to a human being.

I say this not in a satirical way as I believe that the age of tokenism has ended in India.

Sceptics may call it vote-bank politics, appeasement politics. But the fact that the Presidential candidates from both political camps are from the most marginalised community, gives me a sense of positivity and earnestness on the part of our politicians.

Indian politics would become more statesman-like if it embraces those who have been marginalised for centuries and lifts one of their representatives to the very top of the Indian protocol pyramid.

A scene from Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/

In the same vein, I call for lifting someone from one of the North Eastern states to at least the number two position of protocol.

This will give a prominent face to this most under-represented part of India.

I am sure that the BJP's well oiled machinery can find a highly educated, respected, non-controversial current or former party man from the North East to be elected India's vice-president.

If they can find a tribal person from the North East to be our VP, it would be the icing on the cake.

I am aware that I am guilty of clubbing all the eight North East states in one bracket. I am aware that each of the eight states is unique in terms of its culture, religious practices and political leanings.

Giving the North East states its due -- even if in a collective manner -- would pave the way for the unfurling of their unique identities at a later stage.

If Prime Minister Modi reads this column and decides to act, it would be a splendid start to a new chapter.

It may herald an era where someone who doesn't look like us need not be treated as someone who is different from us.

Sudhir Bisht, author and columnist, tweets at @sudhir_bisht

IMAGES: TOP: A scene from Shillong, Meghalaya.
OTHERS: Scenes from Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.
All Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/

Sudhir Bisht