INTERVIEW| ‘People are Comforted by Affiliations Even when They do not Like it’  

Sudeep Chakravarti tells Smitha Verma what his new book is all about, the meticulous research that went into it and the lacunae that exist in New Delhi’s Act East policy

Published: 20th March 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th March 2022 07:50 AM   |  A+A-

Iamge for representational purpose only. ( File Photo)

Iamge for representational purpose only. ( File Photo)

The Eastern Gate seems to be a follow up to the remarkably insightful Highway 39. What kind of research went into this as it carries extensive diary notes around secret meetings and classified information? 

Highway 39, published in 2012, sought to explain the history and root causes of some key conflicts in far-eastern India, and the enduring anger, distress and despair of several decades. The Eastern Gate takes it several steps beyond. It is based on the region being a pivot for India’s Act East policy, the gateway to a future of immense possibilities that could create a new Silk Route.

The region remains a bulwark against China, and it’s a crucible of climate change dynamics and migration. The book uses this framework to bring to the fore the decades-old Naga conflict and the peace process that involves four gateway states ie Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. As I like to say: From libraries in New Delhi to having tea with weapons smugglers by the border with Myanmar—or heroin sellers! It would have been impossible without people believing in the intent behind this book. 

It’s not an easy book to write. How did you go about sourcing the information?

Fortunately, I had Highway 39 and other books in my CV when I began active reporting and research for The Eastern Gate. This helped to navigate and mitigate the justifiable mistrust that many in northeastern India harbour towards a ‘Mainlander’; or the hesitation, say, a security official might have otherwise had with me. Some years ago a cabal of Manipuri academics in Delhi actually speculated if I were a R&AW or Intelligence Bureau plant! Word of it reached me through their own ‘network’! It’s challenging to be an independent writer because ironically, people are comforted by affiliations even if they may not like that affiliation. 

The Greater Nagalim demand has had its impact on Manipur and the other regions. Your thoughts on resolving this conflict.

The Greater Nagalim demand is shelved for now. Whatever the future might hold, the focus is on equitable peace across contiguous Naga homelands across the four gateway states. The sheer complexity of this, and the concern of non-Naga folk in Manipur, Arunachal, and Assam about ceding administrative control or territory to Nagas permit the interplay of ethnic and territorial politics.

Unless every Naga rebel faction, and most importantly, their leaders dispense with ego and firepower for the greater good of peace and reconciliation; space is created to absorb both leaders and cadres into the political and socio-economic mainstream of these areas; India’s political establishment respects regional aspirations and the security establishment dispenses with divide-and-rule and hiding behind deeply regressive laws like AFSPA, peace will remain a mirage. 

When can we expect your next work of fiction?

Alongside a history project and a couple of other non-fiction projects, I’ve begun a novel. There is also some poetry from these past two years. It’s been a while since I’ve published anything other than non-fiction so I’m excited.

Tell us about the marine conservation side of your life in Goa.  

My passion for marine conservation has evolved from my love of diving. My dive-guru roped me in to co-found a not-for-profit that evangelises marine conservation to school and university students. We conduct underwater clean-ups and initiate eco-friendly practices. A mainstay is a research for various organisations—from documenting marine life and coral regeneration for healthier reefs, to marine archaeology.


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