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On APRIL 9, 1865 General Robert E Lee, Commander of the Army of the Confederate States of America, surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant, Commander of the Army of the United States of America at the Appomattox Court House, Virginia, USA, bringing to an end the Civil War that had plagued America for four long years, the biggest secessionist war the world has known in modern times. Lee had held a war council of his principal officers the night before. The officers urged him not to surrender. They wanted him to dissolve the army so that the troops could go underground and carry on the struggle through guerilla warfare. Lee, one of the finest military geniuses ever, firmly ruled against the proposition stating unequivocally that he did not believe in condemning generations of Americans to anarchy. His army had fought for a cause and lost, he argued; so the cause itself was lost. ‘Go to your homes and resume your occupations’, he advised his men. ‘Obey the laws and become good citizens as you were good soldiers’. The troops did exactly as they were bid; and today they have their country at the frontiers of progression. Robert E Lee, the noble soul he was, had preserved his country and his people even in defeat.

The Naga leaders espousing their freedom from India at the time of independence quoted American heroes like John Adams and Abraham Lincoln to propagate their cause. In the current scenario, when their insurgency is virtually dead and only kept alive by self-serving politicians and bigots, they – and the entire insurgent leadership of the Northeast – would do well to emulate what this American great did under similar circumstances. Courage comes in different forms. The true courage of a leader lies in doing what is good for his/her people, no matter what the compulsions are. Now it’s the call of the insurgent leaders of the Northeast to make their choice – to be hailed as heroes by generations of their people or condemned to notoriety as villains in the pages of history.

Northeast India is an exquisite part of our country with much to offer in terms of tourist and human resources potential (tiny Manipur did us proud in the Olympics and its Chorus Repertory put India on the world’s theatre map), not counting its natural assets – the rich, rain-fed soil and traditional produce such as oil and tea. With the Indian government’s ‘Look East’ policy gaining ground, the region stands on the threshold of becoming the country’s commercial and cultural gateway to South-East Asia. It’s also, though, a bleeding shoulder of the country that calls for immediate redemption from decades of horror it has been through. It’s time tackling the region’s woes became a national priority.

It’s time that the Government of India stood up to the challenge to ensure that the rule of law is established in the Northeast, so as to ensure that no criminal act goes unpunished, be it an insurgent attempting extortion or a soldier acting beyond his brief. Living has been a luxury denied to the beautiful people of the Northeast for long; they have just been surviving all these years. We need to give their lives back to them. They deserve it; they have had enough.

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