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"Did you see the heart-rending cow death story on Zee tv, the other day?" asks one participant. Sitting at the oval table in the North East Council (nec) conference room, I turn around, peer into his face, believing I missed some sarcasm. But there is none to be missed. This is a meeting of the nec -- the apex body to oversee development in the region. I am here entirely by chance: no one knows me and I know no one. "Marketing the northeast keeping in mind the inevitability of globalisation and compulsions of localisation is what we discuss today," says secretary Kamal Taori, who has been recently posted to nec.
"We shall take 15-20 minutes because then Bal Vijay ji will launch my new book, Disaster management and panchayati raj. He is truly a learned man: has an MSc degree and has participated in Vinoba Bhave's movement. He'll speak a few words and then dinner is planned." I look around again: about 25-odd people; none, except three, from the northeast -- Assam to be particular. One of the three admits: "We came to invite the secretary for an exhibition, instead he asked us to attend this meeting." " Bhai, let's discuss quickly before Vijay ji arrives," the secretary commands again. In attendance also are three publishers -- including two who published his previous works.
A participant who takes the topic seriously is immediately rapped on his knuckles: "It's ok, it's ok we got your point. Don't have to say everything," says Taori. The enthusiastic one persists: "Sir, can I know how many agricultural sheds are there in the northeast to store grains?" "Oh, don't ask difficult questions. Bal Vijay ji will be here soon, let's finish the discussion in five minutes," says a mildly irritated Taori.
There's some talk on selling vegetables and other products of the northeast in Delhi Haat as a permanent solution to the region's crisis! Growing cash crops over the vast unused lands of Arunachal Pradesh is also discussed. The proceedings get terminated when the white-clad, hermit-like, small-framed Bal Vijayji arrives with a few cronies. We all get up and clap.
His conservative rants against liberalisation and marketing swadeshi in the northeast are another story. But this is the crux of the meeting of the august nec to market the region. It lasts 20 minutes. I run out, exasperated, and call my friends in the media in northeast to tell them of the farce. One of them calms me down: "We have learnt to overlook such things. I am glad someone in Delhi thinks they are worth getting angry over."