India as a nation is always held in high esteem due to its multi-culture, multi-ethnic characteristic and its ability to stay united amidst diversities. The ‘tribals’ are an essential part of our country.
For some national leaders, the upliftment of tribals has remained a foremost priority. Indira Gandhi, the illustrious former Prime Minister, was one such great personality to emerge on the horizon. She had immense love for tribals and found them very simple, open hearted and truthful. She always wanted the development of the tribals.
With her confident personality and eyes twinkling in dreams and set on modernization, her focus in administrative and developmental works always included tribals as forefront runners vis-à-vis preparing government policies and programmes. Indira Gandhi’s famous 20 Point programme implemented in 1974-75 encompassed those initiatives.
Her willingness to help tribals came to her in heritance from her father, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister. Like him she was also liberal, broadminded and far-sighted in her approach in dealing with them.
While Nehru had granted statehood to Nagaland, after his death, Indira Gandhi gave statehoods to Manipur and Meghalaya, and generous development funds were allocated to then Union Territories of Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
She had an emotional bond with tribals and experienced the tribal life not merely from the comforts of the National Capital. But rather, she toured extensively and walked into their huts, interacted with them and could not resist joining them when tribal girls danced in her honour. The tribals also found in her, their friend and a philosopher. And on their part, they humbly rewarded the leader with trust and love, very often translated into massive mandate for her party candidates during elections.
Therefore, it is in fitness of things on her birth anniversary to recall Indira Gandhi’s devotion to the task of confidence building for tribals, including those in the North East. Which is well reflected in the creation of full fledged States like Manipur and Meghalaya. These were the truly significant milestones, this era – early 1970s – marked a fresh era for the region, otherwise reeling under violence and ethnic conflicts and earned the beloved designation of being described as the region of “seven-sisters”.
The guiding policy of Indira Gandhi to ameliorate the problems of tribals should serve as a major point in the contemporary setting when the country has a serious challenge in the form of Naxal-sponsored violence in various parts of the country.
Similarly, her focus of attention also touched on the well-to-do task of tribal societies in other parts of the country. The creation of Ministry of Tribal Affairs in late nineties was seen as emancipation of the vision she had seen. The Ministry was set up with the objective of providing more focused attention on the integrated socio-economic development of the most under-privileged sections of the Indian society namely, the Scheduled Tribes in a coordinated and planned manner.
Indira Gandhi also rightly gave priority to the education of tribals. This is well appreciated in the fact that she took personal initiative in setting up the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) with headquarter in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong. For decades, this university catered to the education of three states of Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland. She was of the opinion that a purposeful education could help tribals realize what was essential for individual benefits.
Indiraji also knew the importance of tradition and culture and that one could learn many things from their rich cultural traditions. She always nurtured a dream of a modern India with tribals ensured adequate role in the wholesome developmental sphere, she never wanted the tribals to give up their simpleton approach and cultural heritage.
According to many tribal leaders of her time, like the former Nagaland Chief Minister and ex-Himachal Pradesh Governor, Hokishe Sema, she not only took special interest in tribal culture and the way of life, but also drew inspiration from them. Indira Gandhi gave tribals a vision and a direction towards a better world for realisation of their dreams.