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Why the Army is so interested in festivals in a restive Meghalaya

Kolkata, Nov 9, 2022- “The Rising Sun Water Fest — 2022 helped in promoting tourism, trade and job opportunities for the local youth,” an Army official said. But then, why would the Army be interested in organising a festival and then talk of tourism and job opportunities?

The Rising Sun Water Fest — 2022 was organised at the Umiam Lake in Meghalaya (close to Shillong) between November 3 and 5. This was the first time that such an event was organised at the picturesque location and it did witness participation from teams across the country and also brought in a large number of tourists. The organisers were the state governments of Assam and Meghalaya with help from the Indian Army’s Eastern Command.

Meghalaya is passing through a tough phase with rising unemployment. The state isn’t suited for heavy industries and tourism hasn’t brought in sufficient revenue, forcing the youth to bank on government jobs. These are hard to come by nowadays. On October 28, hundreds of youths, supported by NGOs and organisations suspected to be overground groups of banned outfits, took out a rally in Shillong, seeking employment and the filling up of government posts. The event started off peacefully enough but ended in violence. Among those injured were passers-by, migrant workers and journalists.

“This was unfortunate, but one can’t blame the youth either. They are passing through difficult times. Most are not qualified enough to leave the state and seek jobs elsewhere. Tourism hasn’t been of the level expected. There are hardly any international tourists in Meghalaya. After all, they are the ones who pay enough to boost the economy. Domestic tourism has also not picked up sufficiently after the pandemic. The only industry are the illegal coal mines in the Jaintia Hills that feed the polluting coke plants. This has pushed the youth to drugs and illegal trade. We are worried that there will be a resurgence of insurgency unless the situation improves,” a government official said.

The last thing that the Army wants is the resurgence of insurgency in one of the northeastern states. Shillong is home to several defence establishments. Apart from the headquarters of Indian Air Force’s Eastern Air Command, the Assam Regiment Regimental Centre as well as the Gorkha Training Centre are located there. No wonder Lt. Gen R P Kalita, GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, and Air Marshal S P Dharkar, AOC-in-C, Eastern Air Command, accompanied Conrad Sangma and Himanta Biswa Sarma, the Chief Ministers of Meghalaya and Assam during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Festival at Umiam Lake.

“We can only help in maintaining peace in the state through civil-military interaction and the organisation of events such as the Rising Sun Water Fest. Such events bring in some revenue and offer some hope to the local youth. They also promote tourism that can help in generating jobs. We witnessed ugly scenes in Shillong around Independence Day in 2021. A section of youth actually ran amok, hijacking police vehicles and snatching weapons. This was after a low intensity blast allegedly triggered by an underground group and the death of a surrendered leader of the outfit in police custody. The situation is fluid in the state. Everybody has to be careful to prevent any escalation,” another Army official said.  (Agency)

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