Act or Look: North East needs a holistic view

March 4, 2017, 11:52 am
When India’s Prime Minister Narandra Modi visited a landlocked country in the heart of the Indochinese peninsula what is called the mainland Southeast Asia bordered by Myanmar, China to the Northwest, Vietnam to the East, and Cambodia to the Northwest it amply signifies what kind of importance New Delhi accords attention to its immediate neighbours.
 
Much has been said about Look East Policy but over the years it only remained as a paper tiger no concrete results on ground.
Ever since it was initiated in 1991, the policy has been a dampner sans few symbolic event like Indo-ASEAN car rally where rich corporates take their much needed relief.
 
Till date as virtually no role for states of the North East while neighbouring China had focussed on developing its backward regions through greater economic ties with ASEAN.
 
While India is watching and contemplating, China has gone ahead in building new highways linking Kunming (Yunan) with Northern Myanmar and Thailand.Opening of the Stilwel Road that directly connects the region with South Asia and the trilateral highways for which an agreement has been signed between India, Myanmar and Thailand but still no headway has been made.
 
Things are as they were 50 years back, still landlocked Northeastern states cry for development but political bosses in New Delhi as well out here has till date have ignored this problem and are happy garnering votes in the promise of so called elusive development.
 
It is unfortunate that though the region is a natural bridge between India and Southeast Asia, lack of infrastructure and development has plagued the region.
As Amritendu Palit, Senior research fellow at Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore puts it,”Act East” sounds more promising than “Look East”. India’s Look East policy of engaging its neighbours in Southeast Asia and the adjoining region has been suffering from an odd inertia.
 
India’s strategic engagement with Asean has increased over time. But the fact remains that it is yet to become a significant strategic presence in the region. It is not yet a decisive determinant in the strategic dynamic of the Asia-Pacific and is only marginally so for Southeast Asia, Palit wrote in a column.
 
Going by India’s addiction of Look East or Act East policy, the country’s Northeast became a frontier for the eastward thrust, both in terms of gaining political upmanship and gaining foothold in the business. Considering location, North East India better suited to its purpose. To get rid of insurgency and sub-nationalism the script suited best to India’s mainland theory.  But, in reality the region offers a diverse set of problems which bosses in New Delhi will find it hard to fathom. Improved bilateral ties and connectivity are definitely the high octaves of melody for the policy practitioners sitting in New Delhi. However, unless the terms of the policies are reconciled by the communities in the Northeast, the agendas stare at a cul-de-sac, which has been the exact case with the Look East policy that has till now been tentative rather than rooted in long-term strategy.

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J Nandi is an independent Senior Journalist.