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Geopolitics Of Look East Policy

The North Eastern States of India, comprising Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and more recently Sikkim, is a region in contradiction, when viewed from its geographical location. It is a land locked region, mountainous, with perhaps the Brahmaputra the only water way, that too within the State of Assam only and to the minds of many who matter in Delhi, it is a region, which is as remote as one can consciously think of and why not ?

While the geographical divide between this region and mainland India runs deep, what is a matter of greater significance is the deeper and more ‘˜visible’ psychological divide between the people of this region and the rest of the country. The ‘chicken neck’ syndrome is still alive and kicking and it refers not only to the 24 kms wide passage through Assam/Bengal that connects the region with the rest of the country, but also to the growing emotional disconnect between the region and the rest of the country with Delhi unfailingly adopting the mindset of the British, which is to look and view the North East region as a buffer zone, a frontier against unfriendly Nations.

While it is just a 24 kms wide passage that connects the North East region with the rest of the country, the North East, by virtue of its geographical locations, share international boundaries running into thousands of kilometers with numerous countries. One just has to take a look at the map of India to get a grasp of the strategic position that this region occupies.

The North East region shares boundaries with China, Burma or Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan and not all of them come under the category of friendly Nations, and this fact has had a multiplying effect on the importance of this region. This fact or ground reality did not dawn on New Delhi for the greater period of time after 15th August, 1947, as Nehru and his men were more concerned with playing up to the Soviets and concentrating all their attention on the West, beyond which lies Pakistan.

The resultant effect follows the logical path, which is in reality absolutely illogical, that the North East region has lagged behind the rest of the country, due to its geographical location with some even going to the extent of dubbing it as a remote corner of India. Remote it may be, but this cannot be measured by kilometers or miles but by other factors such as the consciousness of this region in the mindset of Delhiwallahs and others. This mindset is archaic and should have no place in an age, ‘when the world has become a global village.’

Much as the world has changed, especially with the coming of age of Information Technology and the internet, India’s outlook or approach towards the North East remained caught in a time warp, stubbornly resisting the wind of change sweeping through the globalised village. This is one reason why the region remains merely dotted with verbal assurances of rail connectivity by political netas when they undertake their rare sojourn to this region. Verbally they have virtually criss-crossed the entire region with rail heads and rail line and it has remained just that, though Manipur is now in line to join the privileged category of ‘rail connected States.’

Just as there are no permanent foes or friends in politics, there are also no permanent policies and outlook of any administration and it is along this line that we can understand the hitherto geographical disadvantage of the North East region, suddenly becoming so important to Delhi over night.

The Look East Policy, which has become one of the grander visions of Delhi, has nothing to do with the North East except that it serves as the perfect gateway to the burgeoning market in South East Asian countries as well as the growing need to check the sweeping influence of China over this region. It is also another step taken up towards joining the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Economy is the primary factor here and it is perfectly in sync with the demands of the time, especially in the face of the fact that China has replaced Japan as the second most economically powerful Nation in the world, just after the USA and what is more it is outpacing the targets set by itself. The Trans-Asian Highway that is planned to pass through Manipur can mean many things to many people.

For one, Moreh will see rapid developments and it wouldn’t take time for the land sharks and property dealers homing in on this border town to make a killing. To the petty traders, it could mean their gradual marginalization, which can then pave the way for the emergence of another menace in the form of highwaymen. To the staunch Meiteis of Manipur, who swear by the Puya it would mean the coming to light of the prediction, ‘Nongpokthong Hangba’ which literally means opening the eastern gate or passage, while to the common people, it could mean anything, either flow with the tide and be able to keep up with the new challenges or simply disappear into oblivion.

To Delhi, they may preen under the impression that they have managed to hit two targets with one stone, that is neutralize the growing sentiment of alienation of the North East people through the Trans-Asian Highway and the other is get a toe hold on the thriving economy of South East Asia.

However, Delhi must realize that in as much as the world has changed, so have the people of this region and that is they can no longer be taken for granted, that they can no longer be viewed as the people with slant eyes, snub nose inhabiting some jungles. The Look East Policy is no doubt a grand vision, and it will take more than the best of human efforts to make it a success. It also needs sincerity of purpose in an equal dose. The present visit of delegates from ASEAN countries to Manipur and their visit to Moreh by road are significant. In a way it is also a sign of Delhi coming round to the idea of the existence of a region, which can no longer be treated only as some sort of a buffer zone, to keep unfriendly Nations at bay.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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