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North East In India’s Agenda: Transition From Pretensions To Real Actions

The North East has all along been treated as the target for application of pretentions and insincerity by the federal government of India so far. Any development intervention has all been pretentious efforts to hoodwink and inculcate a culture of corruption among the population in this region. Even the North Eastern Council has been nothing more than a medium for providing parking space to outdated and irrelevant people on political considerations. This has been about domestic policies.

When it comes to international relations, the only instance the region appeared was in connection with the closing of camps of the region’s insurgent groups in the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan. In other words, development was never a core agenda of the government of India so far in both national and international articulations.

A locator map for North-East India

A locator map for North-East India (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

But, fortunately for both the region and the nation in making, there are clear signs of this policy approach to the region undergoing a change. The first Budget of the new government at the centre under a new Prime Minister showed a clear indication of a development approach wherein the North East is made genuinely inclusive.

This change in the perspective for development intervention in the region is confirmed by the Tokyo Declaration for India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership made in Tokyo on 1 September 2014 at the end of the meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister and the visiting Indian Prime Minister. For the first time in the history of India and Manipur’s merger to India n 1949, the region appears as a development agenda in a major international collaborative agreement in this Tokyo Declaration.

The Declaration by the two countries has been made in a context “Conscious that from time immemorial whenever Indians and Japanese have come together, they have struck a deep chord in each other; recognizing the importance of their countries’ success; grateful to previous leaders for their invaluable contribution in building this relationship; aware of their enormous responsibility to lead at a moment of great opportunities and challenges, the two Prime Ministers decided to create a relationship that will shape the course of their countries and the character of this region and the world in this century.”

It is in this 38 paragraphs Declaration that there are two paragraphs specifically significant for the North East. In the second paragraph it is written: “Prime Minister Abe expressed his deep appreciation for Prime Minister Modi’s choice of Japan as his first destination for a bilateral visit outside of India’s immediate neighborhood. Prime Minister Modi described this decision as a reflection of Japan’s importance in India’s foreign policy and economic development and her place at the heart of India’s Look East Policy“.

Continuing further in the Declaration, in the twenty-fourth paragraph we find: “The two Prime Ministers placed special emphasis on Japan’s cooperation for enhanced connectivity and development in Northeast India and linking the region to other economic corridors in India and to Southeast Asia, which would catalyze economic development and increase prosperity in the region.”

These imply some very important developments for the North East. Unlike the pretensions and false promises on the region by the federal government of India so far, we now have a new union government in power which is determined to put flesh and soul to the Look East Policy; recall here the recent statement by India’s Foreign Minister during her visit to Vietnam that time is now for Act East and not Look East Policy.

The federal government so far has been adopting a lackluster approach to the Look East Policy due to the inevitability of incorporating the North East in fully implementing the policy. The new government in the Centre does not suffer from such hang-ups, and is now fully committed to convert the necessities into actions.

Secondly, the characteristic change in the understanding of the region by the Union government of India is significant. While all the previous governments were overly preoccupied (hence an excuse to avoid genuine development intervention) with insurgency issues, the twenty-fourth paragraph establishes fully that the new government in the Centre is fully aware of the development imperatives of the region.

What is even more significant is that the move for bringing the North East into the international economic relationships has been on the initiative of the Indian Prime Minister. Under this initiative, the region is now not only to be given required development infrastructure but would also be placed at the centre of the interactions between the South East Asia and South Asia.

It is exactly here that we become much more apprehensive. We are apprehensive not because the new developments are negative in character. We are apprehensive because we are not very sure of how the provincial governments in the North East are aware of the implications of the new developments; I am talking of the overall complimentary preparations needed to take advantage of the emerging changes and much beyond the contract works.

The emerging changes demand application of mind to opportunities much beyond the contract works; for contract works, the provincial authorities must already be feeling their mouths watered. What is needed however is a change in attitude in every organizational, institutional and sectoral authorities of the provincial government. Let me put an example which comes to mind easily. As one of the highest centers of knowledge creation, the Manipur University must realize the significance of the latest developments.

International cooperation and collaboration today move much beyond language learning issues, and rather involve economic, social, cultural and knowledge relationships; I am afraid the University has yet to realize this. Similarly all the other sections of social, commercial, political and government in the region must appreciate the implications of the evolving national and international perspective on the region by the new government in Delhi.

There are necessities and compulsions for putting in place provincial interventions by the provincial authorities so that the people in the region take participatory and full advantage of the changes taking place. This is what is called national thinking, provincial thinking, ethnic thinking, community thinking and collaborative thinking all put in one place. The readiness, understanding and relevant actions are awaited.

*The article is written by Amar Yumnam.

*The writer is a Professor at Department of Economics, Manipur University, India.

*The writer can be contacted at amar.yumnam@fulbrightmail.org

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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