It goes to the credit of a brilliant central minister from the south that the country’s North-East is slowly gaining prominence. Even though India has consciously adopted a look-east policy since the time when Narasimha Rao was the PM, little worthwhile in terms of improving the infrastructure has happened on the ground. This is despite the fact that apparently huge sums of money are earmarked for the purpose in every year’s budget.
True, Nathu-la has been opened in Sikkim, and India has built the 160-km India-Myanmar friendship road from Tamu to Kalemyo to Kalewa in 2001. But what about a massive upgrading of the road/rail infrastructure in the entire North-East?
The mandarins sitting in New Delhi do not seem to have the inkling about what may affect India if the North-East is not developed rapidly without delay.
Mani Shankar Aiyar, the minister for the Development of North-Eastern Region (DONER in short), has recently prepared a concept paper that calls for invigorating India’s look-east policy (TOI, Sep 25).
According to him, across Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, China has so greatly developed the Yunan province and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) that the people in the Indian states may soon feel the heat of perceived backwardness compared to China. This will not augur well for our country.
The picture is nearly similar in Myanmar. The much touted friendship road is like a drop in the Chinese ocean of huge development work underway in that country. Just to remind, India’s 1640 km border with Myanmar is contiguous to China’s Myanmar border.
China’s huge foray into Myanmar is the reason of India’s knee-jerk actions that should have started long back. There is a fight going between India and China regarding controlling the supply of gas from the Shitwe field.
If India can wrest the control, a pipeline will then have to be built probably in the Bay of Bengal to bring the gas to Indian mainland. Read the report, India’s interests at stake in Myanmar in this regard.
Mani Shankar Aiyar doesn’t mince words when he says, “Although North-East India is where South-East Asia begins, all considerable economic benefits that have flowed out of that (Look East) policy have gone to other parts of the country, particularly the South. For NER the Look East dividend has been virtually nil.“
The need is urgent to reverse the sluggish growth of the North East region, and as Aiyar says India needs to take an ‘imaginative leap’ in foreign, defence, internal security and international trade policies to ‘liberate’ the North-East from its ‘geopolitical trap’.
Which is why the high-level meet on the issue called by the external affairs ministry on Oct 15 with the chief ministers of the N-E region assumes significance. It’s time that India becomes alive to the fast-changing situation.