To Discount the Sino Juggernaut in the North East

In May last, the Congress won a third straight victory in the hustling of Assam. While several observers and analysts, in their trademark stoic fashion, dismissed the event as another victory in some far-flung state, a deeper introspection will reveal that the win is a never before opportunity for India to launch an intrepid North East initiative. This would also boost the country’s efforts to assert as a competitive regional substitute to the Beijing juggernaut. 

The first move would undeniably involve setting up an industrial corridor, much on the lines of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, which is dramatically changing western India’s landscape. The corridor could link the seven sister states of the region, requiring a principal investment of over Rs. 11,000 crore (excluding power and land). Multiple border points of the country’s contiguous neighbours like Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh could be linked to the project. It could partner Thailand, with which India is about to sign a free trade agreement. In fact, Bangkok has already expressed interest in this regard. Some major Thai companies like the CP Group and the Italian-Thai Development PCL have the requisite expertise for developing infrastructure as also small-scale industries like food processing. At $85 million, the former is one of the biggest South East Asian direct foreign investor in India, ousting China from the position. And in India, integrated checkpoints are already being developed at several border points. An east-west highway from Silchar in Assam to Porbandar in Gujarat is also nearing completion. 

Though the south block in New Delhi never undermine the importance of the North East as regards its strategic importance, successive governments at the Centre, ware characteristically apathetic to the region’s issues. But with Beijing, every now and then, claiming Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory, New Delhi has pulled up its socks to stress upon development activities in the region. The Look East policy of the central governments has despatched crores of rupees to the region for infrastructure and other development. 

But to bring around a comprehensive development, the North East needs to be stabilised first using a triumvirate of policing, diplomacy and development. This is a potent and winning strategy which has forged peace in the state of Assam. With the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) almost non-existent as most of its top leaders including Arabinda Rajkhowa are behind bars or lodged in jails in Bangladesh, China would scour for the insurgent groups in Manipur to provide alms and arms to carry on their activities. This area needs to be addressed before anything else so as to bring stability in the region. 

Beijing is far more intelligent than the blatant Islamabad. While the latter exports terror to the Indian hinterland, the former provides logistics assistance. And with the North East having more geographical proximity to China than mainland India because of the proverbial chicken-neck, it’s imperative that New Delhi ushers in peace first in the region. And that, needless to say, can only be brought around with a more proactive south block showing interest in the region.

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