INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND THE NORTH EAST AGENDA: TIME FOR REVOLUTIONARY PRAGMATISM

This article by Amar Yumnam was originally published by the Imphal Free Press on 6 Oct 2014

India’s policy (read as the Central Government’s policy) towards the North Eastern Region (NER) of the country has undergone three phases. First, there was the period from the start of the Planning Era to the end of the 1980s. This was the period when the principle of not doing anything except militaristic-perspective-based interventions was honoured. The second period starts from the beginning of the 1990s when the Look East Policy (LEP) became a coin for international political announcements and the so-called border trade agreement was also signed between India and Myanmar. This second period has been the most pretentious one so far as the policies towards the NER are concerned. This period gave an overt picture of being concerned with the development concerns of the region. But this was nothing more than a bluff as the underlying principle of the first phase was adopted with no content of body and soul to the supposedly new overtures. In fact, this period had the cruelty of abandoning the innocence about the region in the first phase and replacing it by a pseudo concern for transforming the region. This second phase has just been ended with the completion of the recent visit to Japan by the Indian Prime Minister and the signing of the Tokyo Declaration by the leaders of the two countries. We are now in the third phase of the NER policies of the government of India.

The charm of the latest phase lies in the replacement of the policy-bluffs so far by genuine concerns for development of the NER. This is borne out by the fast pace of unfolding policy dynamics. Well, the region was the main focus of the recent Tokyo Declaration of the two leaders. This has now been followed by a Roundtable Discussion on the NER in the context of the emerging India-ASEAN relationships. In the few policy discussions I have had the fortune of attending and in so far as they relate to the region, the latest is very different. In the two-day Roundtable almost all the member countries of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) were represented by their Ambassadors right from the start of the discussion till the end on both the days; except the Philippines and Myanmar, whose Ambassadors were represented by their deputies due to unavoidable reasons, the remaining eight countries were represented by the Ambassadors and High Commissioners themselves. What all these imply is that the seriousness of the new Prime Minister of India on the development issues of the region is now appreciated in the entire South East and East Asia.

Here I would like to focus on some issues about the connectivity being thought about and the model of this in order that the beauty of the new turn in policy perspective is converted into a strength for ushering into a path-breaking development dynamics in the NER. The changes in the highest echelon of national policy formulation can be made meaningfully and inclusively fruitful only when accompanied by regional level involvements for convergence to the new changes. While quite often issues are raised as to what the region has to present herself for trade, I would like to put two points immediately. First, global development history tells us that once a linkage has been established and scope for opportunities emerged, it has always been the role of entrepreneurs to smart the line of progression; development has never been along dotted lines anywhere. When the CNN was first started in the USA, it was dubbed by the people as the Chicken Noodle Network. When Lee Kuan Yew started on a new development path for the absolutely small country, Singapore, the world never believed that the country would emerge from underdevelopment. Second, at least we know for sure that Manipur offers the world to enjoy the organic Moon and the organic Stars every night if there are no clouds.

Now issues about the connectivity with the South East Asian countries. Let me emphasise here the new global understanding of the significance of connectivity. In the earlier rounds of globalisation, connectivity was simply connecting Point A with Point B for facilitating the movement of merchandise items. But today it goes much beyond this. Now technology flows, knowledge flows, ideas flow and even culture flows along with the movement of merchandise and people on these connectivity routes. Further, in this age of competition and efficiency, speed is also paramount. It is exactly on these dimensions that we need to be alert, conscious, conscientious, and involved. In the context of the NER we know how the poverty of connectivity and poorness of development transformation have been the characteristic so far and thus a strong foundation for widespread resentment. This demands a pragmatically relevant approach to the development of connectivity in the NER such that the resentments are not nurtured or allowed to bounce back with a gusto in the future. This means that the new infrastructure for connectivity should possess the qualities of facilitating fast and furious. The new infrastructure for connectivity should also reflect the latest technology with an inherent capability for adoption of new technologies as they emerge. The new infrastructure for connectivity should also be converted into a reality at a pace vastly different from the one which had characterised the LEP so far.

Now how can we go about on these? This requires understanding the reality of the region. I would call as geographic non-linearity the topographical slopes of ups and down. But the new infrastructure for connectivity should be able to take care of these non-linearities in order to meet the contemporary demands of speed and competence. In other words, there is the imperative for creating linear infrastructure for connectivity. The best example in this is the infrastructure for connectivity being created in Western Yunnan right now. Further, Manipur has been deprived of being present in the railway map of the country for the last seven decades. The logic of propriety and justice demands that any railway connectivity being created today should possess convergence capabilities when the latest technologies for railways reach India sooner than later. But unfortunately, as of now, the new infrastructure for connectivity being envisaged and implemented in the region does not satisfy any of these principles of justice and requirements.

This is exactly where I would expect the provincial government to rise to the occasion and press for the needs in order that nation-building is facilitated and the grudges of deprivation are not allowed to transform into new formulations. The provincial government should now transform herself from an “occasional partner in life” (a phrase borrowed from a latest book by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge titled The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race To Reinvent The State) to one which legitimately earns the confidence of the people. Time to be pragmatic. Time for big decisions. John Maynard Keynes once complained when change was in the air thus: “We do not dance even yet to a new tune.” Manipur in particular and the NER in general cannot afford such an atmosphere to prevail and sustain.

Popular posts from this blog

CONTEMPORARY MANIPURI SHORT STORIES

MLA LOCAL AREA DEVELOPMENT FUND IN MANIPUR

Lamyanba Hijam Irabot (Two-article series)

‘MANIPURI THEATRE IN A DISAPPOINTING STAGE’: PADMASHREE KANHAILAL (An interview)

ETHNIC CHURNING: CHIKUMI STYLE (WITH A FORWORD FROM THE ARAMBAM SOMORENDRA TRUST)

Importance of 9th January in the History of Manipur

INDIA NEEDS TO RATIFY CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE ASAP

Sovereignty and integrity of Manipur

ARMED FORCES (SPECIAL POWERS) ACT 1958: DISGUISED WAR & ITS SUBVERSIONS