Time to stop playing with acronyms and create vibrant eco system in North East – Economic Times

Christmas and the run up to it, with string of cultural festivals like Hornbill in Nagaland and Sangai in Manipur, is opportune time to be in the North East (NE). There was a very meaningful seminar by Assam Rifles on Act East policy at Imphal. Unlike earlier deliberations, innovation of hosting it in city convention centre with large number of academia and student invitees was very welcome. For some, with abiding interest in region, having spent defining years of our career there, it is time to repay part of debt of gratitude and reconnect. Every visit adds fresh perspectives. Unfortunately, during this outing, palpable fear, paranoia and mistrust seemed to be all pervasive. While it was interesting to meet officials from Delhi on their yearly sojourns, yet most do not realise that Yuletide is family and festivity time.

The famed Act East policy with so much of promise seems to be getting derailed even before the take-off. This initiative must be appraised on criteria like intent (mind set), enabling environment, bandwidth (capacity), road map, feedback and accountability. Intent was more than reiterated, with repackaging of Think East policy into Act East in 2014. It is pertinent to highlight that policy, first promulgated in 1991 by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, was carried forward for 23 years by regimes of Deve Gowda, I K Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. The policy with much hype has been re-packaged yet again, Act East 2.0, as extension of SAGAR and Neighbourhood First articulations. With East Asian economies galloping away and SAARC blocked, Act East is undoubtably the most promising instrument in our foreign policy. To put it bluntly, three decades down the NE lane, with stalled Kaladan project and yet to take off Trilateral highway, we have really nothing to show.

The enabling environment, prima-facie seemed right for operationalisation of policy with entire NE, politically aligned with central government. The only stumbling block is resolution of Naga problem, which has the potential of unleashing domino effect, catalysing possible resolution of other low-order insurgencies, specially in Manipur. Coupled with this is the inescapable need for dismantling all pervasive extortion economy, which everyone accepts as the stark reality. Euphoria generated on impending Naga peace accord seems to have evaporated. There are reports that some insurgent leaders have crossed over to establish sanctuaries across borders and even taken refuge in China. Revocation of Article 370 has stoked suspicion on probability of similar fate for protective clauses like Article 371. Notwithstanding repeated assurances, mistrust has been reinforced by recent move to shift citizenship cut off in Assam from 1971 to 2014, disregarding Assam accord. It is clear that government is currently on back foot in perception battle.

On hind sight, it appears that sequencing of priorities has gone awry. Would it have been better to first resolve Naga problem, described as low hanging fruit, after Framework agreement in 2014 to kickstart Act East? In any case, citizenship issues could have been deferred, giving priority to economic agenda. Is it becoming case of stoking too many fires concurrently? It is earnestly hoped that government can reassure people and douse these fires as we cant afford to miss this opportunity. It is rather unfortunate that despite meticulous preparations, specially by Japanese, (their preparatory delegation was at Imphal), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to call off his visit to Guwahati and Imphal.

NE experts ensconced in Lutyens need to abide with seminal wisdom across Brahmaputra, it is- Lahe-Lahe (slow and slower), yes one can make hurry but only slowly. The second reality is that it is easy to get central fund seeking compliant political leaders to switch sides but with their very poor credibility, it is no guarantee of people being on board. Realistically, saffron NE, as yet, is only imaginative cartographic construct. It is also rather unfortunate that relevant lesson of language and culture overriding religion, as evidenced in liberation of Bangladesh, seems to have been forgotten. Across Siliguri corridor, ethnicity and language take precedence over religion. The main bone of contention is between Assamese and Bengali speaking populace cutting across religious divide. Consequently, two adjoining valleys of Barak and Brahmaputra have diametrically opposite reactions to influx of migrants. Chakma refugees, besides Mizoram and Tripura, are unwelcome even in Arunachal, despite religious affinity. Unique form of land holding laws with ownership vesting in tribal and village councils, further exacerbate the problem.

Despite high literacy rate, the region has abysmal record in skill building as education is skewed in favour of non-vocational streams. It is common to find PhDs, albeit in Theology, funded by foreign Baptist institutions. Functional rungs of economy are effectively serviced by migrant labour Bangladeshis and Biharis. Migration has economic dimension propelled by skill deficit and local reluctance for blue collar jobs. Fed up with addicted, lazy and abusive men folk, many Sema women prefer Miya husbands spawning new Semiya tribe. The only silver lining, in current impasse is another opportunity to review proposed plans and consider inclusive people-centric, bottom-up approach. Empirical study by Prof Gurudas Das of Silchar University questions financial viability of much-touted transportation projects. DONER needs to shed patronising donor attitude and shift focus from road-connectivity-based strategy to focus on holistic livelihood- oriented skill building, entrepreneurship and creating vibrant local eco system. In this game of repackaging and tokenism, replete with new acronyms, it is time to realise that it is- Now or never North East.

The writer is former ArmyCommander, Western Command

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.

See original here:

Time to stop playing with acronyms and create vibrant eco system in North East - Economic Times

Related Post

Comments are closed.