Originally Published 2014-06-26 04:33:00 Published on Jun 26, 2014
Along with proposing new measures and initiatives, the Narendra Modi government should focus on completing the already proposed projects that would benefit the region like the implementation of the Kaladan Multimodal transit project with Myanmar.
Development of Northeast and Modi's policy with its neighbours
Now that all the jubilations after the landslide victory that led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to enjoy absolute majority in Lok Shabha is settling down, it is time for Prime Minister Nadrendra Modi to focus on delivering his electoral promises. Keeping his electoral promise, development of the Northeast region should be his priority.

While campaigning, Mr Modi had promised to forward the vision of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for North-eastern region. It was under Mr Vajayee's initiative that the the special ministry for Development of the North- east Region (DONER) was established during the last NDA government. Unfortunately, performance of the DONER ministry has been far less from satisfactory raising serious doubts about the government's policy of development for the region.

Taking the geographical location of the North-eastern region, development of the region can be attained with greater engagement with its neighbours. India's policy towards its neighbours, especially with the countries sharing borders with the region, should stress on development of the region as a primary objective.

Eighty percent territory of the North-east is surrounded by foreign countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. The region's only link to the rest of the country is through the 25 kilometres wide Siliguri corridor, which is heavily choked, posing serious connectivity challenges for the region. Connectivity challenges immensely affected growth of trade and commerce. The region lags behind in economic development. Things produced in the region often fail to reach markets both inside India and abroad due to the connectivity challenge.

The main focus of this government should be to get rid of the connectivity handicap of the region. Here, the policy should be planned to transform the geographical location to an advantage for the region and hence, engagement with the neighbours become necessary. Development of the region should be at the core of the present government policies with the neighbours.

Prime Minister Modi's visit to Bhutan, his first foreign visit, is a very positive beginning. The visit to a large extent has been able to shed off the popular believe, particularly among the smaller neighbours that India is only interested with the Pakistan and hardly take any effort in reaching out to its eastern neighbours.

Mr Modi after he became Prime Minister has been categorical about pronouncing his foreign policy priorities with its neighbourhood, more precisely India's eastern neighbours. Keeping this momentum alive External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will be visiting Bangladesh later this month. These visits will be good starting points.

But, success of these visits could only be assessed if the outcome of these visits helps to develop policies that would trickle down to the development of the region. Mr Modi's proposal for India and Bhutan to form a holistic approach for tourism and develop a circuit combining India's north-eastern states and Bhutan is a welcoming step. Similarly, during Ms Swaraj's visit to Bangladesh, she should stress on increasing connectivity with the country and also the issue of transit, which will help the region reduce its landlocked status, as this will not only open access to the sea but also better communication with greater part of India, boosting trade and economic development.

Along with proposing new measures and initiatives, the government should focus on completing the already proposed projects that would benefit the region like the implementation of the Kaladan Multimodal transit project with Myanmar. Besides, it should also consider undertaking initiatives that would help people living in the bordering areas that would have direct impact of their lives. In this regard projects like border-haats could be a possibility. Such arrangements already exist with Bangladesh, all that the government needs is to open the same mechanisms with other neighbouring countries and increase their numbers. As talk about the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor gets steam the government should keep development of the region as its top priority.

Opportunities are waiting for the region; all it needs is the right push from the centre and the state governments.

(The author is an Associate Fellow at Observer research Foundation, Delhi.)

Courtesy: TThe Sentinel

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Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee (1975 2021) was Senior Fellow with ORF. She specialised in Indias neighbourhood policy the eastern arch: Bangladeshs domestic politics and foreign policy: border ...

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