Enough has been said about the proposal of turning North east India into the hub for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with an assurance to improve all necessary infrastructure, particularly road, rail and air connectivity. But till date nothing constructive is visible and with hopes diminishing, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha, while giving an interview to the television channel on May 13, 2017 said there is immense possibility for building new airports in the northeastern states and that a new multimodal airport would come up in Guwahati, Assam, soon.
Sinha, a first-time Member of Parliament also said that a new airport would be built in his constituency Hazaribagh in Jharkhand.
However, his disclosure for the Multimodal Airport for the region has revived the hope for improvement of Air-connectivity which is the only ways to link the entire region, more than connecting to the main-land.
It may be recalled that about six months back along with the members of ASEAN countries, successive Union Governments of India were working out all logistics in promoting the North Eastern region as the Gateway to Southeast Asia. Lack of proper infrastructure and poor connectivity is being focused upon on the entire region. More than that, respective state governments are to maintain peace and harmony in order to facilitate the vision and mission. Mizoram Governor Lt Gen (Retd) Nirbhay Sharma on November 2, 2016, expressed that the region - which till now was an outpost of India, is well on its way to becoming the gateway to Southeast Asia, Mizoram is all set to be the location.
Mizoram is considered as one of the most peaceful states in the Northeast after 1986 when it witnessed an armed struggle. The state now has no place for caste or class. A section of Mizos also believe that they are the lost tribe of Israel. The ambitious plan of the Israeli government to accept hundreds of Bnei Menashe or the “lost tribe” of Mizoram and Manipur, after a long wait has run into rough weather with stiff opposition to such artificial human settlement by a leading opposition leaders in that country hitting International headlines in the past.
Mizoram Choirs are considered as the best of the region, in spite of the huge influences of Christianity in the state, the Mizos all over the world are rooted to their identity of rich cultural and customary practices which has made the community stand out all over the world, hence tourism is being promoted almost by every individual Mizo irrespective of where they are in the world.
Sharma, while speaking at a function organised by the Central Hindi Institute in Agra where a Hindi-Mizo dictionary was released, informed that Hindi’s growing popularity in the Northeast has helped integration of the region with the national mainstream, Mizoram was never left out in such movement.
The Governor on the occasion also acknowledged that the Indian armed forces played a big role in popularising Hindi in the Northeast and now Bollywood is giving it momentum. The ground reality has motivated Sharma to claim that Mizoram is all set to be the Gateway of South East Asia.
It may be recalled that the NE region of India has always been the subject of discussion at various platforms, organized by government or social organizations and has also been used as a political agenda. In an attempt to bridge the North-eastern region to the so called main land India, various committees were formed, especially after the NE Exodus a few years back. However the ground reality is that nothing constructive has ever come of this.
The Prime Minister of India, had on various fora also stressed on inclusive national development, which is impossible if the North Eastern region is being ignored. Union Minister of State, Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), Dr Jitendra Singh also reiterated that India cannot develop without developing the North East. Hence the centre stressed on the governments of the eight Northeastern states to prepare themselves for the benefits of India’s bilateral trade with neighbouring countries, especially in regard to production of goods and services.
As noted, the common grievance of the northeastern states is the unenthusiastic attitude of the national media towards any issues relating to this area. It should however be noted that the people of the region had never made any attempt to highlight both the positive and negative aspects of the region because the entire energy is being invested in solving the interstate border issues, combating militancy and seeking funding from the Central Government.
The envoy of the United States government and its diplomatic mission in India, headed by US Consul General in Kolkata Helen LaFave after her three day tour of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur Sikkim, Mizoram and Tripura suggested that Judiciary, Law makers, Politicians, Security Forces, NGOs and other stakeholders must work together to deal with the menace of narcotics and human trafficking in the region.
Simply building airports in the region will not help as having an airport alone without proper road and rail connectivity is like having a white elephant for the region which requires inclusive growth of both physical and infrastructural development. At the same time, individual states demanding the improvement or construction of an airport will only fall on deaf ears of the Central Government, Civil Aviation or Airport Authority of India, unless a united voice from the region demands the same.
The South East Asia countries, in order to challenge countries like America and Britain besides those from Europe, have come under one umbrella – ASEAN. However, the eight states of North East India have failed to follow suit in order to get the attention of the central government and to compete with the so called ‘Main Land India’. There have been various attempts to bring all the like-minded regional political parties together and the result of this is for all to see - a total disintegration of political parties from this region, hence, how do one expect all the states to come together to demand for a common cause?
The position of individual states also does not present a rosy picture. Reservation policy, caste, creed and religion have fragmented the society into various sections resulting in different conflicts and discords, directly affecting law and order, development and progress.
Within the states in this region, the Tribal and Non Tribal issues have resulted in a ‘brain drain’ and have degraded the standards of progress. One of the young leaders here in Meghalaya, being a victim of the customary system and governance asked if the fault lies on his ancestors who adopted the state in this region or if the fault lies with us after generations as we are not willing to go out having adopted this region since the mortal remains of their ancestor are rooted here.
Even as the remnants of the divide and rule policy of the colonial British Raj has prevented the unification of North East region, how does one expect the rest of the nation to understand its communities? We need to advocate for a regional consensus not only for improved air, rail and road connectivity; we need to be united for others to pay attention to our very existence.
The present attitude of mistrust between communities, districts, states and regions will only be an obstacle to any such consensus, unless the citizens from the NE communities make an attempt to change the mindset, all interest as expressed by the Japanese Premier considering the region as the hub for connectivity for East Asia is futile, when inter-state conflict are obstructing the main motive of the world leaders.