To commemorate the Silver jubilee of New Delhi’s close ties with the Southeast Asian bloc, ten Leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries have confirmed their participation in commemorative summit as well as to be Guests of Honour at India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2018. India has for years contemplated to turn North East (NE) India as the regional aviation hub, should take advantage of the event.
Secretary East in the External Affairs Ministry, Preeti Saran informed that it is a landmark year for ASEAN and India as they are celebrating 25 years of friendship, 15 years of Summit partnership and five years of strategic partnership. In the run up to the summit on January 25, the government has also planned to organise another 16 major events.
The leaders from Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam will start arriving by January 24. The summit will begin with a banquet hosted by President Ramnath Kovind, to be followed by a plenary and a gala dinner to be hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Saran said special arrangements have been made for spouses of at least six of the 10 leaders who would travel to India.
As the nation welcomes the 10 ASEAN leaders, back home the North Eastern region is still considered a remote, disturbed area and worst of all, considered as a region where head-hunters still run amok. Such misconception about the militancy affected North Eastern region, and earlier as the head hunting zone, has largely been dispelled and this should be attributed to the booming of Information Technology and the social networking sites. However, at ground zero, there is not much development of infrastructures to remove the main obstacles of the region being landlocked which has given rise to the psychological alienation amongst the Indians who consider North East (NE) as far off and has in turn resulted in the physical separation from the so called Main Land.
It may be mentioned that NE has no direct access to any sea port. The region is connected geographically to India only through a strip of land called the Chicken’s neck - Siliguri Corridor. Whereas, transportation connectivity plays a key role in the economic development of any region, unfortunately, NE has been so logistically removed from the rest of the states.
The eight NE states on the other hand have been entangled with the inter-state boundary disputes and communal conflicts within the states, leading to frequent breakdown of law and order, hence the infrastructural developmental activities have been affected.
It may be recalled that South East Asian 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 does 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 conflicts are obstructing the main motive of the world leaders.
The only solution to remove this bottleneck should not be pushed to the Central government. If the NE heads of state do not come across the table to draw the blueprint for a practical connectivity of air, rail and road with mutual understanding, particularly when it comes to inter-state boundaries, all such exercises pertaining to the Act East Policy will just turn out to be yet another white elephant.
More than unification for political aspirations, the heads of state cutting across political lines should prepare a master plan to connect all the eight states, and then only one can talk of removing the bottle-neck problem of the region.
Once this is achieved a special representation can be made through the Central Government to the visiting ten ASEAN leaders to speed up the process of connecting the Asian countries by making NE as the hub which will definitely improve the economic situation of every individual countries and this region in particular.