TODAY -

Looking eastward

Kangdhi Jeremy *

 Four States from the North-Eastern India share international boundaries with Myanmar
Four States from the North-Eastern India share international boundaries with Myanmar :: Pix - TSE



The Look East policy proposed and initiated by Narashimha Rao in 1992 has been given a fundamental shift from Look East to Act East, capturing the urgency of the issue at hand. The corridors of power at the centre has its own interests that includes developing the Northeast, but primarily their driving force is the hunger for geostrategic foothold in East and Southeast Asia at a time of China's increasing presence there. Yogendra Yadav, a Political Scientist observed that "South East Asia begins from India's northeast".

Diffusion of Korean Movies K-pop, Korean movies and even dialogues are becoming household names in NE, this is Korea's ability to project soft power as in terms of cultural influence.

While being careful with the trade imbalance, this simple phenomena renders us a very important information, i.e. if there is an underlying cultural bond, race included, then the economic, political and educational engagements become easier, which the Indian Intelligentsia is overcautious about.

It is a puzzling phenomenon that a landlocked region, strangulated by Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and China still continue to be the least connected region both within and without. This is a pure recipe for economic disaster. Analysts are warning that China's muscle flexing in South China Sea could end up making a "Great wall of self isolation".

America and the West claim it has successfully punished Russia for its annexation of Crimea by isolating it diplomatically and economically, as Russia was shown the Exit from G8 (Group of Eight) until President Putin "changes course". At a moment in History when the world equates isolation with punishment, it is incomprehensible that Northeast chose to move against the tide by its self imposed isolation.

The complexities Within

Given the historical baggage of Northeast, plagued by backwardness, poor connectivity, insurgency, Bandh culture and Ethnic tensions, the remnants of which is still boiling and on fire, where is the region's future?

Often times, we play the second fiddle of the Damage Control strategy of a big bully that orchestrates the smaller ones incisively when to fight and stop. The African-American leader Martin Luther King gave a speech "I Have a Dream", the following North-eastern generation aspire to dream of a land where the past may not be forgotten but reconciled and when social tensions occur, as are bound to happen in any society, that our leaders would prudently resolve tensions and disputes amicably and justly, thereby ruling out a chance for New Delhi to toss the ball.

The constraints from Without

The North-eastern States are allowed very limited interaction with their neighbouring countries citing internal security and National interest as the sacred veil that must be honoured, but who defines National Interest? When Suhasinih Haider, Diplomatic Editor of The Hindu was asked if the topic ended with internal security, she replied, a lot of the Centre's responses are 'excuses' to deflect the question.

The argument that, increasing interaction with Neighbours would only give space for the insurgents and drug pedlars to breathe is only partially true. Why can't infrastructures be improved and legal consignments exchanged? With regard to Bangladesh, the illegal migration into the North east has been causing social upheavals.

Despite the absence of any chequered past, sort of Partition or the intractable Kashmir problem, Northeast Myanmar juxtaposes like India-Pakistan, we remain a seemingly conflicted zone with the least minimum interaction. So, as long as we continue to view State or neighbourly relations through the prism of New Delhi un-tempered by federal considerations, we will always get the equation wrong.

Informed Citizenry

In a democratic polity, leaders are bound by the ballot; this is to say that it is a two-way traffic between leaders and citizens. At times, great leaders set agendas and drive the citizens forward; at other times leaders take cue from citizens. And so, we look forward to a democratic society where the media takes on its responsibility and citizens begin to think and are well informed freed from prejudices and gullibility of propaganda set out by their masters.

Henceforth shall begin the genesis of untangling the endemic case of corruption- a corrupt entity whether a being or a matter cannot function normally and is disastrous to the body politic. The process of purging will begin with an informed citizenry that acts as a preventive mechanism rather than crying foul post-the-action.

The Fourth Estate as a unifier

The National newspapers will cover reports right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh and somehow merges the psychology of the Nation. However, significant events of the NE are greatly underreported and unaddressed in the National papers. Therefore, we hope for a reliable pan-regional media that eschews Narrow domestic walls and espouses the voice of the voiceless.

Some thinkers find it offensive clubbing the NE as a single entity and therefore stress on linguistic and cultural differences. Drawing the larger context of the reality of India, we come face to face with the truth that NE region confronts similar problems, ethnicity, terrain, culture and geography, binding us in the same rhythmic throb against corruption, deplorable roads, poor connectivity, defunct primary schools and health centres, winds of insurgency, rural poverty, want of opportunities at home, children dropping out of schools and the excessive dependence on primary activities, an indicator of an undeveloped economy.

Who shall rescue us from this cycle of backwardness? Emphasis on good education and healthcare will rescue us. Perhaps, the political leadership is not convinced that China, Singapore, Japan and the like are making headway in their economy due to its major investment in education and universal healthcare. It is here that we look towards the media-house to mobilise public opinion in mounting pressures on the bureaucratised and apathetic leadership.

An open call to Iconoclast

It is time for iconoclast and renegades to look beyond New Delhi towards Dhaka, Thimphu, Kathmandu, Naypyidaw and most importantly towards one another, so that we forge a time and a moment in future when the eight Chief Ministers of the region could huddle in unison and address the common issues confronting the Region and the Nation more actively under the banner of NEC (North Eastern Council).

It is unfortunate that the 1668 Westphalian treaty which started the carving out of National boundaries debilitated our sights to a hyperopia, such that political dramas in New Delhi appear closer than the democratic return of Aung San Suu Kyi in our immediate surroundings. This idea of Nation-State is so entrenched and powerful today that almost every International conflict begins at the border, that it potentially blinded our sight towards our geographically contingent neighbours.

The kernel of this write-up is a call to young people, to shed historical prejudices that have proved too costly into a zero sum game and pick fresh perspectives, given that the old glasses are stained with blood and confusion. It also moots a pan-regional media that harmonises the psychology of the people and one that will speak Truth to power.

Let young minds look east and further east to Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Laos and so on. It is asserted that once we lift and bypass the rigid dichotomy of Nation-State, looking eastward at least in the context of Myanmar, the landlocked region would transform itself into a geostrategic forte.

It is worth recalling a Manipuri folklore that rhymes and anticipates prosperity, peace and progress once the "Eastern gates are opened". The folklore sings an instinctual truth for the fact that ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is one of the fastest growing regional economies in the world.


* Kangdhi Jeremy wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at kangdhijeremy(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on 08 August , 2016.


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