Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

How India is integrating North-East in its “Act East” Policy

~ By Samidha Jain on 7/6/2023

How India is integrating North-East in its “Act East” Policy

It’s no denying that the small South- East Asian states, 10 of which collectively form ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) are one of the fastest growing economies in the world. By prediction, in 2050, they will overtake India and will collectively become the 4th largest economy. Though China is acclaimed as the Goliath of emerging markets, ASEAN is nothing but an economic powerhouse. The Indian Ocean is one of the most strategic areas in the world. Both USA and India advocate for free unrestrictive trade in this region. China tries relentlessly to influence the region and the ASEAN states. Around 80% of the world maritime trade passes through this region.

It was in the administration of P.V Narasimha Rao (1992), India tried to establish relations with ASEAN, taking the development of the newly liberalized economy in consideration. With this in mind, Look East policy came into effect. Its objective was clear, Counter, Improve, Recover and Build (CIRB). Counter China; Improve relations with ASEAN; Recover from the loss of a strategic, all-weather partner, USSR and Build a warm relationship with USA and its allies.

In 2014, when NDA came to power, they rechristened it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Ministry of External Affairs of India have had a bold view when it comes to national security and interests. With this vision, the word “look” was replaced with a more immediate and profound word, “Act”. Action in sphere of Political and Economic ties along with security protocols with the ASEAN countries. Act East policy’s core is RIES. Renew India’s ties with ASEAN; increase Involvement and preserve economic interests of India; Encourage economic interests of India and Security interests.

Along with diplomatic ties, increasing its involvement is ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum), 1 bn$ connectivity allocation and the 4 C’s: Commerce, Capacity Building (Education and HRD), Connectivity and Culture, India has taken some serious steps in its national policy too. Government believes that with its Act East Policy, they will be able to solve two major problems. It’s like two birds down with one stone. With this policy, they will be able to integrate North East to the mainland and solve one of the key national issues.

Merits of Act East Policy for North Eastern States

  1. Makes North East an essential component of India’s foreign policy.
  2. Region will be the foremost beneficiary and the key performer and contributor.
  3. It will lead to a revolution in this region, with increased trade, infrastructure development and employment.
  4. We will be able to interlink India, especially the local north eastern market with the rest of the world. This will help the local market to prosper and can potentially win India a “swing nation” status.

The biggest reason why North eastern part of India has not been able to integrate, has low rate of development and strong rebel and secessionist sentiments is because of its connectivity with the mainland. A 22 km wide strip of land, the Siliguri Corridor or posthumously regarded as the “Chicken’s Neck” connects the 7+1 states to the mainland. Therefore, with rendered efforts to increase the connectivity, we can not only solve the domestic issue but can also carve out good relations with ASEAN.

Connectivity Measures taken

  1. Myanmar to Mizoram Bus service, started in April 2020
  2. Agartala- Tripura- Akhaura Rail link between India and Bangladesh
  3. Inter-model transport linkages and inland waterways through Bangladesh.
  4. Kaladan Multi-model Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway Project to connect Manipur, Myanmar and Thailand.
    It connects Moreh Tamu (Manipur) with Mandalay, Naypyidaw, Bago (Myanmar) and Mae Sot (Thailand).
  5. Road and Bridge projects and modernization of hydro-electric power project taken under India-Japan Act East Forum.
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