Siddharta Protim Dutta
April 17th 2021
Among the various initiatives taken by the Government of India to strengthen diplomatic relations with other countries, Act East policy is one of the significant aspects to push India’s foreign policy into another stage. The Act East policy is the successor of the ‘Look East Policy’ adopted by the PV Narasimha Rao government in the year 1991. The Look East policy was adopted in such a time when the whole world was experiencing a great turmoil because of the disintegration of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. The entire world entered into a new world order, with the USA becoming the only great power, so for India it was necessary to tie up with other nations for the fulfilment of its national intersect. The Look East policy played a decisive role to strengthen India’s ties with South East Asian nations. The policy was meant to strengthen strategic, economic and political links with individual countries as well as with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Look East policy was elevated to the ‘Act East Policy’ at the 12th ASEAN-India summit in 2014, held in Myanmar. The Look East policy covered only the ASEAN and its economic integration but the ‘Act East Policy’ is more extensive in nature. Its covers not only the ASEAN countries, and its economic integration but also includes East Asian countries and security cooperation. Prime Ministers Narendra Modi highlighted the 4C’s of Act East Policy, i.e., culture, commerce, connectivity and capacity building. Security is an important dimension of India’s Act East policy.
The North East region is the eastern most region of India, which share international borders with Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar culminating in a 4500km long international border. Myanmar is regarded as the gateway of India’s North East to South East Asia. It shares 1643km boundary with the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. Therefore, the North East region has high potentialities to developing diplomatic relations with other parts of South East Asian region. North East India is rich in cultural heritage. In terms of cultural heterogeneity, the North East region is unique because various tribes and ethnic groups live in this place and so it is very easy to harness cultural aspects of the region.
The Brahmaputra River, which flows from Tibet to India, enters in Arunachal Pradesh and flows through Assam and Bangladesh. Brahmaputra has immense water resources which can be used for producing electricity as well as through the Brahmaputra one can develop waterways to Bangladesh or Tibet which will be the cheapest means of transportation. The Sagarmala project of the Indian government can also initiate various mini project for the Brahmaputra valley.
Most parts of North East region have sub tropical climate, so this region is very rich in natural vegetation and precious metals. Raw materials are also available in this region. This place is therefore conducive for setting manufacturing units. It can also export raw materials to other countries. Therefore, the government needs to make this region a special economic zone, which will enhance FDI in order to boost India’s economy.
To overcome the land locked nature of the North East region, there is a need to develop the transportation of the region to access the South East Asian countries. The India-Myanmar Thailand trilateral highway or the Mekong-India Economic corridor once completed will strength ties. Due to the geographical proximity with the South East Asian region and cultural diversity, the North East plays an important role in making the Act East policy a great success.
For making the Act East policy more effective, the government needs to take various measures such as:
- Establishment of universities in this region for the purpose of encouraging foreign students to enroll in these universities.
- Fostering the tourism sector by promoting it through advertisement because North East India has a high potential for this
- People who reside outside Assam or outside the North East region feel that the North East has security issues, this needs to be countered by a public diplomacy campaign of the government.
- The government can also invest high amount of money for infrastructural development such as construction of roads, hotels, universities which is an integral part of fostering diplomatic relations. Economic Para-diplomacy with Japan can be leveraged in this regard.
- The government should also sign MOUs with other countries or sign bilateral, multilateral agreements with other countries for research and development, because this region has rich bio-diversity for biological research.
The North east region has immense possibilities for development as part of the Act East policy due to its geographical proximity to Southeast Asian countries. However, effective implementation of this policy is necessary; otherwise it will just remain unrealized. This region must go beyond the narrative of isolation that has deprived it of various benefits. The government needs to identify the prospects of this region in order to reach its potential for the growth of North East India.
* The author is a M.A. 1st Semester Student at the Department of Political Science, Dibrugarh University