We must congratulate author Nishchal N Pandey for his insightful presentation on the current situation in Northeast India and emphasising the importance of developing a deeper understanding of the political, economic and infrastructure of this region and how these have undermined growth and development. The book comprehensively evaluates the enormous economic potentialities of the region particularly the rich mineral resources, large agriculture bases, tea, timber and oil production, cheap labour force and vast tourism opportunities. It recommends viable options left for the central government to engage this region, incidentally when, India, the largest and the only one country bordering all the remaining countries of South Asia, is pushing for greater connectivity across its borders as a means of ensuring a more stable and prosperous South Asia.
In the introduction, the author rightly points out that the unending insurgencies and violent secessionist movements in almost all these states have turned this area into one of the most dangerous and volatile regions in South Asia with the result that there has
been hardly any research on the enormous economic potentials of the region in terms of trade and investment, raw material production and export.
In the second chapter, nature and background of the insurgencies have been widely discussed. The author chosen four of the seven NE states — Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura — where ‘low intensity wars’ have been going on. He claims the intentions of
the insurgents differ from state to state ranging from the demand for total independence to better governance making the situation markedly complex.
He claims the central government’s efforts at resolving these conflicts through peace talks have failed because of the lack of cohesion among the various groups involved, as well as the inability of the centre to win them over. The author insists merely harping on the same old tune of ‘within the parameters of the Indian Constitution’ may not be enough while negotiating with insurgent groups in the four states. It is important to understand that any coherent campaign which attempts to counter an insurrection needs to address underlying grievances at least to a reasonable degree.
In the third chapter on prospects of economic progress in the region, the author identifies the failure of governance, poor infrastructure, a weak industrial sector, unskilled labour, massive unemployment and the virtual non-existence of outside private investment are only some of the impediments for development. Also, the centre’s psyche vis-à-vis the landlocked region with limited connectivity with mainland began to be governed more by security considerations than by any other concern for its economic conditions. The author strongly suggests the insurgency has to be swept out of the path of economic development “otherwise the people of these states will remain caught in the vicious circle of — to put it succinctly — insurgency feeding poverty and, in turn, poverty fuelling insurgency”.
He also identifies tourism sector as a promising area to develop this region. He analyses the economic importance of border trade specifically with Myanmar, Bangladesh, China and Bhutan. He rightly points out, India’s ‘Look East Policy’ should envisage the northeast region not as the periphery of India, but as the centre of a thriving and integrated economic space linking different dynamic regions.
In the fourth chapter, the author depicts India’s present engagement with Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia in various business sectors and international forums and suggests that India needs to provide more and clear information to the South East Asian region about the prospects of joint ventures and investment opportunities. In the fifth chapter, he examines India’s dialogue partnership with the ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit, membership at the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, SAFTA and Kunming Initiative in the context of the Northeast’s central position in the cultural and ecological crossroads of South and South East Asia and importance of the region’s economic development in ensuring a win-win situation for both India and the South East Asia.
In the final analysis, the author claims that India’s engagement with various regional forums holds much promise as this would naturally make the Northeast a conduit between South
Asia and South East Asia.
It provides an opportunity for significantly enlarging the region’s economic engagement.
With India’s growing global profile, physical connectivity would not only provide depth to India’s strategic presence in Asia but also enable it to address effectively non-traditional security challenges that are often also transnational in nature, serve the long-term objectives and interests in the neighbouring regions in Asia, provide opportunity for increased cultural, economic and emotional contact with neighbouring countries and integrating the border regions into the national economy and mainstream. While appreciating the author’s critical and intense analyses over these issues, the book has thrown more ideas to discuss and develop.
(Dr Rajamohan is a research fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies)