BJP’s Inroads In North East: Seal To Modi’s Act Asia Policy – OpEd

The North East Region (NER) , the heartland of Congress political power in the east, wobbles after BJP made debut in Manipur in the five state assembly elections held during February to March 2017. It paved the way for BJP to make in-roads in the region. Despite tallying behind Congress, BJP was able to form the government in Manipur with the supports of winning allies. Paradoxically, even though it was second in the race in terms of seats won in Manipur, it garnered more vote share – 36.3 percent against Congress sharing 35.1 percent. Practically speaking , vote share is the real mirror of popularity than seats won.

This made watershed in the political landscape in the region , which comprises of 8 states, viz, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim and Mizoram. BJP’s debut in Assam and return in Arunachal Pradesh in 2016 and entry in Manipur are the stepping stones for BJP to grab power in the region. This translates Congress in the realm of contraction of power in the region.

Unlike other states in the country, the significance of NER is catapulted by its geopolitical situation. It borders with India’s five neighbor countries, viz, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. The region unfolds ample opportunities for economic engagement with India’s neighbors and portend benefits of economic corridors between themselves.

But, the truth of the matter is that, the region was overlooked by Congress and the local political parties and continued to be as peripheral of India. Experts say that NER can benefit from expanding opportunities with Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are viewed as countries of rising sun in the economy in the east. After the change of guards in Myanmar, the country portend a large economic connectivity with NER. Myanmar, bordering 1,600 km with the region, has been lagged because of non-democratic government in the country.

Myanmar is the large part Look East policy. It is a gateway to South East Asia. Given the long border with Myanmar and surge in potential after the change of the government, Myanmar can act as game changer for Modi’s Act Asia policy. Both are parts of Bangladesh – China- India- Myanmar ( BCIM) corridor project which connects Kolkata with Kunming through the four countries.

Myanmar is on the threshold of big reforms. With the erstwhile Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar in 2012, focuses were made to facilitate easy access to Myanmar by building infrastructures. The New York Times said “ In India, the biggest impact of improved relation with Myanmar is likely to be felt in the Northeast”.

With the change of the guards in Myanmar, China was loosing its strong foothold in the country. China was de-facto interference in the military junta government, the critics said. “ China was the most negative incentive. Isolation from the world led Myanmar shackled by failure of reforms”, the analysts said.

Myanmar can play important role in the development of trade in between NER and Mekong river basin countries. This will prove another important opportunity for Modi’s Act Asia policy initiative. Myanmar is a long standing member of the Greater Mekong Sub-region. It comprises of six countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Yannan Province, China and Myanmar. It will cater to one of the biggest trade channels through river water in the world. The Mekong Sub-region is the home for 300 million people’s market.

Myanmar emerged the center for regional project like Trans-Asia Highway project – connecting India, Thailand and Myanmar. Trans-Asia Highway project covers 3,200 km from Morea in Manipur in India to Maesot in Thailand and Tamu and Mandalay in Myanmar. Construction began in 2012. When completed, it will be one of the longest land route for border trade between the three countries.

At present, there are four LCS (Land Custom Stations) in India dealing with border trade with Myanmar. Not much headway was made to capitalize the border trade between the two countries. One of the primary reasons for low border trade is unfavourable trading arrangement. Lack of modern trade infrastructure and adequate security ebbed the potential of border trade. Hopes are raised with India-friendly Myanmar government which will usher constructive measures for improvement of border trade.

Myanmar is a potential investment destination in South East Asia. Against lackluster growth in FDI in South East Asian countries, Myanmar was spotted a bright destination by the foreign investors. Myanmar approved US $ 8.1 billion FDI in 2014-15 against US $ 4.1 billion in 2013-14 – almost a 100 percent jump in FDI. The lifting of USA and Western embargoes triggered Myanmar attractiveness for the foreign investors. Besides, Myanmar is endowed with big oil and gas reserves and precious stones.

NER can act as Indian hub for two way investment between India- Bangladesh- Myanmar in the connectivity. The region is enriched by natural resources. Region has prominence in establishing food processing industries with abundance of fruit production and vegetables. Rubber and bamboo are among the important agriculture products , which can attract foreign investment.

Upturn in the relation with Myanmar beacons opportunity to subvert the rebels, which are detrimental to the economic development in the region. India is facing constant threats from major insurgent groups in the North East. These groups have the bases on the 1600 km India-Burmese border line. They are National Socialist Council of Nagaland ( NSCN) and Manipur insurgent groups. They are constantly stirred up by the Chinese anti-India movement.

With the BJP’s Make in India initiative, development in NER is likely to crop up. It will help industrial growth and employment opportunities in the region, yielding positive impact to negate the insurgencies. In addition, India’s bonhomie with Myanmar will contain insurgencies with new government in Myanmar.

Thus, return of democracy in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s penchant for India’s support for development under Modi will pose a bridge to develop NER. In addition , it will act a counter –balance against the Chinese influence in the region.

(Views are personal)


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Subrata Majumder

Subrata Majumder

Subrata Majumder is an adviser to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), New Delhi, and the author of “Exporting to Japan,” as well as various articles in Indian media, including Business Line, Echo of India, Indian Press Agency, and foreign media, such as Asia Times online and Eurasia Review .

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