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2018 | Book

Mainstreaming the Northeast in India’s Look and Act East Policy

Editors: Prof. Atul Sarma, Dr. Saswati Choudhury

Publisher: Springer Singapore


About this book

This book provides a detailed account of the evolution of India’s Look and Act East Policy, addressing the nuances of the policy and its efficacy for the Northeast Region. The Northeastern India as a region is landlocked, sharing most of its boundary with neighbouring countries of South and South East Asia. It empirically explores the progress in and prospects for trade, investment and connectivity between Northeast India and Southeast Asian countries. Further, it discusses a range of regional and sub-regional multilateral initiatives – e.g. the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM), and Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) – that could potentially strengthen the cooperation between Northeast India and neighboring regions in the social, cultural and economic spheres.

Table of Contents

1. Towards a Perspective on the Look (Act) East Policy and Northeast India
While the potential for developing resource rich Northeast India and South East Asia through economic complementarities is immense, the existing transport and communication network within the Northeast and between the two regions results in high transportation costs and a fragmented market. Given large unexplored domains of demography and economy of the region, it continues to be isolated and landlocked even after a decade of envisioning Northeast India within the Look East Policy framework. Mainstreaming Northeast India’s development concerns within the Look (Act) East Policy will provide a development frame of the region given it’s locational advantage with S.E. Asia. Region’s resource endowment provides a sound rationale for making it central within the Look (Act) East Policy instead of being a mere gateway.
Atul Sarma, Saswati Choudhury

Part I

2. Integrating Northeast with South East Asia: Great Expectations and Ground Realities
While the Northeast Region of India has received a good deal of attention from the Government of India, development initiatives in the region have lacked a well-articulated policy framework. Two paradigms have dominated the Government of India’s Northeast India policy. One relates to overstress on security/strategic considerations rather than on economic aspects; the other relates to the minimum intervention in traditional systems and institutions of the hill economy, which has led to their non-compatibility with the functioning of a market system. The author attempts to analyse the proposition of Northeast India’s economic integration with the East and South East Asian countries and the possible gains to the region. The chapter discusses what initiatives the Northeast should take to maximize the economic gains through its integration with the South East Asian economies.
Atul Sarma
3. Insider or an Outsider: Where Is the Northeast in India’s Act East Policy?
As the Look East Policy has successfully completed two distinct phases and entered into its third phase in the year 2012 under the United Progressive Alliance II regime, the debates continued on the issue of India’s Northeast and its role in this policy. With the change in Union Government in India in 2014 to the National Democratic Alliance II, the Look East Policy found a new vigour with the renaming of it to the Act East Policy. Fresh debates have begun to try to understand the new phase, though most are based on apprehension and speculation in the absence of sufficient policy text. India’s Northeast has barely made any breakthrough, primarily due to the lingering issue of internal security, minimal physical infrastructure and low performing economic institutions like the market.
Rakhee Bhattacharya
4. Look East Policy and Northeast India: Is It a Conjectured Vision
From the perception of being an anthropologist’s paradise in the colonial era to an intermesh of geo-strategic and geo-economic space in the global era, what are the issues that influence the development agenda of the Northeast Region (NER)? A policy named “Look East” attempted to accommodate NER through the North Eastern Vision Document 2020 in 2008. This Document became the animated vision of LEP in NER. Looking beyond the border and releasing the region from the post-partition territorial trap has been dreamt of through connecting with neighbouring countries and beyond through trade, commerce and communication. The question remains whether an overwhelming ethnic space termed “NER” can be accommodated in the policy solely by economic imperatives.
Gorky Chakraborty

Part II

5. Unlocking the Northeast Region of India: An ASEAN Connectivity Perspective
Along with a new wave of intense globalization at the beginning of the 1990s, the idea of a borderless world of regions and countries was widely discussed and started to take shape in the policy agenda of most countries including the ASEAN region. ASEAN’s connectivity with nations beyond the region is equally important which, in turn, would place it at the centre of economic growth and development in the region, that is the “South Asia–South East Asia–East Asia–Australia–New Zealand Corridor.” With a combined market of 1.86 billion people, a combined GDP of USD5.11 trillion and a total labour force of almost 0.8 billion, ASEAN–India connectivity offers huge potential for increased business and economic interaction contributing to increased intra-ASEAN and extra-ASEAN trade.
Piti Srisangnam, Anupama Devendrakumar
6. India’s Connectivity with ASEAN: What Role for Northeast India?
India has announced its interest in enhancing economic ties with ASEAN, while the latter is committed to greater regional integration. Towards that end it seeks to establish the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). What role, therefore, can Northeast India play in this context? Since it lies in close geographical proximity to ASEAN, it offers a window through which India can extend a connectivity network with ASEAN. Economic development in Northeast India is critical for the country’s connectivity programme and this should be an important part of India’s agenda in forging multilateral cooperaion with Asian countries.
Shankaran Nambiar
7. Act East Policy and Northeast India: The Role of Transaction Costs
Although the states in Northeast India were created on ethnic lines, today the developmental imperatives require that they have to emerge as a single economic entity. The region is yet to emerge as an integrated economic entity and the success and effective continuity of the AEP depends on reducing the transaction costs by emerging as an integrated economic unit. This is contingent on, inter alia, linking up with the expansion in the livelihood and employment opportunities which depend on the emergence of a strong regional and local economic base led by networked industry and a high end services sector. This finally is dependent on reducing the present level of high transaction costs which includes issues of property rights, transport costs, law and order, governance, rent seeking and corruption.
Bhagirathi Panda
8. Integration with Regional Blocks Through Intra-industry Production Networks: Boosting the Growth Prospects of Northeast India
The economies of South East Asia have become the fastest growing region through a process of mutual cooperation by creating intra-industry production networks for value addition. Given the geographical position of Northeast India, there are opportunities that can be developed to integrate the region into a production network for harnessing the trade potential of relevant products from the region with that of South East Asia. The region is rich in natural resources, minerals and ores, crude oil and natural gas, horticultural products, plantation crops, vegetables, spices, herbs and medicinal plants and enjoys competitive advantage in one or more products. Given the importance of regional trade agreements (RTAs) in enhancing the economy of the Asian economies, there are ample opportunities for NER to become involved in the intra-industry regional production network through its major products for improving its income and employment opportunities.
Ashish Nath

Part III

9. Look East Policy, Sub-regional Connectivity Projects and Northeast India
Peripheral and landlocked regions located within nation states are victims of various kinds of social, economic and political handicaps. Since their problems cannot be adequately addressed within the nation state framework, it makes sense to explore the possibilities of sub-regional cooperation with neighbouring countries. Seen from this angle, sub-regional connectivity projects approved by the Indian government as part of its Look (Act) East Policy seem logical and necessary for the development of India’s landlocked Northeast Region. The sub-regional connectivity projects under BIMSTEC, BCIM and MGP have aroused considerable public expectations in the Northeast. But in the absence of effective physical connectivity linking the villages, towns and cities within the peripheral regions, their impact on local economies remains limited and may prove to be counter-productive.
H. Srikanth
10. Look (Act) East Policy: With or Through the Northeast
From the time the Government of India declared its Look East Policy (LEP), a question has been asked about its effectiveness in the Northeast. Many Northeast tribes that are divided between India and Myanmar need regular social, cultural and economic contact. One has to view the region primarily as a habitat of people, a part of whose identity is linked to South East Asia. There is much migration from Chin State to Mizoram which causes tension. The primary reason for migration is the absence of any alternative livelihood as agricultural land has become gradually infertile making cultivation impossible. It is in the border regions like Chin State and Mizoram that cooperation in the development process can unleash new practices of LEP unlike the trade growth model.
Walter Fernandes
11. Rebel Camps in Myanmar: Will They Hamper the Act East Policy?
Ties between India and Myanmar have transformed a great deal during the past six decades. The active cooperation during the Nehruvian era gave way to a brief interlude of frosty relations after New Delhi supported the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar in the late 1980s. Although both neighbours have moved considerably closer in the past few years, there are issues that have sometimes raised concerns between the two neighbours. New Delhi has firmed up ambitious policies involving Myanmar, such as the Act East Policy (AEP), that envisage gaining access to the fast growing economies of South East Asia. A slew of infrastructure projects are being implemented by the Indian government in Myanmar and efforts are also being made to boost border trade. However, separatist insurgent groups from India’s Northeast continue to operate out of camps at Sagaing Division in the neighbouring country. New Delhi’s repeated pleas for eliminating their bases have failed to elicit a positive response from Naypyidaw. This chapter assesses whether these rebel bases would act as a barrier to AEP, so assiduously pursued by the Indian government.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Part IV

12. A Unified Northeast Economy: The Road to Gainful Economic Integration with South East Asia
The Northeast Region (NER) of India as a unified economy constituting a market of about 45 million people is the most appropriate approach for the development of this area. The Northeast states are perceived as a region because it is landlocked and surrounded on all sides by foreign countries and connected with the mainland of India through a narrow neck of 29 km. Other than Assam, the rest of the states in the region are individually small and have a small market. The internal economic integration of NER will provide the benefit of a larger market, and thereby gains from scale economies and specialization and a way forward towards trade and economic exchanges with the countries neighbouring it under the Look East Policy.
Atul Sarma
13. Look (Act) East Policy and Northeast India: Challenges and Opportunities in Building Strategic Partnerships—The Way Forward
India’s strategic engagement in the Asia Pacific region is no doubt influenced by the geopolitics in the region; however, the policy of intensified interaction with the countries of the East is not purely reactive. On the backdrop of the U.S proposal of ‘Pivot to Asia’ and the Chinese project of ‘One Belt One Road (OBOR)’ in which the two major powers in the region aim at strengthening their respective influence, India’s Look (Act) East Policy seeks to establish cooperative security, both strategic as well as socio-economic in its immediate and extended neighbourhood. The strategic picture in the Asia-Pacific can directly or indirectly impact on the security situation in India’s Northeast as the latter shares borders with a number of foreign countries.
Sudhir Devare
14. India’s Act East Policy Begins in Myanmar
The Asia–Pacific region has always drawn the attention of India’s foreign policy-makers. However, the contexts and thrusts of India’s approach to the region have changed. Earlier in the pre-1991 period, the focus was mostly on bilateral relations between India and the countries of the region; post-1991, multilateral interactions have also assumed critical salience. In this, the role of Myanmar is crucial because India cannot afford to ignore the geopolitical reality of the former as the only land bridge to South East Asia and beyond and also its strategic importance for India’s security, particularly in the context of the Northeast. Befriending Myanmar also offers scope to transform the landlocked Northeast to a land-linked one.
Munmun Majumdar
15. Locating Northeast India in the Look (Act) East Policy of India
India’s engagement with East and South East Asian countries since the 1980s has largely been phrased as “Look East Policy” which subsumes within it India’s economic, social and strategic engagement with ASEAN and Far Eastern countries. Although the Government of India has recognized the importance of overland connectivity to South East Asia through Northeast India, the region is yet to take centre stage in the larger framework of the Policy. Notwithstanding the security concerns of Government of India, the region also has its own deficits in terms of weak intraregional connectivity, low urbanization, a weak manufacturing base and low economic growth. There is need for prioritization of action in respect of connectivity, harmonization of policies and developing an integrated market within the region to be part of regional cooperation.
Saswati Choudhury
Mainstreaming the Northeast in India’s Look and Act East Policy
Prof. Atul Sarma
Dr. Saswati Choudhury
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Springer Singapore
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