ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Look East Policy, Subregional Connectivity Projects and North East India

Many native scholars and social activists concerned about peace and development in landlocked, peripheral, conflict-ridden northeastern states have been pinning hopes on India's Look (Act) East Policy. They expect the proposed subregional connectivity projects to contribute to economic development of the region and address its problems of underdevelopment. Interrogating the assumptions on which the connectivity projects are conceived, the article throws light on hindrances in realisation of the set objectives.

Originally titled “Interrogating the Look East Policy,” the draft paper was submitted to the International Conference on “Look (Act) East Policy and North East India,” organised by the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati on 25–26 September 2015.

Several national and international developments have compelled India to proclaim and pursue the Look East Policy, now rechristened as the Act East Policy. Developments like the collapse of the Soviet Union, reassertion of market forces, India’s foreign exchange crisis of the early 1990s, continuing recession in the United States (US) and European economies, rise of China as an economic power, expansion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and failure of India to steer the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), etc, have forced India to look eastwards for protecting, consolidating, and expanding its economic interests (Devare et al 2014; Mishra 2014; Bhattacharya 2011; Chakraborty and Ray 2014; Haokip 2015).

The Look (Act) East Policy is conceived more as a national policy for promoting trade, technology and investment opportunities; development of northeastern states was not its primary concern. It is after the initiation of subregional forums like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM), Mekong–Ganga Cooperation (MGC), etc, that the North East is being projected as a gateway to East and South East Asia. Different economic corridors and connectivity projects proposed and planned by the subregional forums as also the ambitious Asian Highways—AH1 and AH2—endorsed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) pass through northeastern states (UNESCAP 2003). Citing these connectivity projects, the Indian government has been giving the impression that once these projects become operational, the North East would be able to break the shackles of its landlocked status and move on to the path of development. It is held that the increased connectivity would link the landlocked regions with neighbouring countries, and develop business and trade between the countries and the regions by reducing time, distance, and travel costs (Shepherd et al 2011; Krist 2014; Braconier and Pisu 2013; Ivanov and Matov 2013; Aggarwal 2015; Mukherjee 2015). It is also assumed that these initiatives would help the people of the region overcome the problems of poverty, unemployment, and underdevelopment.

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