New Delhi: This region is no longer – just a far-flung collection of smaller states which together make only 25 MPs in Lok Sabha.
By appointing four ministers from the northeast and giving the key portfolio of Law and Justice to Kiren Rijiju, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written his place in the history of Arunachal Pradesh and North East India.
This region is no longer – just a far-flung collection of smaller states which together make only 25 MPs in Lok Sabha.
Even states like Rajasthan and Gujarat send 24-25 lawmakers to the Lower House of Parliament.
It may not be wrong to state that strategically things are changing very fast. Even the long-held view that northeast India is a landlocked region is now undergoing transition.
That means new economic, social and political lines could emerge.
The Look East Policy pushed by New Delhi initially was conceptualized as a maritime orientation.
But, as India expanded the engagements with the ASEAN members, for obvious reasons, the importance of the northeast as a 'land bridge' has increased manifold.
It's called 'Act East Policy' now.
In light of this, it is critical to consider the significance of continuing peace talks with northeast terrorists, particularly the Nagas.
Northeast India should not simply be a corridor of trade and commerce. When the Act East policy unfolds, it should play a major role in India-South East Asia's economic partnership.
The Himalayas had kept China and India "walled" from each other for a long time in a geographical sense.
But now that the dense forests got cut down, difficult terrains and rough roads would be soon replaced by superhighways.
There is truly an unprecedented connection among the three billion-plus people of Southeast Asia and the Far East. This is perhaps the first time in the contemporary setting.
Without talking, one can easily say that northeast India borders Myanmar, which is again a part of a mega network of the illegal flow of drugs and arms. The availability of weapons is a factor in fomenting insurgency.
Some years ago, a former Chief Minister from one of the insurgency-hit states had told this scribe – that the insurgent groups have always taken advantage of weak state structures and 'limited' police and security forces (often handicapped by local political pressures) to establish their own "parallel government structures."
This issue came to the fore only a fortnight back when NSCN (IM) with influence in Nagaland and Naga-stronghold areas of Manipur – said it has the right to 'collect taxes' from people.
Of course, the Government has strongly countered this.
But the fact of the matter is common people including, government officials and, the business community has to bow to the diktat of the rebel groups.
Now that a refreshing beginning has been made with local ministers (from Assam, Arunachal, Manipur, and Tripura) have been put in key ministries, it is hoped that the region would reciprocate well with the good gestures itself.
The choice by the Prime Minister to appoint Raj Kumar Ranjan Singh, the MP from Inner Manipur, as the Minister of State for External Affairs is considered a crucial one.
Here also comes the roles of local state-level politicians and political parties, including the regional parties.
They all have to ensure a constructive game for themselves wherein they will have to make political sacrifices.
The Naga legislators have pledged to step aside if the Peace pact is finally inked between the groups and the Modi government. It should not be – however – a mere lip service.
There is yet another aspect, which northeast India ought to take corrective steps.
It is judiciously using the immense tourism potentials.
Mark some differences on this hospitality industry front between northeast India and a state called Kerala – idyllic and aptly called 'God's own country'.
This scribe has visited Kerala and, each time one is stumped by the manner the locals have used the tourism potentials, generated jobs, and contributed handsomely to the state's revenue.
Kerala – before Covid and flood devastation – on average has in the past registered a record tourist arrival of one crore with the Tourism industry generating a revenue of Rs 25,000 crore and more.
Why not Tourism is such a money-spinner sector in the northeast?
There are hassles and hazards of travel in northeast India. There is a record that in 1990, the then Railway Minister George Fernandes had to walk about 8-10 km between Dimapur and Kohima on the National Highway as there was a roadblock because of landslides.
Roads in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur also are washed by floods regularly. Mizoram capital Aizawl is 8 hours away from the nearest railway head.
Law and order, extortion, and kidnapping are other challenges.
There are other problem areas as well.
For instance, in Kochi itself in Kerala, there are about 250-300 tour operators. There are many services and special segments like corporate packages and separate offers for families, students, and couples on honeymoon.
In places like Thekkady and Munnar, even working teachers and government babus run residential apartments meant for visitors.
Private participation is unique and dependable.
The Elephant Safari at Munnar is a privately run operation but with government approval and rates.
In contrast, locals in the northeast of India depend a lot on the government for all initiatives resulting in clumsy red-tapism and also corruption.
Now the onus would be on the Government of India and also other stakeholders to take up things for a real reboot.
The famous Sepaijola Zoological Park in Tripura and other tourist havens such as Cherapunji and Elephant Falls in Meghalaya or Dzukou Valley of Nagaland should not remain off the visitors' maps.
What we should be anticipating is 'meeting of different cultures' – a point emphasized by the new MoS Culture Meenakshi Lekhi.
This is not something forced down from Delhi, but something native and spontaneous. The communities in the northeast would now have to be seen as 'equal partners' in the nation-building process.