With India continuing to boost its ties with the Asean regional bloc under New Delhi’s Act East Policy, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday called for greater connectivity between the northeastern states of India and southeast Asia.
At an interactive session with the Chief Ministers of the northeastern states on the Act East Policy, she said that state governments of the northeastern region were active stakeholders in the Policy.
According to a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, she said that “greater connectivity and economic integration of India’s northeast with its eastern neighbours was considered a key focus area for growth and development of the region”.
“India’s Act East Policy had received a major boost following the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-India Commemorative Summit, which was held in New Delhi on January 25, 2018,” the statement said.
The Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Look East Policy, launched by then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in the 1990s, was formally enunciated as the Act East Policy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Asean-India Summit in Myanmar in 2014.
Focussing on India’s extended neighbourhood in the Asia-Pacific region, the policy, originally conceived as an economic initiative, has gained political, strategic and cultural dimensions including establishment of institutional mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation.
Friday’s interactive session deliberated on the northeast Indian region’s intra-regional and sub-regional surface and air linkages, focusing on seamless connectivity with its contiguous neighbourhood.
“Continued development of relevant infrastructure both within the state and at international borders was also discussed with a view to enhancing trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people ties,” the statement said.
The meeting was attended by Chief Ministers Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam), Chief Minister N. Biren Singh (Manipur), Chief Minister Conrad Sangma (Meghalaya), Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland), Chief Minister Biplab Deb (Tripur) and Arunachal Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein.
Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh and Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar were also present as also officials from other central government ministries and departments of the northeastern states.
Addressing the meeting, Sonowal, whose state is the only one with a separate Act East Policy Department, said that connectivity is the most crucial factor in furthering India’s relations with southeast Asia.
“Therefore, it is imperative to focus on improved airways, roadways, waterways, railways and information ways in this region,” he said.
“In order to establish air links with Asean and BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) countries, there is a need to launch direct flights between the capitals of Asean and BBIN countries and Guwahati.”
Sonowal also emphasised on the importance of development of mainland India-Bangladesh-northeast India corridors such as between Agartala-Dhaka-Kolkata, Silchar-Dhaka-Kolkata and Shillong-Dhaka-Kolkata.
“Development of road access to Chittagong port (in Bangladesh) also holds immense potential for growth of the region.”
Stating that waterways is another vital sector, he said that before India’s independence, the region had access to sea route through the Chittagong port and “Assam tea was exported throughout out the world through this route”.
He also called for early completion of the Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project that will connect the Sittwe port in Myanmar with Mizoram in India.
On Thursday, in an informal interaction with journalists here, Sonowal said that the Act East Policy is a “golden opportunity” for northeast India.
“The more we strengthen connectivity and transportation with the Asean countries, the more we will prosper,” he said.
Noting that Prime Minister Modi has given a new narrative that the Northeast is the new growth engine for new India, he said that “we have to work as a growth engine in the near future”.
“For that, the states in the Northeast will have to take their own respective initiatives. The Indian government will build the bridge for linkage (with southeast Asia). The rest of the follow-up actions are on us.”