The Look East Policy of India was launched by the former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1991. The main focus of this policy was to shift the country’s trading focus from the west of India to the east of India, i.e., towards the booming Southeast Asian countries. The new NDA Government at the Centre upgraded this policy as the Act East Policy at the East Asia Summit held in Myanmar in November 2014.
The key differences between the Look East Policy and the Act East Policy can be summed up thus: The focus of the Look East Policy was to increase the economic integration with the Southeast Asian countries and the area was just confined to Southeast Asia only. On the other hand, the focus of the Act East Policy is the economic and security integration and the focused area is increased to Southeast Asia plus East Asia.
The objective of Act East Policy is to: 1) promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific region through continuous engagement at regional, bilateral and multilateral levels; 2) to increase the interaction of Northeast India States with other neighbouring countries; 3) to find out the alternatives of the traditional business partners with more focus on the Pacific countries in addition to the Southeast Asian countries.
Experts say that under the Act East Policy, the Government is relying on the 3 Cs (Culture, Connectivity and Commerce) to develop better relations with ASEAN nations.
In order to ensure the success of the policy, the NDA Government is putting steady efforts to develop and strengthen connectivity of Northeast Indian States with the ASEAN region through people-to-people contacts, trade, culture and physical infrastructure (airport, road, power, telecommunication, etc.).
The India-Japan relations are passing through a good phase for the last several years and Japan is helping India in many infrastructure projects.
The ASEAN-India Plan of Action for the period 2016-20 was adopted in August 2015 which identified concrete initiatives and areas of cooperation along the three pillars – political security, economic and socio-cultural actions.
During the Second World War, the development of the Stilwell Road, which was constructed by the Americans from Ledo (near Digboi) in Assam, one of the railheads in Assam in the Brahmaputra Valley, through Myanmar (then Burma) connecting with Kunming in China, passing through Nampong and Pangsau Pass along the India-Myanmar border was historic. It winds up the passes of 9,000-foot Patkai range and emerges at Shindbwiyang and then Myitkyina in Myanmar.
Besides the Stilwell Road, during the Second World War the allied army built a pipeline of four inches diameter to supply petroleum products from the Digboi Refinery in Assam to Myitkyina in Myanmar which is 403 km away from Digboi. The pipeline ran parallel to the Stilwell Road and carried aviation fuel to the airfields along the Stilwell Road. The engineer officer-in-charge of the fuel and lubricant division in the office of the Quartermaster General, demanded that by October 1, 1944 the pipeline to be fully commissioned but the first gallon of gasoline by the four-inch diameter pipeline reached Myitkyina on September 27, 1944. Thereafter it carried 8000 barrels (bbl) gasoline fuel each day which was equivalent to 400 cargo trucks those days.
In order to harness the benefits of the Act East Policy, India has upgraded its relations to strategic partnership with Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Republic of Korea and forged close ties with all countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Further, apart from ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and East Asia Summit (EAS), India has also been actively engaged in regional forums such as Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) and Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC).
In the recent action by the Ministry Petroleum and Natural Gas in keeping the Numaligarh Refinery (NRL) out of the ambit of the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) privatization and arranging to expand the capacity of NRL to nine million metric tonnes per annum in near future, which is much more than the internal consumption of the region, indicates that the most of the products of NRL is likely to be exported to nearby countries. This will give a boost to the region’s employment sector as well as the revenue earning.
Slowly, the technological skill in converting Agar wood to valuable perfumes is getting proliferated among the common citizens of the Northeast region. And it is also expected that large quantity of Agar wood from the East Asian nations like Laos, Cambodia, etc., will travel to the NE region for value addition. This will certainly boost the economy and employment aspects of the NE region.
Bamboo will also play a major role in future in making disposable and one-time use articles besides durable fashionable white goods for future generations. The Northeast region will play a major role in commercial utilization of bamboo.
So, it is clear that a major component of India’s socio-cultural, economic and political activities in near future is towards the east of the region which will immensely benefit the North-eastern States.