GUWAHATI, Feb 13 � Sanjay Wadvani, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, today stressed the need for tapping the �tremendous growth opportunities� of the North-east, and said that British companies were �actively pursuing partnerships� in the region.
Wadvani was addressing the inaugural session of the seminar on �Sustaining Peace in North-East India: Changing Dimensions� organised by the Centre for Development and Peace Studies (CPDS) here today.
�There is huge untapped business potential for Indian and British companies in the whole North-east region, especially in sectors like infrastructure, education and training, oil and gas, power, low carbon development, and healthcare,� Wadvani said.
Mentioning that British High Commission was engaged in regular business-to-business dialogue with companies and governments in the North-east to help facilitate trade, the British envoy said that after it had brought its first major trade mission to Guwahati in late 2010, some of the companies were actively pursuing joint ventures in the region.
Former Union Home Secretary GK Pillai, in his keynote address, urged the State governments to be more inclusive in their approach to development and ensure willing participation of all minority groups in the development process.
�Identity and culture of the various diverse ethnic groups need to be respected and preserved. This is the essence of the special nature of the North-east which gives a distinctive flavour to the Indian nation,� he said.
Underscoring the urgency of reconciling tribal demands for autonomy with the larger issues of development in the State, Pillai said that better governance by the State and local authorities held the key to sustainable development in the North-east.
He also advocated putting �topmost priority� on creating sustainable employment in all spheres of economic activity, especially in tourism and hospitality sectors, music, sports, handloom and handicrafts, and agriculture.
Noting that popular support to insurgent groups was waning in Assam and other States of the region, Pillai termed the Maoist threat as a serious concern, and said that it needed to be tackled politically at the grassroots level and not allowed to convert itself into an armed movement.
�I would, therefore, urge all the political parties in Assam and even NGOs to anticipate what the Maoists are planning and counter their propaganda with a well-planned campaign at the grassroots level�In Uttar Pradesh, which is a backward State, the Maoists have not been able to make any inroad largely due to the active role of the BSP grassroots workers,� Pillai observed.
Terming the Maoists as fascist in character having no faith in parliamentary democracy, Pillai said that it was a subtle campaign on their part to portray themselves as champions of the underdog �which is but a part of their larger campaign to seize political power through an armed struggle.�
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, in his address, asserted that militancy was weakening in the State. This, he said, was testified by the effort of the various groups in the region to forge alliances.
Referring to the ongoing peace processes with various outfits, Gogoi claimed that it was he who persuaded a �hesitant Centre� into engaging in dialogues with the ultras.
�I had differences with the Centre but managed to convince it to start the peace process soon and it is paying dividends. Insurgency has to be resolved politically even while being tough on outfits that indulge in violence,� he said.
Attributing the backwardness of the State to the failure of �both the State Government and the Centre� to harness its resources, Gogoi said that a lot still needed to be done to put the State firmly on the road to development.
The Chief Minister also felt that greater participatory governance could bring down corruption, with the Panchayati Raj (PR) institutions empowering the people at the grassroots.
Earlier, PJ Baruah, executive editor of The Assam Tribune and joint secretary (hony), CDPS, delivered the welcome address in the absence of Wasbir Hussain, director, CDPS, who could not attend the function due to his father�s death.