GUWAHATI, May 1 � India�s �Look East� policy can be brought to fruition only if the governments of Assam and the other north eastern states take their own initiatives to establish commercial and cultural links with Bangladesh, China and South East Asian nations.
Delivering the first Sarat Mahanta Memorial Lecture at the Royal Group of Institutions on the topic - �East By Northeast: The Way Ahead for India�s Security and Prosperity� on Thursday evening, eminent commentator and strategist Sudeep Chakravarti suggested that the Ministry of External Affairs establish offices of the north eastern states at various Indian embassies and consulates in China, Bangladesh and those nations following the model used by the USA, Canada and the EU.
Chakravarti, who has authored many books, including one on the North East, termed this region as a �geopolitical sweet spot to rival that of Pakistan and Afghanistan to our west�. India�s relations with its neighbours will have a direct bearing on how NE India thrives or falls by the wayside, he said, adding that India�s relations with the North East will also mark India�s engagements with its northern and eastern neighbours. India and China will continue to be �frenimies� (friends who are also enemies), who will have their areas of cooperation, rivalry and even border standoffs, but this relationship will continue to be dictated by pragmatism.
Underlining the need for greater cooperation with India�s eastern neighbours, Chakravarti held out the immense possibilities that such collaboration could bring about: road and rail access through Sylhet to Kolkata and beyond for Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, similar access from Tripura cutting through Bangladesh to reach eastern India in a day, an energy network spanning India, Bangladesh and Myanmar and much more. Strengthening ties with Bangladesh and Myanmar could �single-handedly raise many parts of North East from relative obscurity to a thriving future with its offerings of oil and natural gas, access to East Asian markets and access to south-western China�.
Chakravarti called for India applying the principles of its �Panchsheel� policy (in respect to China) to its North East. �Had some of these principles been applied to North East India, much of the devastation and bad blood that still permeates this region, may have been absent. The tragedy of people being slaughtered to include them in our republic is a shame that we as a nation, must learn to recognize,� he said. At the same time, he added, Central funds that pour into the region must be utilised. �The rotten civic, socio-economic and industrial infrastructure (in the north eastern states) is a cumulative result of political and security establishments leaching such funds. Nearly all NE states have scandalous indictments from the Comptroller & Auditor General of India about what amounts to pure theft and waste of public funds meant for the development of the region,� he said.
Chakravarti had a wishlist for the next government in Delhi: �Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to regain North East India� (he termed it a law that �has triggered the greatest erosion of national integrity or thoughts of belonging to India�); quickly resolve all conflicts in the North East; come down hard on �warlords of Mainland India and North East India, some of them chief ministers and veteran politicians who deliberately stall peace processes to consolidate their own positions�; reduce the practice of appointing former police and intelligence chiefs as governors of NE states; re-map school textbooks to include the history, politics and geography of NE India and for India�s leadership �to have the courage to apologize for past mistakes�.