Trust our parliamentarians to wake up over a decade later to the realization that a policy which had been announced long ago is yet to be actually realized! The Act East Policy had been the baby of the Manmohan Singh Government. It was designed to provide connectivity between the Southeast Asian nations and India through the Northeast, with the expectation that this would end the remote, boxed-in character of this region which has had a turbulent recent history. Since the primordial past the Northeast had links with China and the countries of Southeast Asia, thereby enjoying a geopolitical centricity conducive to economic prosperity and self-sufficiency. The annexation by the British had destroyed this centricity and reduced it to the status of a remote outpost of India and this, together with resource exploitation by the colonists, had impoverished the region.
By re-establishing the centricity, an economic regeneration was expected to be ushered into the Northeast – no wonder when it was announced it had roused high expectancy amongst the people of this area. Singh, during his inaugural speech in the 10th India-ASEAN Summit at Phnom Penh in 2012, had announced an agreement between India, Myanmar and Thailand setting a time frame to complete the Trilateral Highway Project that would establish connectivity from Moreh in Manipur, India to Mae Sot in Thailand by 2016, something not yet translated into reality till 2021!
Apart from changing the designation from Look East to Act East, the NDA Government has not done much to expedite the policy. However, high sounding assertions continued to be made by our leaders – for instance, in 2016, at the 14th ASEAN-India Summit at Vientiane, Laos, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the process of connectivity between the Northeast and ASEAN nations was well under way, with the Trilateral Highway Project on the verge of being completed, an assertion he repeated in the same forum in 2020! It is in this context that one takes the ‘expression of dissatisfaction’ recently made by a parliamentary panel at the non-completion of projects under the Act East policy with a pinch of salt.
In a report submitted to the chairman of Rajya Sabha, the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Development of the Ministry of North-Eastern Region is said to have reviewed the progress of the major projects under the Act East Policy. The Committee, apparently, was not satisfied with the physical progress of road construction work of Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project and projects undertaken in India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and recommended that the reasons for delay must be addressed at the earliest and the projects should be closely monitored. The proof of the pudding being in the eating, only time will tell whether such a recommendation would speed up the snail’s pace with which the projects have moved!