India’s Act East Policy and its Impact on the Northeastern States

 The decade of the1990s is considered a crucial threshold in the archives of modern history. This was the time that marked the end of the cold war and was the beginning of a new framework of relations among the major powers of the world. It was obvious for India, like the rest of the other nations of the world, to seek new opportunities and look into new frontiers to serve its national interest. The launch of” India’s “Look East Policy” was a significant step in that direction.

In 1991-1996 during the tenure of the Prime Minister Narsimha Rao India’s Look East Policy was developed and enacted with the objective of cultivating extensive economic and strategic relations with the neighboring nations of Southeast Asia to reinforce its standing as a regional power and counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China. With this policy, India’s strategy was to focus on forging close economic and commercial ties, increase strategic and security cooperation, and put emphasis on its historic culture and ideological links. It also aimed at creating and expanding regional markets for trade, a higher number of investments, and industrial development. Gradually the policy also led to strategic and military cooperation with nations concerned by the expansion of China’s economic and strategic influence.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming into power in the year 2014, this policy has been rebranded from’ Look East Policy’ to ‘Act East Policy (AEP)’.With this major shift in the policy, the existing government focused more on improving its relations with ASEAN and the East Asian countries by giving more structure to the existing foreign policy with a more specific goal of achieving its domestic developmental goals, especially within India’s Northeastern states by using this region as a bridge to connect mainland India with the Southeast Asian nations. The Northeastern states have always been a major concern for development due to its landlocked geography, lack of adequate infrastructure, and lastly its prolonged history of separatist insurgencies in the past. These factors have highly hindered growth and development in this specific region as compared to the other parts of mainland India.

With this new AEP policy framework, the Indian government aims at achieving deeper political and economic development for the Northeastern states by the creation of newer markets, improving and developing infrastructure by widening roads, expanding air connectivity, extension of railway networks, improving connectivity links between the Northeastern region and Southeast Asia by opening new and reactivating dormant trade routes.

Although the policy aims to address major key problems and seeks improved bilateral ties and connectivity with the Southeast Asian nations. However, it is really crucial to reconcile the terms of this policy with the diverse communities of the Northeast region. Furthermore, there were a lot of apprehensions raised about further connectivity and labour mobility during the agitations against railway expansions in the state of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. Furthermore, there are other important prevalent issues and governance matters like the problems with the issuance and usage of Inner Line Permit (ILP), issues in breaking down the matrix of class and ethnicity in the northeast region due to the presence of diverse micro indigenous communities, the prevalence of migrant communities, illegal immigrants and refugees, lack of coordination and ideological disconnect between the government and local policymakers of the region, gender disparity and many more which act as barriers in effective implementation of this respective policy.

In conclusion, the prevalent barriers and complications needs to be taken into consideration by the government and the concerned policymakers and execute strategic steps in the region to exercise this policy successfully to achieve its long term developmental goals in the region by increased trade and connectivity to accelerate the country’s overall economic growth.