Securing People or Securing Territory or a Combination

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By Amar Yumnam
India’s Prime Minister was in Myanmar recently. In the academic circle the impact of this visit has been an issue of detailed assessment, both nationally and internationally. I understand that Indian intelligence agencies are so busy to explore what opinion I have and have shared with my colleagues globally. By the way, I share my opinions thoroughly within India and without India. I would like to briefly spell out my take on the outcome of his visit so that I can reduce the unproductive and irrational preoccupation of the intelligence employees of the Indian state and help control their headache.

Here I would like to reiterate that Indian state is a very interesting one. Seventy years of association have not yielded any perceptive change in the perspective of looking at anyone from Manipur with suspicion. In every Manipuri the state sees a Chinese. In other words, the state continues to still wear the weakling look, diffident psychology and suspicious mentality of the people before the emergence of religion. In the primordial period, anyone from another place or community was a suspect and should be looked at with suspicion only. Elimination of the strangers on the first sight was the norm then. While the elimination aspect has been toned down, the psychic mentality still characterises the Indian state when it comes to Manipur. This way the state only reduces her own capability to prove to the rest of the world.

The Prime Minister’s recent visit too is characterised by this mentality. Let us look at how the rest of the world in the East and South East Asia is looking at addressing whatever little weaknesses in the economies therein and articulating on the future course of action for ensuring a century dominated by the countries in this region. In an earlier piece in this column I had elaborated on the ASEAN plan of action for the unfolding Asian century. I had also mentioned how they look at the entire India, North East not excluded, and the Myanmar transformation. In fact, they are seriously looking forward to relationships with India in a big way through the North East. Even more significantly, they are absorbing lessons from their own financial crisis of the 1997-98 period and from the current global nightmare with the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). Experts in these countries of ASEAN +3 (ASEAN, China, Korea and Japan) are now seriously pondering on the need to evolve an Optimum Currency Area.
In other words, they are now applying their mind on how to establish an economic union like the European Union minus the PIIGS like problems.

As we all know, India lost to China the gas pipeline project because she wanted these pipes bypassing the North East. The Indian psyche is still looking for larger relationships with Myanmar through the Chennai Port, Kolkata Port and to some extent the Chittagong Port, and the North East does not in any way figure in this plan. This comes out glaringly from the recent dialogues and agreed interventions.

The Indian policy approach to this region right from day one till today has been a single objective paradigm. This relates to securing the territory. Despite pretensions in other areas, the driving policy thrust in every intervention has been one of securing the territory. The biggest casualty in this is the necessity of securing people. This explains the absence of any meaningful and consequential development policy till today.

While Myanmar has been expecting for a robust economic relationships through the North East, India pushed for the Wagah like relationships by pushing for a bus trip from Imphal to Mandalay. This simply betrays the expectations from the other side, but it establishes the Indian state’s mentality of securing the territory while making it look like an expanding relationship. This is how India has failed to learn from the Wagah experience, and appreciate the contextual differentials between Wagah and Moreh.

The one area where India projects as great agreement relates to border area developments in the two countries. This is nothing but a continuation of the approach for securing the territory. While development of the border areas could have been ensured as an externality of the larger economic relationships, the latter has been sacrificed for the limited objective of securing the territory. People have not figured yet again in the design of economic relationships.

One reason why the global financial crisis, particularly in the West, is having such a negative impact on India is to be found within. India has yet to design a policy for a comprehensive and all-inclusive development path for all the people of the country. The Indian state till today has very limited encoring economic implications, and very little for the North East. The time is for founding a robust economy encompassing every nook and corner and every population group in the country. This would have the inner force of balancing the tendency for scams to emerge in such a large country and would also give the inherent strength to halt the negative impacts of adverse developments in the rest of the world. In other words, India should by now give up the logic that she can be a strong country while leaving population perspectives of a part of the country. Time is now to learn on how a culturally, demographically and territorially heterogeneous country has moved ahead in the rest of the world. Time is now for appreciating the diversity within and utilise it as a foundation for further enhancement of national strength.

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