Look East Policy Discussions in Manipur: Moving beyond illiteracy

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By Amar Yumnam

There has been a rise in the discussions on Manipur’s prospects in the light of renewed seemingly overt focus of India on deepening the ties with the countries of South East Asia. Here we may compare the marriage ties of today with the ones say three decades back. Today the would-be spouses would like to know whether the blood of the future partner is free from the dreaded modern diseases or not. The involved families too would put in place so many arrangements and improvements as a preparation for the close bonding going to happen. Similarly the explosions just happened in Bodhgaya would need to be assessed if they have any link with what has happened in the recent past in neighbouring Myanmar between religious groups. What all these imply is that, while contemplating any relationship today, the areas where information is imperative have tremendously widened both within and without. Looking from these plain but significant imperatives in modern relationships, the discussions in Manipur today on Look East Policy mostly sound like a gathering of illiterates; it is like the blind men defining the shape of the elephant.

We need to be very clear of the changes taken place everywhere, the changes that are going to happen, the implications of these changes and the needed domestic interventions for fruitful participation in international intercourse. The precipitated flows emanating from the deepened and widened international interactions would be qualitatively and quantitatively different from the border trade relationship as of today. Despite the livelihood advantages provided by the current border trade, relationships are much like closed economy scenario with no international relations. In fact, border trade is not trade in the real sense of the term, and can never be an engine of growth which normal trade is. If the Look East Policy leads to the emergence of contemporary globalisation dynamics engaging Manipur, the interactions and exchanges would be in an open economy context instead of the present closed-economy like dynamics. Here we must be aware of the nature, composition and direction of contemporary globalisation as compared to the earlier episodes in global history. While in the earlier cases the interaction was concentrated in merchandise and primitive accumulation (remember the British conquering India in search of spices inter alia and stealing Kohinoor from India), the contemporary relationships extend to every possible arena of interaction. Now these are oriented to rather a network kind of structure based on efficiency, and the relative strength of a country or region covers every arena of human talent rather than the traditional commodity production. Without an understanding of these changing global characters and a commitment to fit into these dynamics, any discussion on the prospects of Manipur consequent upon the anticipated developments in South Asia and South East Asia relationships would lose relevance sooner than later.

Further the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is expected to become a community by 2015. In other words, the member countries of the Association would coordinate and behave as belonging to a single economy in about two years from now. This would at one go make irrelevant all the clauses of India-Myanmar agreements on border trade and trade regarding the ‘rule of origin’. Any product of any member in the country would be as good as the product of any other on every political economic consideration. The policies of the members would be highly coordinated. We need to factor-in this emerging reality while we discuss the implications for Manipur of the Look East Policy.

Within Myanmar, the immediate neighbour, tremendous political and governance changes have taken place in recent years. Now the country has put in serious efforts to strengthen the technological and innovative capability of the people. This is borne by the “overwhelming” engagements between the universities and educational administrators of Myanmar, Europe and America. Both Western Europe and America are now involved in mobilising funds to convert the overwhelming engagement into actions for robust educational relationships and exchanges. Ignoring these developments while discussing Manipur in the forthcoming decade of Look East Policy would amount to foolhardy application of mind.

Another significant international aspect we should always incorporate in every analysis of impact of relationships with South East Asian countries is the nature of the Chinese economy today. This country has given to the world a kind of industrialisation model very different from the one the world is used to since the British eighteen century experience. This has ensured price and quality competitiveness of their products in the global market. This has also ensured a kind of shared growth of manufacturing capability in the neighbouring countries. The beauty of this is the continuous expansion of market of all the products in all the countries involved in the production chain network. While discussing expansion of economic capability of Manipur in the emerging context, keeping a comparative picture of the Indian and the Chinese approaches would only enhance the value of the debate.

While establishing marriage relationships, every family introspects and looks for areas where improvements are needed in order to make itself attractive as well as enhance the domestic capability for benefiting from the soon to be new relationships. Something like this needs to be done in a much more serious way in international relationships. There is a fundamental imperative to assess the relative strength of the differential geographic spaces of Manipur. This has to be coupled by the evaluation of the strengths of differential institutional structures characterising these geographic spaces. While undertaking this exercise, we have to be alive to the needs for differential capacity building to take advantage of the emerging international relationships and exchanges. The interventions in the domestic front are to address the relative weaknesses of each geographic space and institutional environment and enhance the revealed strengths of each with view to harness the benefits from the emerging globalisation forces.

In fine, the articulation and debates in Manipur on the Look East Policy needs to go beyond the current approach of blind men assessing the elephant. We have to keep our eyes wide opened. We have to re-evaluate our domestic front extensively to enable us to play in the international game in a meaningful way. This also entails deeper understanding of the participating international players on their style, strength and orientation. Getting into a relationship or playing in a game together without a proper foundation of knowledge of the other and the self can hardly be fruitful.

(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)

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