Look East Policy And Manipur: What are you talking about, stupid?

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By Amar Yumnam

Let us begin with an instance of surety of commitment and clarity in policy making. When China started with the market oriented economic policies, the most intelligent bureaucrats of the country were identified and given training. There is no prize for identifying the resource person. The bureaucrats were exposed to the articulation and understanding of market economics and liberal economic policy making by Milton Friedman of Chicago University. While he was still alive, Friedman was undoubtedly the most celebrated economist on the subject with liberal philosophy as the foundation. In fact, he is one the best minds in the subject ever lived on this planet. This being so, there can be no other person more qualified than him on teaching and delivering lectures on market based Economics and economic policy making. The fact that he was engaged by the Chinese authorities to train their officers on market oriented economic policies speaks of the clarity of commitment and the depth of the sense of purpose. The training was given twice – the first one being repeated by another after a gap of eight years.

Now compare this with an instance of opposite character. A good colleague of mine, who did extensive research on Japanese nuclear policy, often talks of the left hand not knowing what the right hand does when it comes to policy making and implementation in India. In fact, this is the common refrain of the neighbouring countries on India. The recent mess around an Ordinance for politically saving the criminals to continue their compromise with the interests of the nation is a latest testimony of the character of governance in this country. What is more painful for us in the North Eastern part of the country is that the manifestation of this character is of a much degraded form here. This has been right from 1949 in the case of Manipur and the situation get trickier by the day.

In November there is going to be an international conference in Bangkok where the papers to be presented and discussed are all sponsored ones. Preparing a paper for this, I have been to Moreh (border town on the Indian side) and Tamu (border town on the Myanmar side) recently. The Indian relationship (or whatever, if there is any) with South East and East Asia through this border connectivity has been my interest for almost two decades. Since there has been much talk on Look East Policy accompanied inter alia by a recent Car Rally, I definitely expected some new developments in the true sense of taking the relationships to a higher level. With this expectation I embarked on my journey driving up to the border myself with my daughter.

I would like to share three updates on this noise about Look East Policy and enhancement of relationships with South East and East Asia. The first update on this relates to what happened at Tengnoupal on the way to Moreh from Imphal. The Assam Rifles were stopping every vehicle on the road leading to Moreh and subjecting all to checks. There is no problem with that. But waiting for exactly two hours and fifteen minutes for my turn beats every rationale to justify it. Then add twenty minutes with the sepoy asking all to open every part of the vehicle in a tone and language as uncivilised as it could be, and in a way only a rough proprietor of an automobile workshop would instruct the workers. When suggested that there could be more civility in the conduct of the checks, the sepoy asserted in a very irritating way that the telephone number could be collected for complaint if I had any. Well, how does he assume that he could have all the arrogance and exercise rudeness by just supplying a telephone number to the public? If one has to bear with two hours and thirty-five minutes of unaccounted hindrance while checking vehicles on the roads, both the methodology and the technology of the Assam Rifles for conducting such exercises are a suspect. I cannot help feeling that all this is by design. I feel it is a case lock, stock and barrel of the government of India to generate a kind of dislike among the people of Manipur for going to the border town and develop unpreparedness for stronger economic and other relationships with the countries in South East and East Asia starting right from Myanmar. Drawing lessons from the gas-pipeline negotiation which India lost out to China, it is as if India is looking for an option for stronger ties with these countries without the people of the North Eastern Region. Since Assam Rifles carries the tag of a province in the region and claims to be friends of the people here in the sign-boards, this force is the most convenient one for developing distaste among the populace for closer ties with the neighbouring countries. Now comes the second update. The Tengnoupal intervention would be followed in the next Assam Rifles post where the sepoy would insist on marking on my hand with a pen indicating that I have been checked. My foot! I said nothing doing, and there was no way of my allowing him to mark my hand. Well an officer came in and my refusal prevailed.

The third update is even more telling. A coolie was crossing the border from the Myanmar side carrying my load. It definitely was not huge and the amount involved was less than three thousand in the Indian currency. There was a person standing in plain clothes and he is a Manipuri. In the rudest and manner-less way, he enquired whose was the load. When I asked what he is, he said he was from the Customs. He suggested to enter the items in the register. When I asked where, why and how, he asked for a sum of rupees fifty. I said I did not have and came away. He shouted in a Manipuri slang and I said I was not paying him. I was expecting that he would persist so that I could make a scene right there, but he, being a thief, did not have the courage.

Now what is the meaning of these three updates. First, the absence of a policy called Look East Policy beyond the noise in political platforms is confirmed. Second, the understanding of cross-border relationships as is being practised and evolved is absolutely skewed.

Cross-border relationships as understood in both theory and practised around the world are never confined to crossing the gate from Moreh to Namphalong market. It is just a small part of it. Cross-border relationships and trade exchanges comprise of a package of components. What all the updates I have recently experienced and seen indicate that there is no such understanding of the components involved and no effort to evolve any kind of atmosphere for generating the dynamics for the components to emerge. Only a stupid would talk of Look East Policy and Manipur’s future from it.    

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