Leader Writer: Svoboda Kangleicha
India’s Look East Policy evokes different responses from different quarters. First, there is the Panglossian school of thought in which many presume that the policy in its wake will bring all round development to the North-east region. Then, there are the opinions of those who are asking for a more cautious approach towards the policy which is being much bandied around off late.
Buying into the rosy picture adumbrated by foreign policy mandarins would prove catastrophic as the people of the region, the most important stakeholders of the policy were not either taken into confidence or consulted despite the assertion that the policy was initiated for their development. A panoptic critique is the need of the hour, as in its current form, the policy looks detrimental to the people of the region. Proactive deliberations by various stakeholders in the long run will prove prudent.
Those enchanted by the policy are soft selling it as a precursor to the good times that will follow in the region. The state, devoid of any proper medium or big scale industry, is all geared up to be promoted as a tourist destination. However enticing that idea may sound but we don’t have a proper mechanism in place where we can gauge the carbon footprints going to be left over by those innocuous tourists. The Thailand model of tourism development is gaining traction with a lot of policy makers. We also need to take into account that the South-East Asian country compelled to rely on tourism as a major source of income was chastised for pushing its children into prostitution by the then visiting American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright aftermath the Asian financial crisis. It was turned into a tourist destination by default rather than by design. It now earns 70 percent of its foreign exchange from tourism. We need not go into on why Thailand is a popular tourist destination.
A distinguished East Asian and South East Asian foreign policy expert posited in an international conference held recently at the Manipur University that the North-east is the epicentre of the Look East Policy. He also went on to add that India will promote anything in which ASEAN is the pivot drawing attention to American President Barack Obama’s suggestion four years ago during his visit that the country should ‘act’ east instead of looking east. Bertil Lintner’s in his book ‘Great Game East: India, China and the Struggle for Asia`s Most Volatile Frontier’ has insinuated that the region will act as an important theatre of engagement between the new emerging world powers. The two taken together shed light on how India’s foray into the east through the North-east is not only out of a sheer concern for the development of the region but a compulsion made more urgent by Beijing making rapid strides in spreading its tentacles around its southern neighbour. We agree that the country with its ever burgeoning population need to tap into the huge ASEAN and North-east Asian market and many foreign policy pundits find little difference between a country’s foreign policy and economic policy.
The trilateral highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand begins in Imphal and many consider it as an indication of the primacy the state enjoys in India’s Look East Policy. But, training young students with proper formal education as masseurs and spa therapists is not a great way to begin with. The new Silk Route may pass through Imphal but we must not reduce ourselves to those travellers across the deserts who are deceived by a mirage for an oasis all too often.