Looking East

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Persistently writing on a single topic has the danger of repetition of points. But this is a characteristic hazard of all campaigns, including journalistic ones. We have no scruples about admitting we have been involved to a good extent in this form of journalism, although after making sure to the extent possible that our views are not partisan. The `Look-East Policy`, now `Act East Policy`, of which there has been a deluge of opinions as also reams written about, is one of these. We have always been for the policy and we still are. This has been misconstrued by many as merely a case of market worship and that we have not been sensitive enough to the cautions that an expanded, internationalized market ought to be taken with. This is a case of reading too much between the line and missing out on what were actually in print of what we have written. We never disagreed more on the matter of the market, and that although it is desirable, has to be harnessed under broad regulatory mechanisms. For the market, as all of us are aware, is amoral and can be extremely brutal. The one most important engine that drives it, that of profit, does not think fair play, or exhibit environmental concerns, or gender issues etc. Left on its own, rather than encourage competition, for far too often it has been known to destroy competition. That is why tough monopoly and oligopoly laws are felt essential even in the most advanced market economies. However, once under a certain regulatory mechanism to eliminate these aberrations, it can be the most effective incentive for individuals and peoples to strive for perfection. As Charlton Heston as Moses in the Hollywood classic `The Ten Commandments` said, `There can be no freedom without the law.` The market hence must have to be moderated by the law so that the strong does not trample the weak and hog all its benefits.

But let this be a matter for another discussion. However, our concern and attraction to the idea of the northeast opening up its eastern gateways, is also on another major considerations. This landlocked region needs to open up as many doors and windows. One question should provide much of the explanation to this contention. How did the northeast become landlocked? How did it come to be connected to sub-continental India by just a corridor wedged between Bangladesh and Bhutan, now often referred to as the `Siliguri Corridor` or the `Chicken`™s Neck`? In many ways, if there is anything as a physical manifestation of what is often referred to as colonial legacy, the northeast predicament must be it, for its political shape, and now cognizable identity, were indeed predetermined by certain colonial confines. Its northern boundary is the controversial McMohan Line, its southern boundary is the Radcliff Line, and its eastern boundary were very much the gradual but definitive outcome of the Treaty of Yandaboo, all thereby carrying a colonial stamp. These were the boundaries that shut off the northeast from its natural elements, made the sea suddenly distant, age old trade routes stifled, alienated it from its neighbourhood and not the least created the `Chicken`™s Neck` corridor that connects it to the rest of India. This forced confinement would have robbed the region of its spirit and disoriented a great deal of its sense of purpose. Perhaps the perennial problems the place festers with are a symptom of the unnaturalness of this turn of political history.

The international boundaries around the northeast entity cannot be redrawn. To expect it thus would be un-pragmatic if not foolhardy, notwithstanding the fact that they were drawn out of colonial needs of the expanding British Empire and not so much out of the region`™s intrinsic needs of the time. The `Act East Policy` then, viewed from this perspective is a way of unwinding to the extent possible without disturbing any international diplomacy equilibrium, some of the claustrophobic confinement that the northeast has been condemned to by a certain brand of politics of a certain era. Trade, in our opinion, is only one important part of the story, for there is also an equally important strand of the same story that tells of a way to get the northeast breathing freely in its organic environment, and in the process restoring some of its lost inner spiritual self.

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