Vimarsh: Talk on ‘India’s North East : From Periphery to the Core’, by Hon’ble Sh Himanta Biswa Sarma, Minister of Finance and Health in the Government of Assam, at the Vivekananda International Foundation, 11 Jan 2019
Welcome Remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director (VIF)

Hon’ble Sh Himanta Biswa Sarma, Minister of Finance and Health in the government of Assam, Distinguished Guest, Members of Media, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the first lecture of 2019 in the Vimarsh series. I would like to wish you a very Happy New Year.

It has been the endeavor of the VIF to encourage a dialogue with the public on issues of national importance. In the past, we have had a number of eminent personalities address the public from this platform. Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming Sh Himanta Biswa Sarma, Finance and Health Minister in the Government of Assam. I am grateful to him for having accepted our invitation at a short notice. He will speak on the subject 'India's North East: From Periphery to the Core'.

Sh Himanta Biswa Sarma has been a member of Assam Legislative assembly since 2001. He has been a minister in the government since then, having occupied many portfolio. Having developed differences with the then Chief Minister, he joined the BJP in 2015 and played an important role in the BJP’s election campaign in 2016. He was appointed the cabinet minister in the current government. He belongs to a literary family of Assam and has been active in politics of sports. He has a Ph.D from Guwahati university. He was a practicing lawyer in Guwahati High Court during 1996-2001. He takes keen interest in sports. He was elected as President of Badminton Association of India in 2017. He is also the President of Assam Cricket Association.

Dear Friends, the North-East region is one of the most beautiful areas of our country. The region hosts diverse cultures, religions, ethnicities and languages. Located in the North-East corner of India, it is surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Bay of Bengal. It is in this region that Indian landmass meets South-East Asia. The strategic importance of the North-East region for India cannot be overstated. The developments in this sensitive region have a major impact on India’s security and wellbeing. The region is situated at the crossroad of many cultures. It is a dynamic region where political, economic and social trends are ever changing. The development of the North-East region has been a priority for all governments.

Sadly, the politics, porosity of borders, and its very diversity have brought the region much turbulence in the past namely; insurgencies, terrorism, ethnic violence etc. The lack of infrastructure and connectivity has also kept the region relatively underdeveloped. Aspirations of the people of the region remain unfulfilled. Unfortunately, the North-East has often been seen as being on the periphery of India. The people in the North East harbour a feeling of neglect and marginalization.

The region has been wracked by uncontrolled migration from neighboring countries. That has changed the demographic pattern in many states particularly Assam. Dealing with illegal migration remains a huge challenge. In the recent past, the government has taken several steps, including the updation of the National Register of Citizen in Assam, the setting up of a High-Level Committee of eminent persons with a wide mandate to suggest the safeguard of Assamese identity in face of the challenge of illegal migration.

The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in Lok Sabha has created some misgivings and unrest in Assam in recent days. The Home Minister has assured that the Bill will not confined to the state of Assam alone. The interest of the Assamese indigenous people will be taken care of. The government has also moved a bill to give ST status to 6 communities of Assam.

Going beyond the immediate issues, we need to approach the region from a wider perspective. North-East is a land of great opportunity. India’s Act-East policy can facilitate connectivity of the North-East region with South-East Asia. This has the potential of bringing the fruits of development to the North-East region through its integration with the relatively more developed economy of South-East Asia. The North-East of a complex place. The rest of India does not have a full comprehension of the region. This lack of understanding some times causes misgivings and tension, which are often amplified by social media. Hopefully, the situation is changing now. The insurgencies are coming under control, security situation is improving, infrastructure is being built and the development is being given priority. Yet, the region remains vulnerable to internal and external shocks.

I am confident that Sh Himanta Biswa Sarma will enlighten us on the developments in the North-East region and educate us how the North East region is moving from the periphery to the core of India.

I request Sh Himanta Biswa Sarma to address us.

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