Vimarsha: Northeast as the Backbone of India’s Act East Policy - A talk by Lt Gen (retd) Nirbhay Sharma
Printer-friendly versionSend to friend

Vimarsha - VIF’s monthly series of talks on issues of contemporary strategic relevance - was held on 13 May 2015 with then Governor of Arunachal Pradesh His Excellency Lt Gen (retd) Nirbhay Sharma sharing his perspective on the development of the Northeast in the light of India’s ‘Act East’ policy. Lt Gen S K Sinha, former Governor Assam and J&K, chaired the session, while several prominent experts among the audience interacted with the speaker.

General NC Vij, Director, VIF, presented an illuminating overview of the developmental imperatives of the Northeast from a strategic perspective. He underlined that the Northeast, sharing borders with a number of South Asian countries, is also India’s gateway to Southeast Asia and beyond. He further laid emphasis on improving connectivity not only between the northeast and the rest of India but also within the region itself. The Director opined that the lack of easy access to the northeast, coupled with political neglect by the federal government over long years, has led the Northeast to being one of the least developed regions in the country. He stressed that the centre needs to accord development of the Northeast a high priority, keeping in view its growing geo-strategic significance, especially the ‘Act East’ policy, and a whole set of security related risks, among others, insurgent movements, illegal migration, gun running and drug peddling. Gen Vij also maintained that the policy, per se, is directed towards achieving strategic balance in the region.

H.E. Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma’s incisive presentation sought to address a broad gamut of issues including, the reasons for over six decades of developmental lag of the northeast, the imperatives of development of the Northeast and the adjoining region, challenges in developing connectivity, issues related to governance, ecological issues, and India’s China policy, among others. Combining the perspectives of both a strategist and an administrator, Governor Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma said the Northeast is an important land bridge to India's immediate and extended neighbourhood – a natural partner. It therefore holds the potential to become an engine of growth for the entire region. Differentiating between India’s old ‘Look East’ policy and the present ‘Act East’ policy, the Governor said whereas the ‘Look East’ policy sought to engage only the ASEAN countries, the ‘Act East’ policy is much wider in scope especially as it encompasses the entire Asia-pacific region. Also, while the ‘Look East’ policy focused on India’s economic integration with the Southeast Asian countries, under the ‘Act East’ policy India is seeking deeper political and strategic engagements with countries in the region. Relying more on soft power – socio-cultural dialogues, diasporas, food security, space security etc, the ‘Act East’ policy is more action-driven and result-oriented as compared to the policy in its earlier avatar.

While the present efforts towards connectivity were discussed by the Governor in quite some detail, he also deliberated upon the challenges in developing connectivity through the region. Strategic mistrust among major powers, exorbitant costs in developing infrastructure and lack of effective implementation of the projects were cited among prominent challenges towards connectivity. He, however, added that integration within northeast is a prerequisite before the region integrates with other countries. While underscoring the need for functional synergy between planning and execution, H.E. Nirbhay Sharma also dwelt on the need to develop local capacities and remove the sense of alienation from people’s minds. A substantial part of the talk was also devoted towards discussing India’s China policy wherein the Governor said how to deal with undefined and contested borders, yet economically engage with China is a real challenge before the government. He further advised that a balanced approach would best serve India’s interests vis-à-vis China.

Lt. Gen. S K Sinha, former Governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir, who presided over the session, also shared his perspective on a broad range of issues, including the perceived threat from China and the subtle changes that are gradually seeping into India’s approach to its foreign policy. Following the observations by the Chair, members of the audience actively participated in a lively Q&A session with the speaker.

Event Date 
May 13, 2015
Contact Us