a report


  Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi addressing the Seminar

Chair: Ambassador Leela K Ponappa, Former Deputy National Security Advisor, Govt. of India

Mr Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS

Welcoming the participants, Mr Wasbir Hussain said that the issue of connectivity between Northeast India and ASEAN in the backdrop of the Look East Policy has been engaging the minds of people in the Northeast for quite sometime. He said there is a growing realization among people in the region that there has been a shift in focus in the Look East Policy from trade to wider economic and security cooperation, political partnerships, and physical connectivity through road and rail links. He added things were a bit more uncertain as far as connectivity with China is concerned and that was largely because of the continuing trust deficit between the two neighbours.

Introductory remarks:
Dr D Suba Chandran, Director, IPCS

Dr D Suba Chandran said that the Northeastern region can be thought of as an engine of growth. He said that linkages could be thought not only at the physical level, but in different levels. The linkages between Northeast India and the Southeast Asia could be explored in terms of physical connectivity like roads, airways etc., cultural groups sharing borders, and sports as a medium of connectivity. He thanked Mr Wasbir Hussain for collaborating with IPCS in organizing the seminar.

Dr Jayanta Madhab, Economist, Former Executive Director, Asian Development Bank

Dr Jayanta Madhab believes that the Northeast will develop faster if India builds the land routes to Myanmar, Laos and South West China linking the markets. Though the Northeast do not have any surplus except tea which in any way the Chinese do not drink as they have different tea, the biggest benefit will be tourism, employment and small trades. Dr Madhab said that nothing has been done so far on backward linkages, but something, somewhere it has to be started. The Government of India must be asked whether it is interested or not, he added.

According to him, Indo-China Trade is currently worth US$ 100 billion and growing at break-neck rate, that of Indo-ASEAN is about US$ 50 billion and growing at 22 per cent per year. “Our ports on eastern coast cannot handle such a projected volume. Ultimately the land route will have to be opened up and I truly believe that the much awaited destiny of Northeast to be the land bridge between the prosperous India and Pacific Rim/China is just around the corner. When all the countries find it beneficial to trade and a large number of citizens in both the countries are benefited, the other issues like the border becomes secondary and may even get settled”, Dr Madhab said.

Chairperson’s Remarks:

Chairing the session, Ambassador Leela K Ponappa, former Deputy National Security Adviser, said that while talking about connectivity between two regions, we have to consider the mindset of the people of the two regions. She mentioned three key points of view expressed by the participants during the discussion: i) Just to start the process of connectivity, ii) Backward integration, and iii) Do we have the right type of connectivity?

Ms Ponappa said that during 1988-93, the Govt. of India did a lot that went into improving India’s bilateral relations with Myanmar. She said Myanmar is a vital link between Northeast India and the ASEAN. “The Indian government is currently fully engaged with Myanmar and relations are stable.” She mentioned about the visit of the Myanmar delegation to Shillong in January 2000, conceptualization of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project in Myanmar, about economic activity taking place through the Tamu-Moreh road.

She stressed on the need for backward linkages between the region and the Indian mainland. She said facilities for export-import must be put in place before a road comes up.

“Absence of a road does not prevent an aggressor to become aggressive. But India has a long way to go, and there is the need of road to extend both to Southeast Asia and China. India needs to determine how it is going to handle it”, she said. Mentioning about the failure of the Guwahati-Bangkok international flight, she pointed out the absence of world class tour packages as a reason. She expressed that instead of romanticizing about the Stillwell Road, it requires a very rational approach as far as cost-benefit is concerned. She said that regarding India’s connectivity, we need to think about both land and sea – roads and waterways.

  A view of the participants during the seminar

Chair: Shri P P Shrivastava, Member, North Eastern Council

Speaker: Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor in Chinese Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Dr Srikanth Kondapalli talked about China’s past support to Northeast rebels and felt such support could still exist. He said that border dispute between China and the Northeast is still unresolved. China has engaged very high level of investment for peripheral concerns. Prof Kondapalli said that the Chinese economy is world’s second largest economy and in the next 40 years time, it will be the world’s largest economy.

“The major worry for us today is, China is going to be a magnet in terms of industrialization and infrastructural projects. China is going to knock at the door sooner than later while in terms of infrastructure we are still legging behind”, he said. As far as the sovereignty factor is concerned, India is more sensitive, he added. He also talked about possible Chinese diversion of the Brahmaputra and said that the issue should not be ignored by the Indian government.

Speaker: Mr S P Kar, IPS (Retd.), Former IGP, Assam

Mr S P Kar said that the grave concern to India’s national security is the steadily growing encirclement of India by the Chinese military presence at and the virtual occupation of strategic points around India. He said that India has a 15-year plan to modernize security, to raise two strike corps (90,000 strong), building of strategic roads close to or right up to the Macmohan line. He mentioned about India’s Blue Water Navy and its plan to complete the Sittwe project. He feels that it is not averse to use force in a limited war to establish geo-political and geo-economic dominance.

Chairperson’s Remarks:

Chairing the session, Shri PP Shrivastava, Member, NEC said that the need of the hour is to improve the delivery mechanism and tackle the frustration of the youth. He thinks that productive entrepreneurship from the youth is needed, and only then available infrastructure would be put to proper optimization.


Chair: Mr BG Verghese, Author and Commentator

Mr Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS welcomed the Chief Minister and the participants. Then, Dr D Suba Chandran, Director, IPCS gave an Introduction on the book to be released by the Chief Minister. This was followed by the Release of the book, “An Alternative Strategy for Southeast Asia: Looking Through India’s Northeast” by the Hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Tarun Gogoi.

Address by Shri Tarun Gogoi

After releasing the book on the occasion titled ‘An Alternate Strategy for Southeast Asia: Looking through India’s Northeast’, the Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi said, “Connectivity also involves a connect between minds of people across our borders.” He stressed on the need for improving road-air-water connectivity between the Northeast and Southeast Asia. He also talked about cultural exchanges between the region and reopening of the Stilwell Road for the economic development of the region. Mr Gogoi said: “I am in favour of reopening of the Stilwell Road. Security considerations should not hinder efforts at reopening of this key road.” The Chief Minister emphasized that connectivity is linked up with economic development.

Chairperson’s Remarks:

Veteran journalist and author BG Verghese urged the Indian government to go ahead and improve ties with the Southeast Asian nations and China. He said building roads is easy but putting in place a workable travel regime between nations in the area is a complicated process that must first be tackled by the governments in the region. He also stressed on the need for ‘connectivity of the mind’ and cultural connectivity among people in the neighbourhood.

“The diversion of Brahmaputra and its worse impact is a wholly exaggerated view”, Mr Verghese said. He was against a China fixation and felt a 1962-type skirmish between India and China may not occur again. “We should remove our sense of fear and should stretch our hands to China,” he added.

He emphasized on infrastructure development, without which the country will not be benefitted even if the Stillwell Road is opened. He said that for trade and commerce with Southeast Asia, it is important to connect through Bangladesh. “This would help development in the region and development will further promote security”, he felt.

Vote of Thanks

The seminar concluded with the vote of thanks expressed by CDPS Director Mr Wasbir Hussain.

Other prominent people who attended the Seminar included P C Haldar, former Director, IB, R Ravindran of the South Asia East Asia Group, Singapore, PP Srivastava, Member, NEC, and Prof Baladas Ghoshal, Distinguished Fellow at IPCS.