Guwahati Initiative: Northeast as the Centre of a Regional Universe
Guwahati, 11 & 12 November 2013
a BRIEF REPORT
The Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and the Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Guwahati, jointly organized two regional dialogues titled ‘Peace Audit: Northeast’ and ‘Guwahati Initiative: Northeast as the Centre of a Regional Universe’ on 11 and 12 November 2013 at Guwahati.
Peace Audit: Northeast
Dr D. Suba Chandran, Director, IPCS addressing the participants during the first session of the Peace Audit. Seen from left: Ms Chitra Ahanthem, Associate Editor, Imphal Free Press, Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS and dr N G Mahanta, Associate Prof., Gauhati University
The Government of India should revisit its policy towards peace processes in the Northeast. This was the general sentiment expressed in the dialogue titled ‘Peace Audit: Northeast’. The dialogue mainly deliberated on (a) the state of the peace processes in the Northeast with perspectives from Nagaland, Assam and Manipur; (b) New Issues (Demand for Separate State, Ethnic & Communal Divide, Spread of Naxal Ideology and other Issues) and (c) Strengthening the Processes: The Road Ahead.
The intense regional dialogue including participants from New Delhi and the entire Northeast aimed at auditing the multiple peace processes in the region. Why have the peace accords signed between the various groups and the State have not resulted in achieving peace was the primary focus of the dialogue, on which various speakers and participants provided their inputs.
Dr NG Mahanta spoke on the multiple peace processes within Assam and highlighted the challenges and issues in four peace processes vis-a-vis the Bodoland, ULFA, Karbi Anglong and NC Hills. He concluded that “though we are winning the battles but not the larger war in achieving positive peace.” The question of whether the Union government should have a moratorium on talking to new factions was discussed.
Ms Chitra Ahanthem, Associate Editor with The Imphal Free Press, and a leading media voice from Manipur underlined the conflict as not only between the State and non-State actors, but also a series of infighting within these groups. She also highlighted the problem of splinter groups, and what generally happens after the government signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The non-State actors occupying the civilian space and the issue of child soldiers were also discussed. The dialogue also focussed on the issue of taxation by the various non-State actors, which is complied not only by common men, but also even by the government officials.
Besides the individual perspectives from the States in the Northeast, the dialogue also focussed on new issues. Mr HN Das, former Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam highlighted the various factors underlying the new demands for statehood in the Northeast. Prof Monirul Hussain from the Gauhati University underlined the growing communal and ethnic divide in a historical perspective and said that unlike the partitions of Punjab and Bengal, the partition of Assam has never been well researched and published. Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director of the CDPS explained the dangerous phenomenon of the Naxal spread into the Northeast in terms of their linkages with local non-State actors along with multiple pull and push factors.
Mr PP Shrivastava, former Member of the NEC, Mr SP Kar, former IG of Assam Police and Mr SG Kashyap, Special Correspondent, Indian Express, underlined the road ahead in terms of what could be done. Mr Kashyap called for halt to the easy availability of weapons which is encouraging insurgency in the Northeast. Eminent participants of the dialogue also include Mr PR Chari, IAS (retd.), Visiting Prof., IPCS, Mr Jayadeva Ranade, Distinguished Fellow, IPCS, Amb Ranjit Gupta, Distinguished Fellow, IPCS, and Lt Gen AS Lamba (retd.), former Vice Chief of the Army.
Mr Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director of the CDPS and Dr D. Suba Chandran, Director of the IPCS concluded that this initiative is a part of a series that both the organizations from Guwhati and New Delhi respectively will be working together in terms of bringing the strategic communities of the region and New Delhi close.
Guwahati Initiative: Northeast as the Centre of a Regional Universe
Mr Pradyut Bordoloi, Minister of Power, Industry and Commerce, Assam delivering his inaugural address at the 'Guwahati Initiative'
The national dialogue titled ‘Guwahati Initiative: Northeast as the Centre of a Regional Universe’, focused on (a) how the Northeast perceives itself as an integral centre of a larger region including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and parts of China; (b) tried to gather inputs from the Northeast on India's Look East policy; and (c) tried to find out issues that the region would like to pursue relating to connectivity in achieving its larger economic and strategic interests. Inaugurating the national dialogue, the Assam Power, Industry and Commerce Minister Pradyut Bordoloi made a forceful plea for reopening of the Stillwell Road and said there is need to push for a Northeast-Kunming Trade Corridor.
Mr Bordoloi said: “The recent communiqué in the aftermath of the visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh to China only says about Kolkata-Kunming Economic Corridor, which is little disappointing to us in the northeastern region. Not that we do not want Kolkata to be an economic corridor to Kunming but then, is it an exercise to bypass the northeastern region?” Mr Bordoloi called for reopening of the Stillwell Road. He said, “It is almost despicable and laughable argument one hears among the Babus of North and South Block that if you open the Stilwell Road, the Chinese will swamp the markets with their cheap goods. That the road will bring in AIDS, narco-terrorism and AK 47s for our rebel outfits, as if they are preventing all these by not opening the road”. Mr Bordoloi added: “For us, development is a pre-condition for peace – it is the key requirement. Today we are all honestly hoping that the government of India will take notice of the combined view emanating form the northeastern region and we must be pragmatic about it.”
Presenting his inputs, Mr Jishnu Baruah, Principal Secretary to get the Chief Minister, Assam, said, “India may exploit the existing deep civilizational and spiritual ties with Myanmar by greater and closer people to people contact as well as strengthening of cultural bonds.” He stressed on the need to hasten the connectivity between the Northeast and the neighbourhood to break the impasse and rid the isolation of the region.
Mr MP Bezbaruah, Member, North Eastern Council (NEC), said there is need for stakeholders from the Northeast to be part of the decision-making process on the Look East Policy. Mr Bezbaruah said tourism can turn around the economy in Northeast and suggested three transit circuits: Northeast Circuit, a Combined Circuit with Myanmar and then a Southeast Asian Circuit.
A view of the participants during a session of the Dialogue
Mr R S Joshi, Chairman, Federation of Industry and Commerce of the North Eastern Region (FINER) said that we need to be comfortable domestically, then only we can think of cross-border trade. There is a need for a Northeast Banking Policy on the lines of the Northeast Investment Promotion Policy (NEIPP 2007). The Foreign Direct Investment Policy (FDI) needs to be made attractive by introducing extra concession on taxes for the NE region, he added.
Ambassador Ranjit Gupta, Distinguished Fellow, IPCS said that the Northeast will be the biggest beneficiary if the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) initiative is moved forward.
It was agreed by the participants that there should be a study of comparative advantage for Northeast from the Look East Policy. The seminar was participated by academics, senior Govt. Officials, retired army chiefs, students, business heads, and senior journalists.