9th December 2023
The Red Lantern Analytica is organising a three-day ‘The Siang Dialogue 1.0’ conference, from 8th to 10th December. In the second session titled ‘Lohit’s Longitude’ was held on 9th December 2023, where discussions were held on understanding India’s North East as gateway to the “Act East policy”. The speakers were Shri Sujeet Kumar, Member of Rajya Sabha; Ajay Dutt, Member of the Delhi Legislative Assembly, Major Amit Bansal, Defence Strategist and Dr. J. Jeganaathan, Associate Professor at JNU.
Kritika Rajput, Research Associate at RLA, commenced the session by elaborating on the topic. Shri. Sujeet Kumar sent his best wishes for the session in his video message. While highlighting the importance of ‘The Siang Dialogue 1.0’. he said, “Northeast region of India holds immense political & geopolitical importance. India’s ‘Act East Policy’ cannot be successful unless we focus more on the Northeast”.
“There has been clear mention of the Northeastern region in Mahabharat and Buddhist texts”, Major Amit Bansal said. He further added that since ancient times Northeastern region had cultural and political connections with the rest of India and that all seven states in the Northeastern region have their own challenges. He also mentioned that India’s Act East Policy is based on the 4 C’s – Culture, Commerce, Connectivity, and Capacity Building.
Major Bansal stated, “One of the biggest challenges we are facing in the Northeast is the almost eight decades of insurgency”. He stressed that each tribal group in Northeast has its own unique culture, hence, we need to understand the mindset of tribals of the Northeast region as 35% of India’s total tribal population lives in seven states of the Northeast. He further shared his personal experience of visiting seven Northeastern states where he witnessed rampant poverty in villages. “Lack of development is also a big challenge in the region,” he added. He asserted that insurgent and separatist groups are of concern. Also, for a long time in this region, there is lack of development and the benefits are not reaped by common people.
Major Bansal suggested that the Government should focus more on strengthening connectivity between the Northeast and the ASEAN countries to make the Northeast an engine of growth & also to counter China’s growing influence in ASEAN countries. “Act East Policy has to move very fast and China’s challenge for India consists of security, culture and trade”, he further added.
Major Bansal also highlighted that China has border disputes with its almost every neighbour. He warned that China’s ambition of becoming the only superpower in Asia will pose a significant challenge in the Northeast. “China works in a sense of superiority. It is destroying Tibetan culture by destroying monasteries. By doing so it’s damaging Tibet’s spiritual connection with India,” he reiterated. He concluded by saying that to counter China’s influence in the ASEAN region we need to act very fast with our “Act East Policy” and increase our trade with ASEAN countries and it can be done only by developing the Northeast region at a rapid pace.
Ajay Dutt highlighted how closely Northeastern states are linked with the rest of the country and extended neighborhood and are extremely rich in natural resources. He said, “The region is very diverse and has extensive cultural, historical and economic connections with Southeast Asian countries”. He stressed how Northeastern states act as a bridge to the Bay of Bengal and Himalayan regions. There is need for exploring the hidden economic potential of the Northeast region and strengthening the connectivity of the region with Southeast Asia & other nearby countries, he further added.
Dr. J. Jeganaathan, moderated the session and also delivered the keynote address. He elaborated on how connectivity and infrastructure are the biggest challenges in the region as one has to circumvent Bangladesh in order to transport goods, and other requirements. “However, in the last 10 years, Northeast has emerged as a bridge in connecting India with the Southeast Asian region and trade is the game-changer in the region”, he stated. He also added that the physical & digital connectivity in the region has expanded significantly in the last 5 years. He concluded by saying that we need to focus more on Myanmar, Bangladesh and ASEAN countries in light of China’s increasing presence in the region. “In the coming decade, CCP China is set to lose trade in the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN markets. The void will be filled by India and the Northeast region of India will be the flag bearer of such a dynamic development,” he said. “There needs to be more substance in India’s Act East Policy with respect to strategic aspect,” he added.
RLA plans to have the next Siang Dialogue in Arunachal Pradesh. Following the guest speaker’s address, there was an in-depth Q&A session. Ms. Kusuma, Research Associate at Red Lantern Analytica delivered the vote of Thanks. The session closed after the vote of thanks was delivered.