Following the independence of India, the chequered political history of the North East Region (NER) has long been disputed and debated across diverse fora. The amalgamation of the NER into the Indian mainland has stood up on the national agenda. The geographical zone of the NER likewise makes it a fulcrum for India’s commercial prospects and connectivity in the Bay of Bengal region. NER likewise holds political and strategic significance and is considered to be the “growth engine” and the “Economic powerhouse” for India. The region consists of eight states (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Nagaland) and is connected to India via “Chicken Neck” (a narrow corridor) near Siliguri. The chicken neck is further known to be a vulnerable zone of the country’s geography.
The region is one of the most culturally diverse areas globally, and the educational and social attainment levels of the people in this region have been remarkably high. NER states are recognized officially under North Eastern Council (NEC), an agency that focuses on the development. The region is largely agrarian and majority of the population engages in agriculture though the manufacturing sector is still in the developing stage. A report by World Bank states that in comparison to the West Bengal state of India, the prices of goods in NER have shot up to 60% in rural areas and 30% in urban areas. However, NER has met with significant pauses in boundaries, restricted connectivity and congested roads that have impediments to growth. This has capped the overall development including economy and trade. Due to the scarcity of sufficient economic infrastructure such as ease of market access, communications and transportation, industrialization in the NER has not flourished the way it deserves to.
In the past many ethnic discrepancies were put forth by the British such as the Inner Line system constructed numerous identities in the NER with discordant interests. The today the foremost hindrances in the development of NER include stringent laws and limitations for travellers, ethnic unrest with the recent issue being the Manipur conflict, flawed communication systems, environmental issues, insurgencies, lack of preservation of monuments and heritage spots, scarcity of publishing and advertising on matters concerning the NER etc. Geographical seclusion from the rest of India has further placed the region at a significant impediment. Hate crimes and racial discrimination against the NER people in India have also been a paramount concern besides the increased drug abuse among the youth in the NER region. The extensive-scale migration from Bangladesh has led to manifold economical, political and social problems. There has been a further dissatisfaction among many of the NER states to expand their internal economic resources and their ongoing dependence on the central government contribution. Also, across-the-board disenchantment of the bureaucracy is both the reason and outcome of the cool-as-a-cucumber path to development. That being the case, it is essential to develop a suitable development approach considering the matter-of-fact circumstances inclusive of socio-cultural backdrops.
Ergo, the Government of India (GOI) should construct the fundamental base for administrative, social and physical infrastructure for strengthening the growth effectiveness in the NER. The influence of Startups and Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), the implementation of “Para-diplomacy” by signing Memorandum of Understandings (MOU) with other countries in consideration from the GOI and leveraging soft power through Public Diplomacy (PD), Cultural Diplomacy (CD) and Digital Diplomacy (DD) could drive the NER to become a “New brand India”. This could additionally help in revitalizing the NER tribal Culture and traditional craftworks placing it at the global podium. The region also has all the necessary attractions together to provide tremendous possibilities for a concrete tourism cincture. This could contribute to more employment opportunities in the tourism domain and other sectors too. Though NER accounts for only 2.8 % of Gross domestic product (GDP) it could soon become the “bright spot” for India’s growth. The enhancement of “Sunrise sectors” and “Sustainable circular economy” could likewise bring a “new” sunrise to the NER. By the same token, hydroelectric power, tea, natural gas and oil industries and recognizing the region’s potential in traditional medicine to improve India’s pharmaceutical industry also needs the required push forward by the GOI.
Nevertheless, stumbling blocks such as communication, inland waterways and transport systems within the NER states must be given focus to improve upon. Connectivity in the NER is thus essential for attaining the goals for both “self-reliant India” and “ease of living”. This could also improve the local employment of the NER so that the people in the region do not have to necessarily move to other parts of India to look for employment. The NER consists of a rich human resource base so it is likewise imperative to promote young entrepreneurs, who could further add up to boosting employment. It is therefore crucial to tap the enormous potential of the NER, which could just be the onset of an enduring path to a more significant growth in the coming decades paving the way for a remarkable shift in this century.
Furthermore, India being placed in an important geostrategic location within South Asia and the Indian Ocean being a vast theatre, must recreate a more spirited role. The country via NER must engage vigorously with its East and Southeast Asian neighbors through the “Act East Policy“, “Neighborhood Policy“, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). India could as well collaborate with Japan, as the latter believes in the idea of a ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’. The role of Japan in the NER in developing the industrial epicenter and building roadways will forbye harness the commercial prospects of the region. Similarly, the expanding strategic importance of the “Indo-Pacific” makes the NER very crucial for India to recreate an ampler position and explore all proportions of cooperation with the countries of the region. Recently, as India assumed the G20 presidency, during the 2023 summit, G20 nations were urged to invest in the NER to unlock its towering potential. Importantly, through this, GOI through investment and amelioration in the NER could certainly help in curtailing the Chinese influence.
The economic vision for the NER is based on its solidities. The region could see a substantial advancement in the near future if suitable steps are taken by the GOI for a balanced and integrated strategy with further focus on the welfare and benefit of the society. Ministry of Development of North East Region (MDoNER) should further be reformed with reinvigorated ideas. Nonetheless, despite the Chequered Geography, the future prospects for the NER looks promising and optimistic. The development of smart cities and emerging technologies, the NER vision 2035 and the extensive improvement of the investment ecosystem by countries including Japan could certainly be a game changer and revive the bright spot for a “New India in making”, bringing about a “New revolution in development” in the NER.