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Political resolution, first

Political resolution, first
Speaking to an audience in Shillong via video-link on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the Centre is trying to make the Northeast a gateway to Southeast Asia and has made massive investments for the same. "We have to make the Northeast a gateway for Southeast Asia," Modi said while adding that his government has initiated major infrastructure projects in the region, including an investment of Rs 40,000 crore to improve roads and highways, besides 19 major railway projects and improving the supply of electricity. Admittedly, this government has taken greater development initiatives in the region than previous incumbents with its 'Act East' policy, which seeks to enhance trade ties with South-East Asian economies. As part of its plan, the government aims to use states on India's eastern border to facilitate this process. To promote greater trade with South-East Asia, the Centre and allied State governments must work towards the better development of our Northeastern states, and the process begins with Manipur. Sharing a 355 km-long border with Myanmar, the state remains India's most economically feasible to the south-east. Following bilateral talks in late August, both India and Myanmar signed key agreements for the construction of 69 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa section of the trilateral highway connecting India, Myanmar, and Thailand and improvements on the Kalewa-Yargi section. The trilateral highway will connect Moreh, located in the Chandel district of Manipur, to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar.

Despite the government's apparent development push in the region, what it sorely needs is a political resolution of the problems that have beset in the region, and Manipur is a perfect example of the challenges that confront the BJP government both at the Centre and State. The imposition of a draconian law like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) not only alienates the local populace but also disincentivises the process of fixing a corrupt and inept state police. Without a capable police force, the maintenance of law and order falls into disarray, as often witnessed in a state like Manipur. "The roadway between Moreh in India and Tamu in Myanmar is the core of trade and connectivity to South-East Asia.

India's planned trilateral highway starts from Moreh and is designed to cross Myanmar, extending all the way to Mae Sot in Thailand," write Hamsini Hariharan and Priyadarshini Ravichandran, policy experts at the Takshashila Institution. "Legalising, securing, and streamlining this existing natural trade route will ensure economic connectivity remains and benefits the state." But to achieve these goals, the Centre and the State government must work together and initiate a whole host of institutional reforms. A greater focus must also be expended on achieving viable and long-term resolutions of various territorial disputes involving the different tribes. The past two years have seen the state suffer economic blockades and violent clashes, which were a result of territorial conflicts between the various tribes in the state. Speaking of such disputes, in August 2015 the Government of India signed a historic peace accord with the former militant group, National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). Although the larger public is not privy to the details of this "final solution", it is apparent that claims of "recognising the sovereign rights of the Nagas" could prove problematic for other democratic stakeholders in the region. A few days after the framework agreement was signed, NSCN (IM) General Secretary Th Muivah rejected "rumours" that the outfit was backtracking on integration and sovereignty, saying they were the "core issues", and there could be "no solution whatsoever" without fulfilling the two issues. It is the question of integration, which may prove to be a major stumbling block in the negotiation process. The NSCN (IM)'s primary demand has been for the creation of a "Greater Nagalim", comprising of "all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas", along with the state of Nagaland. The state of "Greater Nagalim" will include districts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur, as also a large tract of Myanmar. Voices of protest have been heard from various state governments in the region. There are rumours abound that New Delhi has conceded to demands for greater political autonomy for the Nagas, including a separate constitution, and a flag, among others.

These fundamental political challenges need to be resolved first, and greater economic investment in the region is only a means towards securing the region for India and expanding trade links further south-east.
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