The Northeast Region (NER) of India, comprising eight states, has taken center stage in reinforcing two fundamental pillars of India’s foreign policy: the Neighbourhood First policy and the Act East Policy (AEP). Situated adjacent to South Asian nations like Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, as well as Southeast Asian countries including Myanmar, the North East Region (NER) holds immense strategic significance, particularly amidst China’s regional dominance.
Established in 2017, the Act East Forum (AEF) has served as a platform for the NER to strengthen its ties with Japan, aligning closely with both India’s AEP and Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ initiative. This collaborative effort aims to bolster connectivity within the region and extend it to Southeast Asia, effectively countering China’s influence.
Moreover, recent geopolitical shifts have underscored the NER’s significance, with India’s AEP evolving as a response to China’s assertive diplomacy. The region’s role in shaping India’s security strategy vis-à-vis China cannot be overstated.
Transitioning from a conflicted past, the NER is witnessing a transformative shift towards a progressive society, marked by initiatives like the partial revocation of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) in 2022. Youth in the region are prioritizing education and economic opportunities over violence, laying the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous future.
Recognizing the abundant resources and talent pool in the NER, there is a growing emphasis on economic development and regional integration. Market-oriented strategies and the exploitation of natural resources position the region as a key trading hub between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
However, challenges persist, particularly concerning China’s aggressive stance along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and its support for insurgent groups in the region. Urgent measures are needed to safeguard India’s national security interests and strengthen diplomatic ties with neighboring nations.
The North East Industrial Development Scheme (NEIDS) and the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana 3.0 are among the key programs launched by both the central and state governments.
These initiatives focus on providing training in various sectors such as solar technology, bamboo industries, smart agriculture, smart cities, antique restoration, agro-based commercial products, and tourism-related skills. So far, 83 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and vocational education institutions have been established to create employment opportunities.
The Digital North East Vision 2022 aims to harness digital technologies to revolutionize the lives of people in the NER. It emphasizes eight digital thrust areas, including digital infrastructure, services, empowerment, promotion of electronics manufacturing, IT and ITEs, digital payments, innovation, startups, and cybersecurity. Moreover, efforts are underway to ensure mobile connectivity in all remote villages in the NER.
Another significant initiative is the establishment of India’s first National Sports University, providing a platform for budding athletes to excel in their respective fields.
The HIRA model, focusing on Highways, Inland, Railways, and Airways (HIRA), aims to enhance transportation infrastructure in the NER and beyond. The central government’s plan to link Southeast Asia through the Asian Highway and the Trilateral Highway Project involving India, Thailand, and Myanmar is expected to further boost connectivity.
This project, which will connect 38 Asian nations with Europe through Turkey, holds immense potential for the NER, with the proposed highway passing through Manipur and Assam, connecting Thailand via Myanmar.
The North East Council (NEC) is actively engaged in addressing security challenges and fostering inter-state cooperation to spur economic growth in the region. As geopolitical dynamics shift, India’s engagement with Southeast Asian nations becomes increasingly crucial, offering a counterbalance to China’s influence in the region.
With Southeast Asia emerging as a central stage for geopolitics, there is a pressing need for India to strengthen its relationship with SEA nations through its Act East Policy (AEP).
This strategic move not only helps counter China’s influence in the region but also enhances the region’s criticality in the context of India’s AEP. Furthermore, recent developments, including declining insurgency and increased development activities, bolster hopes for growth and prosperity in India’s NER, underscoring its strategic importance in balancing China’s rise.