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North East and ASEAN

It should be reassuring to the north eastern states that they will for the first time play a big role during the ASEAN summit in January. India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj called the governors of all north eastern states to a meeting recently with the objective of integrating foreign and domestic policy concerning these states. Raveesh Kumar of the ministry said that the interactive discussions at this meeting would feed into the deliberations of the ASEAN summit. Suggestions made by governors were prioritised. As a first step, Bhutan will open a consulate in Guwahati. India’s Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal initiatives will be highlighted in its Act East policy. The new initiatives will be run by some specific departments.

For the first time Assam will host an ‘Invest ASEAN’ summit. Heads of states of all ASEAN countries will take steps to create economic linkages between the NE and ASEAN countries. The Northeast Development summit was recently opened by India’s President Ram Nath Kovind. The top priority focused at the summit was connectivity. Security challenges in the north eastern states have diminished in the recent past as the militants are on the retreat. There have been several years of misunderstanding between the Northeast and mainland India. The trilateral highway through Myanmar should open by 2020. The same goes for the Kaladan multi-modal project, which is currently lagging because of the unrest caused by the Rohingya exodus. With Bangladesh, the connectivity linkages that existed before 1965 would be revived. Northeastern music and dance groups will travel more, particularly to ASEAN countries. Funds are being earmarked from the other departments to upgrade medical colleges and hospitals in Assam and Meghalaya to receive patients from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Finally, areas which need an inner line permit to travel will be reduced. Thus, there will be emphasis on making the Northeast the gateway to the East.

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