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HARMFUL TO NORTHEAST REGION

INDIA’S HOSTILE ATTITUDE TOWARDS CHINA

                                                    By Dr Kuvezochi Hoshi 

 

 

Ever since the humiliating defeat of India in China-India war (1962), India’s attitude towards China is that of hostility. Nehru’s Panchsheel policy (peaceful co-existence with neighbors) was largely blamed for allowing China to take advantage. It permanently bridged the trust, at least on the Indian side. After that war, India’s attitude towards the northeast region became fragile. History is clear that in that war, as Chinese intrusion came as far as Tezpur, Nehru literally gave up the entire Assam. (Northeast formed Assam province in British India period). It infuriated the top leaders of the Northeast at that time. It alienated the Northeast region emotionally. Northeast people stopped trusting the mainland Indians.Mainland Indians always suspected the people of Northeast; particularly the Nagas because of the Federal Government of Nagaland’s connect with China in 1967.

India’s Northeast policy in the past sixty plus years has been largely on military perspective, dictated more by Indian military top-shots posted in the region than politician statesman. China has remained the centre of focus in all the strategic planning concerning the northeast region. Myanmar is our immediate neighbour in the entire stretch of the eastern border. It is only in the north that the northeast region shares its borders with China.All the same, India never trusts China. It blames China for the burning Northeast. In the same vein, India blames the Northeast people because of the region’s emotional proximity with China.To mainland Indians, people living in the region are simply ‘people of the Northeast’ and ‘not Northeast Indians. That is because most ethnic people in the Northeast assert their own independence. Naga independence declaration pre-dated India’s independence.

            India’s China policy is just two words policy – “Hostile Attitude”. This emanates from the fact that after the 1962 war, India developed a highly suspicious nature and became super-sensitive at the very mention of China. The hostility did not result into another full scale physical war but it definitely generated long-standing mutual ‘Cold War’ between the two giant nations. It procreated inherent, dormant hostile attitude that often manifested in border stand-offs. The latest in case was the Doklam stand-off in 2017. None doubted the military capabilities of both the nations. However, in the Doklam stand-off, while China expressed confidence of giving another befitting defeat to India, India only talked of giving tough fight to China but fell short of saying, India could defeat China. The three months Doklam stand-off ended abruptly on August 29, 2017 just few days to BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in China. Although India claimed diplomatic victory, restoration of ‘status quo’ proved that it was a no win-win for both. Actually, both China and India did not want physical war. The actual war between China and India is economic power war. Both knows very well that victory in physical war will not make either China or India great but economic power will. China is the second largest economy by GDP (Gross National Product) in the world. India emerged as the world’s fastest growing major economy in FY 2015 and 2018. The competition for economic power between the two most populous nations has gained momentum. India is a large consumer nation. PM Modi repeatedly said, none can take 125 crore Indians for granted. China is a producing nation. It cannot afford to lose Indian market. That is the equation. There will be no China-India war. It is India that is always making a war cry on slightest provocation. 

            China’s economic influence in her immediate neighbors and South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)has already taken deep roots. India, though late, finally realized that China’s threat is not just at the border. In fact, China cleverly kept India engaged in the border by enacting volatile situation in the border on-and-off, while expanding her economic influence, deep into all her immediate neighbors and South East Asian countries. India woke up as late as in 1990s, only to find herself cornered from all angles. India’s obsession with turbulent Kashmir and northeast took heavy toll, to say the least.  India’s wake-up call came only in 1991 when the GOI adopted ‘Look East Policy’ with an aim to counterweight that Chinese influence in the region and beyond. After Modi took over as the PM of India, he took the policy to next level as ‘Act East Policy’ (AEP).Regrettably, even after almost two decades, the policy failed to take-off, in the sense that northeast region is yet to feel the difference out of the policy. Nothing has changed at ground as a result of AEP. This may be because, northeast occupies just ‘special reference’ space in India’s larger scheme of Act East Policy. If AEP’s focus is truly on NE, it has to start from NE and not Delhi. The power of implementation should be a shared power between the Centre and the NE States.

Though India claims that Northeast region as integral to India, the region has remained her most neglected. The region has been tagged insurgency infested. Lack of peace has been largely attributed for lack of development. The Northeast region has diverse ethnic inhabitants, each indigenous inhabitant harbouring its own political aspiration for independence as in the case of the Nagas and others or autonomy in some others. Ever since India’s aggression of Nagaland in 1955, the entire Northeast has remained a military zone. Draconian laws like Disturbed Area Act, 1955 and Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act, 1958 continue to remain in force. Northeast is also cut off from the rest of the world by Inner line Regulation, 1873. India’s Northeast policy is that of reluctance, largely dictated by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). In January 2017, GK Pillai, former Home Secretary, GOI stated that MEA has great reluctance to open up the Northeast. This reluctance policy has deprived Northeast of foreign investment. India on her side failed to humanize the region by systematic economic planning. So far, the GOI’s funding of development projects in the Northeast has been haphazard and half-hearted, abandoning many multi-crore projects half-way. Transparency and accountability for development projects in Northeast hardly exists.

           

Northeast cannot develop without opening up to foreign investments. It is high time that the MEA review its ‘reluctance policy’ to that of ‘welcome policy’. India’s hostile attitude towards China, as far as Northeast is concerned, does more harm than good to India. India can build a diplomatic bridge with China better by opening up the northeast. India should open up to China to invest in the Northeast. China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiatives, re-christened as “Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI)” if extended to Northeast en-route to South East Asian countries is one project that can change the entire face of the northeast by creating another economic corridor. It will not harm but augment the AEP.(BRI is a development strategic program that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between China and Eurasian countries by the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt, SREB as well as the 21st century Maritime Silk Road). India had earlier rejected the proposal fearing China’s growing influence out of this ambitious program. India also objected when the land-based BRI made its transit through the Pakistani controlled Kashmir named China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Experts have termed India’s refusal to BRI as not in India’s interest for the reason that it gave China free hand over the great initiatives. Experts also encouraged that it would help India’s interest better if she joins the BRI and play its effective role to check China’s undue influence in BRI.

India should stop gambling with Northeast but use the region to her advantage to scale new heights for better diplomatic relationship with China. Northeast is China-friendly, at least in attitude. It can play a useful leveraging role between China and India. This is something worth exploring and exploiting in the larger interests of India and Northeast in particular.

(This is a personal opinion and in no way reflect the views of the political party (NDPP) this writer belongs).

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