Look East Policy vis-à-vis Northeast Economy


Dr.  A.K. Neog

In this post an attempt is made to peep into some aspects of the much publicized Look East Policy and Act East Policy (AEP) with reference to Indian economy in general and North East India (NEI) in particular. The NEI comprises of the eight States viz. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. Together these States cover an area of 2,63,184.69 sq.km (or 2, 63, 184, 69 hectares), accounting for 8.01% of India’s total geographical area. Populationwise, the region has 45.59 million persons as per 2011 census, accounting for 3.77% of all – India. The Net State Domestic Product (at current prices) of the region stood at Rs. 2,17,961 crore in 2012-13 i.e. 2.60% of all-India Net Domestic Product. The North East India stretches from the foot-hills of the North-Eastern Himalayas and is surrounded by five foreign countries viz., Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal and Myanmar. About 96% to 98% of the boundary of the region account for international borders, which offers opportunity for cross border trade and tourism.

AEP is India’s foreign policy with the East and South-East Asia. The genesis of AEP, however, is the Look East Policy (LEP) which was initiated in 1991. The two initiatives are also steps forward in laying a strong foundation for the economic trajectory of the laggard North Eastern region to take-off.


* Dr A.K. Neog is a former Economic & Statistical Advisor and ex-officio Additional Secretary to the Government of India

Doing Business in States of India : In December 2014, at the Make in India workshop State governments agreed to a 98-point action plan for business reforms. Simplifying regulatory burdens on business at the State level is an important component of doing the Ease of Doing Business in India initiative. The objective of the 98 point action plan has been to lay out the first of a series of recommendations targeted at increasing transparency and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of various government regulatory functions and services for doing business in India.

The  World Bank and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Government of India conducted a study to take stock of reforms implemented by the States, and brought out the report “Assessment of State Implementation of Business Reforms”, which was released in September 2015 at New Delhi. The report covers the reference period from First January to Thirtieth June2015 and covers thirty two states including union territories. It ranks the States after measuring the scores obtained by them on the following eight areas of reform viz. (i) Setting up a business, (ii) Land allotment and obtaining construction permit, (iii) Environment compliance, (iv) Labour compliance, (v) Obtaining utilities connection, (vi) Tax registration and compliance, (vii) Carrying out Inspection, and (viii) Enforcing contracts. On the basis of implementation performance of reforms, the 32 States are classified into 4 categories viz. (a) Leaders i.e. States with an overall implementation status (score) of 75% and above, no State attained this status. (b) Aspiring Leaders (Score between 50% and 75%) Seven States i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan. (c) Acceleration Required (Score between 25% and 50%)-Nine States viz. Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharastra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telengana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. (d) Jump Start Needed (Score between 0% to 25%)- 16 States including seven North Eastern States viz. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. Study was not conducted in Manipur due to the prevailing condition. It is worth noting that none of the states has complied with above 75% implementation of the 98-point action plan. However, Gujarat scored highest at 71.17% ranking first. The scores and rank obtained by the States of the North East are presented in table 1, which are arranged in descending order. All the States of the region are laggards and Arunachal scores the lowest in the country. The findings of the study is a benchmark for future studies.



Table 1 : Doing Business in North East India-Scores and Ranks, January-June 2015

States Score (%) Rank
Assam 14.84 22
Tripura 9.29 26
Sikkim 7.23 27
Mizoram 6.37 28
Meghalaya 4.38 30
Nagaland 3.41 31
Arunachal Pradesh 1.23 32

Source: The World Bank, http://www.worldbank.org

Table 1 shows that Assam is in the category of states (scoring 14.84% )between 0% to 25%, branded as states where jump start is needed to move the process of reforms so that investors are attracted. Such low scoring is an eye opener to State leadership and governance. It is a reflection of the business-as-usual approach and policy paralysis.

The tyranny of the State and its organs inherited at independence perpetuates, resulting in aversion to reform. Investors in particular and households in general are  forced to take sub-optimal decisions in such a state of affair. Due diligence is required to carry out big-bang reforms in institutions and mindset of the leaders and administrators of the North East. This can help the make-in-India movement to take off in Assam and in the region. The first generation reforms were launched in the country in 1991, and the rest of India is now talking about second generation reforms. It is intriguing that Assam lags desperately behind in the implementation of first generation reforms itself. The silence of opposition voices, trade and industry seems to lend support to the hypothesis that non-reform pays them as well, since the entire North East with no manufacturing base is a buyers’ market and a traders’ paradise. Ordinary consumers pay the prices through their noses. However, one ray of hope is that the young generation wants changes, modernization and wide reforms to usher in development.

Make in North East: The North East India has many inherent strength, and new opportunities are emerging. The new NDA government at the centre has made several promises for the development of the region. It should lay down a road map to fulfil the same. Inclusive development implies ‘make-in-North East India’ to be launched. While inaugurating the hornbill festival in December 2014, Prime Minister Modi has declared the North Eastern region as a Natural Economic Zone. Programme should be brought out linking this with make-in-India. ‘Smart Cities Mission’ should gather momentum in its implementation. Speedy completion of infrastructure projects is vital as geography has denied the region of sea links and transport. Once these are in places, tourism activities can blossom even in villages. Meghalaya’s Mawlynnog village which was recently awarded the Asia’s Cleanest Village award resulting in tourists boom is a role model in this regard. Likewise, Sualkuchi near Guwahati, the largest silk village in Asia is another place of pride which has got potential for ‘make in North East’. New momentum needs to be injected in the development of Sualkuchi weaving industry. New programmes need to be identified in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura.

Look East Policy: Prior to 1991, India’s foreign policy was pro-West and the East was neglected. After 1991, the policy tends to focus on pro-East and South-East Asia. The Look East Policy (LEP) has been one of the latest buzzwords in the context of economic development of the North Eastern Region of India, even though the policy was initiated by then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1991 i.e. almost more than two decades and a half ago. The policy was inaugurated in 1992 when Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Finance minister. Geographically, India is located in South Asia. However, the LEP is a turning point in India’s focus towards East Asia, South-East Asia and the countries in the Pacific Region; although India’s relationship with the countries of the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN) is said to be central to the LEP, with Thailand occupying a central place. The major objective of India’s LEP is stated to be to develop economic relationship with the ASEAN. However, in the context of India’s North Eastern Region its primary objective is said to be to take advantage of the new opportunities in trade and investment by improving socio-economic and political relationship with the neighbouring countries. The region is a springboard platform for the LEP to takeoff as there are geographic and economic advantages due to its proximity to ASEAN.

The LEP has passed several phases, the first phase from 1992 to October, 2003; while the second phase started from November, 2004. In the first phase India sought trade, political cooperation and institutional links with ASEAN (viz. Indonesia, Malayasia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia). In October 2002, the first India-ASEAN business summit was held at Delhi which was addressed by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Since then, the summit became an annual affair. However, the Policy could not make much head way during its first phase.

The second phase of LEP started with the India-ASEAN car rally (covering its nine countries other than Philippines) from Guwahati to Batam island in Indonesia covering about 8000 km road distance in 20 days during November- December, 2004, aiming at promoting trade, investment and tourism and culture. The rally was ceremoniously flagged off by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 22 November, 2004 at Guwahati. The rally had demonstrated not only the feasibility of direct physical connectivity but also the keenness towards India as there were over 250 participants from the ASEAN countries and 3 teams from India. LEP was thus successful in its attraction.

The second Indo-ASEAN car rally was kicked-off on 26.11.2012 at Yogyakarta in Indonesia. This is the second edition of the rally. It was organized jointly by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The rally was performed to commemorate 20 years of ASEAN-India relationship in the run-up to the India –ASEAN commemorative Summit. The motto of 2012 car rally was “accelerating growth exhilarating possibilities.” The rally made a stopover at Golaghat town (Assam) on 16.12.2012 along the National Highway 39 and 37. There was ceremonial flag down at Sarusajai Stadium in Guwahati  on 17.12.2012.

It is worthwhile to briefly take stock of some important milestones in regard to ASEAN since the start of second phase of LEP. These are:

  • Signing of first framework for bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Thailand in October, 2003.
  • Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with Malaysia during Prime Minister’s visit to Malaysia in December, 2004.
  • Strategic Partnership Agreement with Indonesia signed in November, 2005.
  • Process of bilateral agreements with Myanmar since 2004.
  • CECA with Singapore signed on 29th June 2005, came into force from First August, 2005.
  • Ten days State visit to Laos and Cambodia by President Pratibha Patil in September 2010 as an effort to boost India’s Look East Policy.
  • India has constructed some major projects in Cambodia.
  • Several bilateral agreements with Laos.
  • A number of bilateral treaties and agreements with Vietnam.


There are however, other engagements of LEP than those with the ASEAN. Important among these are – BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) instituted on 6th June, 1997. Its members are Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar. The first summit of BIMSTEC was held in July, 2004. The MGC project (Mekong-Ganga Cooperation) is another engagement instituted in 2000 at Vientiane in which India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are involved. This project aims at revitalizing and developing overland trade, tourism, communications and transport. There is a proposal under this project to set up a railway line from Delhi to Hanoi.

It may be mentioned that in the North East – and East Asia, the major economies are China, Japan and Republic of Korea (ROK) and it would be worthwhile to glimpse at them also. The year 2006 was celebrated as the India-China Friendship Year. The state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao during November 2006 was the highlight, in which a joint declaration was issued on strategic and cooperative partnership between India and China. Comprehensive economic engagement, bilateral investment protection and promotion agreement and the agreement to enhance trans-border connectivity and cooperation through expansion of border trade by strengthening of existing routes and exploring additional routes are major aspects of the declaration. In fact, border trade through Nathu-La was resumed during the year.

It may be added that an ASEAN-China accord was entered in November 2004, but China preferred smaller ASEAN Group, without US, India, Australia and New Zealand. India is preferred in the ASEAN because it is a democracy.

India’s relation with Japan to involve in the LEP has been one of its weaknesses. However, the relation got a fillip since the visit of India’s Prime Minister to Japan during December 2006. The two countries agreed on Special Economic Partnership Initiative, which has Dedicated Freight Corridor and Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor as its principal components.

Republic of Korea (ROK) is an important economic partner of India. India’s relation with ROK acquired momentum after the visit of the then President of India Dr. A.P.J Adbul Kalam during February 2006 at the invitation of the President of ROK. This was the first ever visit of an Indian President to ROK. Four agreements were signed during Dr. Kalam’s visit.

A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and ROK has come into effect from the First January, 2010. In fact, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebration on 26th January, 2010. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Lee also agreed to enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries to a Strategic Partnership. It may be added that, to the Indian industry ROK can provide an important gateway into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) region.


The third phase of LEP can be said to have started from 2014.

ASEAN – A Hub-and-Spoke Model : Asean developed pattern can be described as a hub-and-spoke model, where ASEAN countries are the hub, and India along with China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zeland  are the spokes.

India- ASEAN Trade : India-ASEAN trade has emerged as the cornerstone of India’s Look East Policy. In this regard, it may be worthwhile to look at India’s trade data on exports, imports and trade balance with ASEAN. Data originally available from the World Bank show that between 2003 (the year of India’s engagement with ASEAN) and 2013, India’s trade deficit with the ASEAN rose from 1,615.4 million dollars to 4, 423.8 million dollars, rising by 2.74 times during the said ten years. Countrywise trade balances are given in table 2.


Table 2: India’s Trade Balance (in million dollars) with ASEAN in 2003 and 2013

Country 2003 2013 Change
Brunei (+) 4.5 (-) 725.8 Deficit
Cambodia (+) 20.0 (+) 124.0 Surplus
Philippines (+) 212.0 (+)1060.0 Surplus
Thailand (+)193.0 (-)1272.0 Deficit
Vietnam (+)345.0 (+)3161.0 Surplus
Singapore (-)165.0 (+)7162.0 Surplus
Indonesia (-) 840.2 (-)9426.0 Deficit
Lao PDR (+)0.3 (-)50.0 Deficit
Malayasia (-)1101.0 (-)3834.0 Deficit
Myanmar (-)284.0 (-)623.0 Deficit
Total ASEAN (-)1615.4 (-)4423.8 Deficit

Source : The Financial Express, 11.9.2014 (Page 7).

Note :  (+) indicates surplus trade balance.

(-) indicates deficit trade balance.

lt is observed that in 2003 India had surplus trade balance (exports greater than imports) with 6 ASEAN members, which declined to 4 in 2013. These nations were Cambodia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. India’s trade balance with the remaining six Nations were in deficit, and was more than the surplus with the four. Hence the overall trade balance with the ASEAN had not been in India’s favour. It is a cause of concern. The reasons for the adverse trade balance are –ASEAN is enjoying more market access in India, lack of India’s competitiveness in manufactured goods, high cost of Indian infrastructure, labour market inefficiency and high cost of doing business in India.

India-China Trade: India-China trade is a part and parcel of Look East Policy. Infact, China which is the largest economy of Asia and second largest global economy is now India’s largest trading partner. It is also the fastest growing economy. India’s imports from China in 2013-14 accounted for 18.7% of India’s total imports, while India’s exports to China accounted for 13.1% of India’s total exports to the world. India’s imports from China during 2000-01 and 2013-14 increased at an annual compound growth rate of 31.2% which was higher than 24.9% growth rate of exports to China. India’s export-import ratio with respect to China for 2013-14 stood at 0.29 (value of the ratio below one indicates imports more than exports). In 2012-13, India recorded the largest bilateral trade deficit of 39.4 billion dollars with China, which raised major concerns. This, however, had fallen to 36.0 billion dollars in 2013-14. In 2014-15, the trade deficit jumped to 48 billion dollars or four times India’s exports to China. The deficit was 1.1 billion dollar in 2003-04.

India-China Initiatives : Epoch making initiatives are taking place in India-China economic relations with the landmark visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in the third week of September 2014. Important outcomes are the signing of agreements for setting up of Chinese industrial parks in India which will facilitate 7 billion dollar investment, bilateral cooperation in railway infrastructure (modernisaiton of Indian railway stations, platforms, enhancing of speed of trains etc.), and signing of buying orders by Chinese companies with Indian firms to buy about 740 million dollars of Indian products. It is important to mention here that the goal set by Prime Minster Narendra Modi is “INCH (India-China) towards MILES (Millennium of Exceptional Synergy)”.

During Modi’s three-day visit (14-16 May, 2015) to China, as many as 26 business agreements worth over 22 billion dollars were signed between Indian firms and their Chinese counter parts. The agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) covered a wide range of sectors including power, renewable energy, infrastructure, steel, small and medium industries.

India-Mongolia Initiatives: During the two day visit to Mongolia, Prime Minister Modi announced on 17 May 2015 a one billion dollar credit line to that country for infrastructure development and expansion of economic capacity.

India-Japan Initiatives : A new chapter has been written in India’s bilateral ties with Japan with the visit of Prime Minister Modi there during August 30 and September 1, 2014. A pact called “Partner City Affiliation” Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the two countries. The MOU provides for cooperation in heritage cooperation, city modernization and cooperation in the field of art, culture and academics. Under the pact, Varanasi will be developed as a “Smart city” with cooperation and experience of Kyoto the Japanese “Smart city” which is a confluence of heritage and modernity. The pact is in line with Modi’s vision of building 100 smart cities across India. Mr. Modi’s Japan visit concluded with an assurance of 35 billion dollar investment for India over five years in bullet trains, smart cities, cleaning Ganga, development of industrial township; and tie-ups in oil and gas sector including joint procurement of LNG.

India-Japan Trade : India is a marginal player in the foreign trade of Japan. As per provisional data, India’s exports to Japan in 2013-14 accounted for about 2.2% of India’s total exports’ while imports from Japan accounted for 2.1%. The bilateral trade in 2013-14 was about 16,294 million dollars (exports 6814 million dollars and imports 9,480 million dollars). Trade balance is not favourable to India, export-import ratio being 0.72 in 2013-14.

India-South Korea Trade and Initiatives: South Korea is an important partner (15th rank) of India having free trade agreement (FTA) effective from 2010. According to Economic Survey 2013-14, the share of South Korea in India’s total trade in 2013-14 stood at 2.18% with an export-import ratio of 0.34 indicating India’s trade deficit.

South Korea is an indispensable partner in India’s Act East Policy and in its economic modernization. Prime Minister Modi visited South Korea on 18-19 May 2015 during which seven agreements and MOU including one on Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to taxes on income were signed between the two countries. South Korea agreed to give 10 billion dollar to India for infrastructure development including smart cities, railways, power generation and transmission.

India-Myanmar Trade : Myanmar is India’s most immediate ASEAN member. India’s imports from Myanmar in 2013-14 stood at around 1392 million dollars compared to 1018 million dollars in 2010-11, accounting for 0.3% of India’s total imports in both the years. As against, India’s exports to Myanmar during the said years were very low, being 785 million and 321 million dollars respectively. The share of India’s exports to Myanmar as a percentage to India’s total exports also happened to be 0.3%; the export-import ratio being 0.56.

Emerging Opportunities from Look (Act) East Policy to North East India : The agricultural and  manufacturing base of the North East (NE) India is too weak to generate an exportable surplus, except for tea in Assam. The region does not have any Special Economic Zone (SEZ), National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) or industrial corridor. India’s Economic Survey 2013-14 presents data on percentage shares of 14 states out of 35 states of the country which have an individual share of at least one percent in India’s total exports of 3,12,610 million dollar exports in 2013-14. None of the NE states figure in the list, which shows the insignificance of the region in the export market. West Indian States Gujarat tops in exports with a share of 23.5% followed by Maharashtra with 22.9% and Tamil Nadu with 8.6%.

Myanmar is the ASEAN country bordering with India. Myanmar government had indicated in August 2014 that the country could be used by India as a corridor for inland trade, or its sea-route. Myanmar is a strategic trading partner of India in terms of both imports and exports in the NE region.

NE India is a food-deficient region even after sixty seven years of independence despite fertile soil and abundant rain water. India is a net exporter of food grains like rice and wheat. Procuring foodgrains to the NE region from surplus States like Punjab or Andhra Pradesh is very costly due to high cost of long transportation. Myanmar is an exporter of rice and pulses like lentil at the global level. Experts have suggested that import of rice from Myanmar to States like Mizoram, Tripura, etc can result in cost saving ranging from 55% to 25% per quintal. It would not only be cost saving in financial terms but also time saving, hence economically optimal. This would benefit the government to reduce subsidy and consumers. However, encouraging local production will be more beneficial in the long run.

Emerging New Visions and Initiatives: Look East Policy was launched in the last decade of the 20th century. Since then some new permutations and combinations are coming up over and above the engazement with the ASEAN. Some such visions and initiatives are indicated below.

BCIM Economic Corridor: BCIM stands for Bangladsh-China-India-Myanmar. Initiated in 1999, originally it was known as “Kunming Initiative”. The idea is to link Kunming (south-west-China) with Kolkata (West Bengal), passing through Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Mandalay (Myanmar). It is also called ‘K to K’ initiative or K 2 K i.e. Kunming to Kolkata. If it materializes, peripheral benefits may touch NE consumers through availability of cheaper Chinese Imports.  However, restoring the Stillwell road would be beneficial for the North East.

Kunming city is the capital of Southwest Yunan province of China. Each year, South Asian Expo is held by China in the city and a South Asian country is made the ‘country of honour’ to highlight its business potential. A five-day Expo was held from June 12, 2015 where India was announced to be  made the ‘country of honour’. (FE, 10.6.2015 P2). This is the third consecutive year that the Expo was held by China to expand its trade and business footprints in South Asia where it is looking to firm up influence with huge investments. India took part in the said event and said that it is committed to improve trade relations with China as it would the mutually beneficial and help (FE 14.6.15) further the ‘Make in India’ initiative that provides a golden opportunity for Chinese investors. Minister of State for external affairs V.K. Singh led a 200 member business delegation to the China-South Asia Expo, where about 300 deals worth 55 billion dollar were said to have been signed. It would be interesting to know how many of the delegation team were from North East India and how many of the deals were to benefit it.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECEP) Agreement: The RECEP Agreement is between ASEAN plus six Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Partners. The six partners are Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Newzeland. Negotiations between these two sets of countries commenced in May 2013  and is going on.

India – ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA)- Services and Investment Agreement: Conclusion of this agreement was announced at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit on 20.12.2012. The FTA on services and investment was scheduled to be signed by the end of August 2014. In the 12th India-ASEAN Meeting held at Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar), India’s external affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stated that India would soon draft a 5 years action plan starting from 2016 for enhancing connectivity and cooperation in diverse fields.

Act East Policy : It is  obvious that India has been spending very long time in translating the Look East Policy into practice. Time has come to act upon it. It is therefore no surprise that Sushma Swaraj, external affairs minister during her visit to Vietnam in the last week of August 2014 stated that “We will have an Act East Policy”. Its progress must be monitored. ‘Make in India’ is a key  component of Act East Policy as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his South Korea visit in May 2015. Act East Policy is India’s foreign policy with the East and South East Asia. Act East Policy is a step forward in laying a strong foundation for the progress and economic trajectory of North East India. It is envisaged to bring new investment, future development and larger value creation opportunity. This will also insulate the region from the trend of cross-border radicalization and insurgency. The Policy will lead to new export-import opportunities and a lower cost of living.


The Union Budget 2015-16 in its para 67 states the following:

“The ‘Act East’ policy of the Government of India endeavours to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations in South –East Asia. In order to catalyze investments from the Indian Private Sector in this region, a Project Development Company will, through separate Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), set up manufacturing hubs in CMLV countries, namely Combodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.” In October 2015, the NDA government has mooted the idea of integrating the North East with regional production and value chain as the region is a natural partner in the Act East Policy. Reportedly, it has chalked out a composite long-term plan for successful implementation of the Policy. The plan includes improving relations with the neighbouring countries, augmenting communication network, developing infrastructure in the North-East region, among other things. The implementation of the plan is said to be monitored by the Prime Minster himself.

Look East, Link West Vision: Prime Minister Modi while launching the “Make in India” worldwide campaign in the third week of September 2014 added the term ‘Link West’ to the expression ‘Look East’ Policy. It is said to be India’s global vision. He said that foreign direct investment (FDI) should be understood as “First Develop India”. Investors should not view India merely as a market, but consider it as an opportunity to develop India by investing in manufacturing and other projects as well as creating jobs, in turn, increasing the people’s purchasing power to boost demand for their products. In this context, Modi’s 3 Ds i.e. Democracy, Demographic Dividend and Demand for domestic goods are relevant.


Emulating the Models of Development of East Asia:

At the heart of successful industrialization of the East Asia lies two famous models. One is the model of “labour-intensive and resource-saving industrious path to economic development”, attributed to Karou Sugihara (EPW, August 21, 2004 pp3854-3860). The other is “bamboo capitalism” or “parallel development” based on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows, which create intricate intra-regional production networks through linkages like exchange of parts, components and other intermediate products, and hence a horizontal network of trade and capital (Eric Teo Chu Cheow, Strategic Relevance of Asian Economic Integration; RIS Discussion Paper, March 2005). Integrating with East Asia is to dovetail these models, which in essence are based on the economic virtues like industriousness, diligence, hardworking giving farewell to laziness, indolence, slothness etc. In other words, ‘business as usual’ will not do. This has special significance for the laggard regions like the North East India.

Constitutional Framework for Trade, Commerce and Exchange in India : The framework for foreign affairs, trade, commerce, etc. is enshrined in the Constitution of India (Part XI) regarding the Distribution of Legislative Powers between the Union and States under Article, 246; and more particularly in its Seventh Schedule, which embodies three lists viz.-List I- Union List, List II-State List, and List III-Concurrent List.

Items like foreign affairs, diplomatic-consular-and trade representation, participation in international conferences, treaties and agreements with foreign countries, trade & commerce with foreign countries, import & export across customs frontiers, inter-state trade & commerce, currency, foreign exchange, banking, insurance, financial instruments, railways, highways, airways, shipping, telecommunications, internet etc. come under the jurisdiction of the Union Government. On the other hand as prescribed in the State List, the States are concerned with internal trade & commerce, markets & fairs and industries (except defence industries and the industries the control of which is declared by the Parliament). Agriculture, animal husbandry and fishery, maintenance of State law and order, good governance etc. come under the State List.

Announcement of LEP, per se, is only a necessary condition for market access by the entrepreneurs in the North East but cannot be a sufficient condition. The sufficient conditions are mostly the provision of the items mainly infrastructure, listed above, which are primarily in the domain of the Government of India. Hence availability of word-class infrastructure embodied with the state of the art technology is a sine qua non for the successful implementation of the LEP. This should be made available in right quantity, at right place and in right time. Trade presupposes both exports and imports. Exports and industrialization are synonymous. Exports is not possible if there is no industrialization. Under the Industrial Policy of July 1991, the basic responsibility for industrial development lies primarily with the State governments. The Union government supplements their efforts through various schemes and incentives, as already mentioned elsewhere. Hence the States have a larger role to play. The governments have to develop export environment, be investor- and exporter-friendly. They have to be pro-active to formulate their action plan for exports and timely execution.


Exportability of the North East India : In dealing with regional analysis of the NER, it is desirable to keep in view two general laws-one from Economics and the other from Geography. The general law of Economic Equilibrium states that “everything depends upon everything”. The first law of Geography, according to Waldo Tobler (1970) states that “everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant”. In fact, the two laws are similar.

The North Eastern Region (NER) is at the periphery of the National geography but nearer to trans-border countries. The region is a part of the country. The regional economy is embedded in the national economy. World Development Report, 2009             (P. 119) has documented that “openness and integration are most beneficial for smaller or landlocked countries, whose access to world markets depends on neighboring  countries”. Land lock character of the NER is often cited as one of the causes of its underdevelopment. As a corollary to the above observation of the Report, it can be said that since a country embodies its backward areas, opening of such areas, ipso facto, would benefit from openness and integration. Hence, LEP would benefit the NER in trade and development.

In this context, it may be worthwhile to see what the mainline trade theory says. Heckscher-Ohlin theorem is one such theory which predicts that with trade, a region would specialize in the production of those goods which uses its most abundant factor and export the same. Accordingly, there would be shift in factor employment in different industries that will ultimately lead to factor price equalization across trading countries. As a corollary to this theorem, in the context of a country like India, it can be hypothesized that as a State engages more and more in foreign trade its factors of production will tend to shift from the import competing activities where factor returns are lower to the export activity where it is higher. This will result in higher development of those States, which align their production structure to foreign demand. In other words, it is envisaged that greater the degree of openness of a State economy, the greater its level of development.

Further, it is also worthwhile to mention gravity models of Regional Economics. A Key factor in horizontal growth or expansion is interaction between major cities, which form the nucleus of the development pole. In an open economy (i.e. without physical and manmade barriers), closer is the distance between two cities, more is the interaction (or influence or gravitational pull or attraction), hence contribution. In other words, distance is inversely related to interaction. But interaction would be directly related to the size of two cities. Gravity models predict that the expected influence of a trade centre (say) j upon trade centre i is directly related to the size (product) of i and j and inversely related to the distance between them. Gravity models also reflect that low-value commodities are supplied over shorter distances.

Trade takes place in space and time. Geographically, North Eastern Region is ideally and advantageously located between the rest of India and East/South-East Asia as it offers shorter distance and time for international trade. With the internet breaking physical boundaries, this advantage can only increase. The ASEAN countries too are looking towards Indian economy for trade and investment.

It is to be kept in view that distance is also a function of quality of means and modes of transportation. Distance over space and time improves with the improvement of roads, railways, river/water transport, air service, telecommunications, terminal and handling facilities at ports/depots, customs warehouse etc. These are also the factors which determine the degree of openness of Indian States to trade. This is a weak point in the geography of the NER, which needs to be eliminated or bring to an optimal level in order to enable the NER to reap the benefits of LEP and openness. This calls for creating a ‘level playing field’ in infrastructure and connectivity which is of global standard. Otherwise, the entrepreneurs of the NER would be forced to take on international competition from a position of weakness.

One may now ask a question – how much open is the NER? When geographical boundaries are aggravated by conflicts within the region or between India and bordering countries involving State action, economic transaction costs tend to rise because of insecurity and risk to life, property and investment, and jurisdictional and political uncertainty. Conflicts and territorial disputes reduce openness. Since such conflicts/disputes are not uncommon  in the NER, to that extent it hampers openness.

To know ‘openness’ from economic angle,one needs information on economic parameters. Direct data are not available for the region. However, an exploratory study with indirect data (Sugata Marjit, et.al: EPW March 3, 2007) has found that in 2002-03 Assam was the “Least Open” State in the Indian economy. This, of course, needs further research as Assam’s exports of tea, jute, etc had been going from the pre-independence times. The above study has further revealed that exporting States (eg. Tamil Nadu, Punjab, etc.) are getting richer over the years and the others falling behind. It has also highlighted that inter-regional income disparity of Indian States are more correlated with the openness of the States over the years. This is in line with the truism viz. ‘early bird  catches the worm’. In competition, one must keep this in mind.

If one asks a question on the major items of exports from the NER, historically the answer is tea and jute. Within NER, Assam is the only State that has got a long history of exports, particularly, of tea and jute. State wise data on exports and imports are not readily available. However, as per data of the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence & Statistics (DGCIS), Assam’s share in total exports within India in 2002-03 has been 0.19 percent of India’s total exports (against highest Maharashtra’s 21.55 percent), the year in which India’s share itself in the world export was only 0.8 percent. This data show that the NER is on the periphery in the export space, and Assam itself is but a marginal player. Some economist observes that in the tea sector India will be price uncompetitive in a globalised world. However, tea can be both exported and imported. As per a source, India accounted for 28 percent of world tea output and 15 percent of world tea trade till 2002. Given that NER’s tea production accounts for over 50 percent of all India, the above forecast has great significance for the NER’s tea industry.

The government of India liberalised the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) regime in the tea sector by allowing 100 percent FDI in it including tea plantation with effect from 5th July, 2002. It is worthwhile to suggest here that the tea industry in the NER should come forward with proposals to set up Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for tea sector to reap the advantages of economies of scale and global benefits. It has to reduce unit cost of production through productivity gains, capacity building of small growers, streamlining export marketing channels, propagating ‘organic tea benefits’ for health, improving infrastructure etc. All this is feasible through SEZ. This would help not only in the rejuvenation of the tea industry but also in boosting exports. It may be mentioned that according to Chinese experts, tea is tipped to replace coffee and cocoa as the most popular and healthy drink of the 21st century. The Indian tea industry should capitalize on this. The region has potentiality in other agri-products also. According to some estimates, NER is going to be the strongest market, within next 5 to 6 years, for horticulture, passion fruits, organic food, floriculture, orchids, aromatics, medicinal plants and herbs, and fishery products in the South East Asian region. The region should gear up for this opportunity. Nothing, however, is an unmixed blessing. Open trade is a two-way traffic. Some traditional industry like Muga Silk would face threat form Tassar Silk coming form China. The local industry has to undergo improvement in technology and productivity.

On the other hand, the concept of Agri-Export Zone (AEZ) was announced by the government of India in its EXIM Policy of 2001-2002 for the purpose of developing, sourcing and processing of raw materials, leading the finished products to final exports. The AEZ concept envisages ‘partnership’ approach among the players viz. Central government, State government, farmer, processor and the exporter. The AEZs that have been sanctioned for the NER include one AEZ for fresh & processed ginger in Assam, one for pineapple in Tripura and one for flowers (orchids) & cherry pepper in Sikkim. However, the present status of these AEZs are not readily available. It is suggested that the projects should be completed in all respects with a definite roadmap and be made vibrant. The other States should also come up with AEZs on the basis of their inherent comparative cost advantage. There are also four Export Promotion Industrial Parks in the NER, sanctioned till year 1999, one each in Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland but their status is not known. One good sign is that all these are directed towards capacity building to enable the NER to be competitive in the exports market.

Case for entire NER as a SEZ:  Given that geographically (boundary, topography and climate) and economically (in terms of backwardness) the States of the NER share common characteristics/identities, and also given that some export base already exists and new capacity building is coming up, it would be advisable to bring the entire NER into a single mega Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to actualise the vision of LEP (AEP). This would offer economies of large scale, opportunities for specialization, attract FDI, minimize risk and uncertainties, increase the chances of exports of the produce thereby turning the NER into an ‘export hub’, and giving a brand new image to the region. This would also be in line with inclusive growth in geographical sense. Such a concept is also justified from the following point. After the launching of liberalisation policy, the onus of attracting capital and job opportunities lies on each State government of the country. But the States of the NER are too poor to attract capital individually. In the absence of a mega SEZ, it may be surmised that the region may turn up as an EXIM-corridor rather than as an export-hub. Hence the government of India must take investment initiative

Observations and Suggestions : Though the Look East Policy (LEP) was announced in the last decade of the 20-th century, it virtually became visible in the North Eastern Region (NER) of India only from October, 2004 with the launching of India-ASEAN car rally from Guwahati to Batam Island in Indonesia. It has now got a new push with its new Avatar called Act East Policy.


LEP is a paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy. It is an inclusive, outward-looking and trade-creating model of trade and development. The policy offers new opportunities of market access, specialization, economies of scale, transfer of state-of-art knowledge and technology, sharing of development experiences and strategies. LEP would attract East Asian investors and traders to consider NER as a short-cut window to access vast Indian market for trade and investment. LEP has been heralded as the harbinger of change and development. It would act as a mechanism to integrate the economy of the NER with the global economy. However, some shortcomings of LEP have been noticeable. These are failure to involve major players and build economic relationship with them, slow progress of implementation, apprehension of some sections of Indian industry and their nervousness for cheaper imports competing with Indian products etc.

LEP recognizes that major East Asian economies are significantly competitive global producers having complementaries with Indian economy in resources, capabilities and policies. The centre of economic gravity is East Asia and India’s future economic fortune lies in it. However, unless infrastructure and connectivity is improved, governance is responsive and other reforms are undertaken up-front, then Indian entrepreneurs would be unable to take on global competition on an unequal term. The government policies must address these problems to enable the enterprises to compete at local, regional and global levels. To accelerate the forces of economic integration and reap optimal benefits from openness, the followings are essential – institutions of global standard, infrastructure (including information technology with state of the art technology), intervention at the State level to correct the deficits, incentives (in appropriate quantity) to propel up entrepreneurs, and inclusiveness.

In the context of integration of NER, launching of Look (Act) East Policy is, no doubt, a necessary condition but by itself cannot be a sufficient condition. Besides the aforesaid general suggestions, the followings are pertinent for the North East India:

  • Under LEP/AEP, the government should focus on free border trade, long term investment, wider economic partnership, and promotion of mutual commercial interests, tourism and culture to get win-win outcome. NER should be developed both as a tourism and trade hub. Services should also be developed.
  • To woo trade and investment, the governments have to be trade and investment-friendly by creating optimal environment, drawing up roadmap, action plan. Law and order situation should be made congenial.
  • To speed up the process of integration and for outreach the concerned Ministries and Departments of the Government of India (like DONER, Home, Civil Aviation, Finance etc.) should show physical visibility in the NER through regional/field offices at the State capitals.
  • Connectivity through direct flights to the country’s capitals in which India has not made presence so far, be established.
  • The Government of India should encourage foreign diplomatic missions to extend diplomatic/consular jurisdiction by setting up consular offices, branch embassies in the NER to facilitate issuance of Visa.
  • Government should take pro-active initiative in fostering cooperation with universities of ASEAN countries.
  • Setting up of cross-border facilities (including visas), mutual recognition of driving license, vehicle permits, etc.
  • Ministry of Finance and the RBI should expand banking facility with foreign exchange dealings in all the customs points. Customs warehouses, testing facilities etc. should be set up/expanded for better trade facilitation. Foreign Exchange Dealers, currency changers (vendors) from local areas should be encouraged for due registration.
  • Branches of EXIM Bank, Export Credit and Guarantee Corporation (ECGC), etc should be set up in all the State capitals of North East.
  • MNCs including Indian MNCs should be encouraged to widen and deepen their presence in the NER to avail emerging opportunities from LEP.
  • All India Trade & Commerce Associations should make their visibility by setting up their regional branches.
  • Associations of foreign exchange dealers, currency changers, exporters, importers, trans-border entrepreneurs be encouraged.
  • For entrepreneurial capacity building, trans-border entrepreneurial institutes be set up. Asian language departments should be set up at the Universities/institutes of the NER and scholarships/stipends should be given to learn the same, also courses on Asian economy be introduced. Teachers & students exchange programmes, educational excursions should be promoted between the North-East and ASEAN.
  • Overland road connectivity should be improved on both sides of the border. India should revive the Stillwell Road (also known as Ledo-Burma Road) which connects Ledo with Kunming in Yunnan Province in China through Myanmar.
  • Treatment/recognition of the entire NER as a SEZ. Set up a SEZ at the Indo-Myanmar border for resource-based industries like newsprint, wood & its products, agriculture & food processing.
  • Efforts should be made to “sell North-East India” in ASEAN territory.
  • ASEAN food also should be served in hotels and eateries of the North-East.
  • The North East M.P. forum, State governments of N.E. India and the Central Ministers from the N.E. should demand that a dedicated ASEAN –India Trade and Investment Centre with its Secretariat should be setup within the N.E. region.
  • Think Tanks and Civil Society Organisations should watch the progress and momentum of implementation of the Act East Policy so that time overrun can be avoided.


Looking Forward: People of the NER are famous for their hospitality. The region has a good English educated workforce. With higher share of working age population, the region is entering into demographics gift phase. In 2011 census, 35.65% of the total population of Assam (3.12 crore) is under 15-35 years age group. The North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy and various incentives have made NER the least-cost investment destination in the country and allows tax-free returns. The 21st century is declared as ‘Asian century’. Geographical location of NER offers it an unique opportunity under the Look (Act) East Policy to be the doorway to the countries of South East and East Asia, and vice versa a doorway for them into India. Entrepreneurs, investors and MNCs should avail these benefits and opportunities and convert NER into an economic/export hub, not merely an EXIM corridor. Beneath the spectacular success of major economies of ASEAN and ‘Eastasia’ lies the ‘industrious’ model of development which implies practising Asian economic virtues like industriousness, diligence, labouriousness and quickest delivery. Integrating with Asian economy and to stay ahead in competition with them implies not only imbibing the above virtues but also to excel at the global level. Hence ‘business as usual’ work culture and ethics would have to be given bye bye. The workers, entrepreneurs, civil society and governance must awake up. Diligence is at the root of all progress. Given FDI, LEP and new markets, faster work culture only can set in motion a virtuous circle of development which can take off the economy of the NER into a new trajectory of growth.

North East is a natural partner in India’s Act East Policy (AEP). Prior to AEP, East used to start from Delhi though de-jure from NER. It is pointed out by experts that LEP has been implemented by India’s coastal States (i.e West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu) already. These states have gained tangible benefits from the policy at the cost of the North-East. Under the AEP, reorientation of thinking is taking place at Delhi. Focus should now be on the development of the North Eastern States. The Central government along with State government must gear up to improve the state of ease of doing business by implementing action plans.

Select References :

Office of the Economic Adviser,         :    Handbook of Industrial Policy and Statistics, Govt. of                   India, New Delhi. 2006-07.

World Bank, Washington                      :    World Development Report 2009 Reshaping Economic Geography (See p.76, 340-342, 351-353, 356-360)

Sugihara, Karou                                     :    ‘East Asian Path’ in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), August 21, 2004 (pp 3855-3858), Mumbai.

Cheow, Eric Teo Chu                            :    Strategic Relevance of Asian Economic Integration, RIS Discussion Paper (March, 2005)

Marjit, Sugata et.al                                :    Regional Trade Openness Index and Income Disparity – A New Methodology and the Indian Experiment (Special article) in EPW; March3, 2007.

Richardson, H.W.                                  :    Elements of Regional Economics (1969), Penguin Books.

Jha, Veena(ed), UNCTAD                    :    India & the Doha Work Programme–Opportunities and Challenges, 2006, Macmillan India Ltd. (See p. 9. Table 1.1)

Jha, Veena (UNCTAD)                         :    Background & Methodology Note on ‘ India-ASEAN FTA Negotiations: Wrap up Meeting’ 13th March 2006, [Page 3, reference to World Bank Study, 2002 by Ferranti).

fe Bureau                                                :    The Financial Express, January 26, 2010 (See p. 2), 24-7-2014, 10.8.14, 2.9.14, 3.9.14, 23.9.14 & 26.9.14.

Passah, P.M. (ed.)                                  :    In Defence of Regional Economic Development in India, (2006), Akansha Publishing House, New Delhi (See the paper by A.K. Neog)

Neog, A.K.                                            :    ‘India’s Look East Policy- Economic Opportunities and Challenges’ in Abstracts of National Seminar on Look East Policy and North East India held on 26-27 March 2010, organized by NEICSSR, Shillong.

Neog, A.K.                                            :    Prof. N.C. Das Memorial Lecture on Economic Development of North East India : A Glimpse (14th March, 2013) Department of Commerce, Gauhati University.







Rotting that is going unnoticed in Northeast!


Understanding the problem is half the problem solved. A crucial role in region development is played by Women and Children of that region. Northeastern states have not developed to the potential. A reason which is not paid that much heed is women and children issue. Women do not have much say in political sphere and children are malnourished.


Though a lot of women-centric social evil practices which are commonly practiced in large parts of the country are not prevalent in the Northeast. Evil practices such as dowry, sati, female feticide, honor killing, child marriages are non-existent among the natives of the region. The women there are educated and their presence can be seen in almost every professional sphere.

But still however, unfortunately, inspite of their social and economic equality with the men, they have been politically marginalized and are kept away from the decision making bodies. The scenario in this aspect has not changed much over time. There is a dearth of political awareness among the women folk of the region. The women’s participation in the region’s existing institutional politics has been tactfully excluded. The reservation for woman in local elected bodies has achieved mixed bag of success in terms of bringing woman at par with man in the political sphere. The rotation of reserved posts for woman in these elections does the disservice to whole idea by failing to give the women to establish a stronghold in politics..

Estimates suggest that in the north-east region child under-nutrition (U-5) is quite high (56%), and much worse in states like Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. However, household and state levels show the interplay of different factors despite the fact that education and wealth stand out among them. Malnutrition in the north-east region rises with the age of the child, a finding endorsed by other studies as well. Also, size at birth and birth order show significant relationship with the children who are malnourished. We see that children of a higher birth order and small size at birth are more prone to being malnourished.


Empowering women politically will make them participant in the prosperity of the region. A well empowered woman can also take care of nutritional demand of pregnant women and their children. . There are many example in the world like European nations which are prosperous because women are politically powerful there. The region where women are well educated but are not in political sphere is an opportunity loss for wellbeing of the region.

S K Awasthi


North East Institute of Advanced Studies , Assam

Words also matter with good intention


How many times have we heard people justifying “wrong words were used but intention was right”. This is permissible to some extent in private life situation but not in Public life. This is in context of solution provided by centre for resolving ethnic conflict in north east by giving autonomy to various leaders of ethnic communities based on locational and cultural aspect. Though horses for courses approach is going well at present but it is a temporary measure we all know this. The concern here is that we are using the wrong words in writing the solution by dividing the powers according to ethnic identities.

So what can be the solution? Though distributing powers among various leaders is the only solution in eyesight but using Dual citizenship can be the solution which will provide the same solution and also have the legitimacy of words used in the solution instead of ethnic decorum.

India is a union of states which means India as a union is not a result of consensus among states to join India like USA. So India has single citizenship unlike dual citizenship of USA. So in this case providing dual citizenship will require constitutional amendment which will require strong political Will.

Bright areas of providing dual citizenship

It will provide legitimacy to the various autonomous councils in the north east. It will make the solution formal and authentic in nature yet it will stay flexible like before in creating more autonomous regions. The administrative arrangements and boundaries will become clear and cross border blockade and strikes may come down. People will no more identify themselves with their language, religion and culture but will identify themselves with their citizenship which will also provide legitimate identification decorum.

Grey areas 

India’s north J & K may also ask for dual citizenship. This will create favourable situation for separatists. This is not good for India as contextually J & K and northeastern states’ problems are different. But demanding sanity and rationality in political sphere is not workable all times. Second problem may arise that North eastern states may embrace dual citizenship concept to such an extent that they may start demanding secession from India.



Going for dual citizenship in northeastern states’ context is an ideal solution specifically for temporary  measures being taken. But it seems that even centre government is aware that providing dual citizenship by constitutional amendment will require huge effort. So if effort is huge it should be long term. But still seeing the disturbing times, whole India should unite to mobilise political will and give best legitimate solutions to northeastern states no matter how huge the effort it takes.

Sunil Kumar

Faculty, North East Institute of Advanced Studies



What Threatens Peace in India’s Northeast? (A complete diary of insurgency, extremist movements, Ethno-political scenario on Strategic alliance and cross border links)


Neighbouring Countries and Changing Dynamics

North-East India has been facing insurgency since 1956 due to feelings of ethnic separatism among its inhabitants. Ninety-eight per cent of the North-East is contiguous with the international border, which allows terror outfits to get sanctuaries in Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and even China and Nepal. In these countries, they get facilities for training and can also procure arms and ammunition. Involvement of intelligence agencies and the regular flow of funds from the smugglers of narcotics from the Golden Triangle are a cause of concern.


China’s motivation to support the Naga insurgency converged with Pakistan. Both had antagonistic relations with India. The mid-1960s was the period when ideological war between the Communists and the Western democracies was at its peak. China viewed India as its rival in Asia and was giving full support to Naxalites in India. The tribes of the North-East were ideal targets for fanning insurgencies and keeping Indian troops tied down. The Chinese support to Naga rebels started towards the end of 1966. Large numbers of Naga, Mizo and Meitei rebels, including their leaders, visited China and established training camps between 1966 and 1975. China apparently curtailed support for Indian insurgents in the late 1980s, following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to China.

Recent reports, however, also indicate that insurgents from the North-East are, once again, trying to take the help of China as the political environment in Bangladesh has become unfavourable to them with the return of Sheikh Hasina to power since October 2009. ULFA’s commander-in-chief, Paresh Baruah, is believed to be somewhere close to the Myanmar–China border, scouting for help to relocate its bases. There are reports that Paresh Baruah met Chinese officials in December 2013 and had sought permission to establish ULFA (Independent) camps in China and Myanmar. The outfit has reportedly set up a base at Laiza, a stronghold of Kachin Independence Army (KIA) inside Myanmar at Sino-Myanmar border.


Bangladesh has been a safe haven for insurgents in the North-East since East Pakistan days. Indian insurgents have received support under all regimes in Bangladesh. As a result, almost all North-Eastern groups engaged in insurgency in the North-East have established their camps in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has also been supporting insurgency in the North-East by freely allowing smuggling of arms to take place from its territory. The removal of the term ‘secularism’ from its Constitution (1977) and the adoption of Islam as the state religion (1988) has provided a stimulus to religious extremism; strengthened Pakistan–Bangladesh ties; and increased cooperation between the two countries, in particular the ISI and the Directorate General of Foreign Intelligence (DGFI) in Bangladesh. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the 854 km fence built in Phase-I has already been damaged along most of the stretches and, consequently, has ceased to be effective in controlling illegal cross-border activities. A crucial length of around 300 km along the eastern border in West Bengal still remains to be fenced. The river border, mostly in Dhubri district in Assam and southern West Bengal, presents peculiar problems, as it is difficult to locate permanent border outposts in the area due to swelling of the Brahmaputra and other rivers that go deeper by about 30 feet. As a result, protecting and constructing border fencing in such places becomes difficult, and if the fencing is even constructed, its existence remains unsure.


It was almost a strategic compulsion for Pakistan to tie down maximum Indian troops in the North-East. When the Nagas rebelled against India, Pakistan found an ideal opportunity to take advantage of the situation. Naga rebels were the first to receive moral and material support from Pakistan, which had opened an office of assistant high commissioner in Shillong soon after independence. The groundwork for receiving moral and material support from East Pakistan was done during visits of Naga underground leaders. Pakistan had created a special

liaison cell for contact and coordination with Naga and Mizo rebels. Besides assisting terrorists in the procurement of arms, ammunition and explosives, the ISI has been arranging meetings of terrorists of different hues to coordinate their activities. The ISI is alleged to have supported a network in Bangladesh, which included the hard-line Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), the BNP and the North-East rebel groups, during the BNP’s rule.


Myanmar has been another favourite base for Indian insurgents. The insurgents used this country as a safe base after East Pakistan (Bangladesh) became unavailable to them immediately after the liberation of Bangladesh. Myanmar is also used as a crucial link zone through which rebels can go to China for training and weapons. It also provides a safe training and regrouping zone where new recruits can be taught guerrilla warfare and active guerrilla units can be shifted to when under pressure in India. Myanmar’s stand towards the insurgents in the North-East is ambiguous. Their army has been selective in targeting Indian rebels. As a result, despite occasional crackdowns on NSCN-K, ULFA and People’s Liberation Army (PLA), rebels have been functioning from there without any difficulties. The reluctance of the Myanmar government to act against IIGs can be explained in the light of the country’s own severe internal security problems and the tenuous control the government exercises over the remote regions that border India.


The Bhutan–India border is 699 km long and adjoins the Indian states of Assam (267 km), Arunachal Pradesh (217 km), West Bengal (183 km) and Sikkim (32 km). The presence of Indian insurgents and terrorists in Bhutanese territory forced Bhutan to take military action against IIGs under the code name ‘Operation All Clear’, on 15 December 2003, to oust them from its territory. Whatever may be the reason behind the Bhutanese military action, ‘Operation All Clear’ was a landmark event and set an example of cooperation in counter-terrorism in South Asia. However, inaccessible forested areas along the Assam– Bhutan border continue to serve as temporary bases and safe havens for the insurgent groups, mainly NDFB (Songbijit), who seek refuge there to avoid contact with the security forces.


The seeds for an ‘open’ border between India and Nepal can be found in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship which the two countries signed in 1950. The extent of misuse of the open border by terrorists and criminals has led to a clamour in some quarters to rethink the rationale for keeping the border with Nepal open. While it is true that the open border has facilitated terrorist and criminal activities which are adversely impacting national security, it is equally important to recognize that an open border has also helped India and Nepal to develop and deepen socio-cultural and economic relations. The emergence of Nepal as a new safe haven for the insurgents further complicates the matter in terms of India’s security concerns.

Way Forward: Regional, Bilateral and Multilateral

Some solutions that are common need to be explored with specifics derived from them for specific regions and groups and even for neighbouring countries.

  1. Meeting the political aspirations of groups by giving them autonomy. Implementing ‘sixth schedule’ provisions of the Indian constitution in these areas will help them to preserve their identity and culture while giving them greater autonomy.
  2. Economic development of the area in a calibrated manner. Any development should be sustainable and should have the participation and acceptance by the locals.
  3. Improving Governance and delivery mechanisms of the government and administration.
  4. Dialogue should be ongoing process to reach concrete solutions by involving all the stakeholders and not a single group.
  5. Draconian laws like AFSPA should be repealed as it is one of the causes for inflating insurgency in north east.
  6. Centre and states should coordinate in decision making. In the recent agreement of the Centre with NSCN (IM), it did not take concerned state governments and other groups on board. It should be avoided.
  7. State police and central forces should cooperate on intelligence sharing, investigation and operations against militants. It has been alleged by the army that the June ambush of the army became possible because state police did not share the intelligence about the attack with it. It is unfortunate and counter-productive.
  8. Effective border management with smart border solutions should be implemented
  9. Strengthening of Regional Forums and diplomatic initiatives (Bilateral and Multilateral) can be done.
  10. Joint military exercises and operations should be carried out.
  11. Uniform Simple Laws against Insurgents will help to tackle more efficiently.



Although varying in their demands and methods, there is a common thread running through the insurgency infested north-east, that is of identity and development. Despite the overwhelming international consensus evolving against international terrorism, the forces inimical to India are yet to curb their covert and overt support to insurgent and terrorist groups operating against India in the North-East made by the GoI, incorporating the central agencies, state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, local administration and civil population, to fight an all-out battle against the insurgency and terrorisms of every form.

Sankar Ray

Some references

  1. Ministry of external affairs – north east division
  2. Ministry of Home affairs – north east division
  3. Global politics by Andrew Heywood
  4. Globalisation of world politics and an introduction to International relations by Baylis and Smith
  5. Indian council for world affairs(ICWA)
  6. South East Asian politics magazine
  7. Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses – Journal of Defence studies

What Threatens Peace in India’s Northeast? (A complete diary of insurgency, extremist movements, Ethno-political scenario on Strategic alliance and cross border links)

………Continued from Part I


The Nagas were the inhabitants of the Naga hills along the Northeast frontier on the Assam-Burma border. They numbered nearly 500,000 in 1961, constituted less than 0.1% per cent of India’s population, and consisted of many tribes speaking different languages.

How old is the Naga political issue?

The British annexed Assam in 1826, and in 1881, the Naga Hills too became part of British India. The first sign of Naga resistance was seen in the formation of the Naga Club in 1918, which told the Simon Commission in 1929 “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”. In 1946 came the Naga National Council (NNC), which, under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, declared Nagaland an independent state on August 14, 1947. The NNC resolved to establish a “sovereign Naga state” and conducted a “referendum” in 1951, in which “99 per cent” supported an “independent” Nagaland.


When did the armed movement begin?

On March 22, 1952, Phizo formed the underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army (NFA). The Government of India sent in the Army to crush the insurgency and, in 1958, enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

When did the peace efforts start?

Almost simultaneously with the resistance. On June 29, 1947, Assam Governor Sir Akbar Hyderi signed a 9-point agreement with moderates T Sakhrie and Aliba Imti, which was almost immediately rejected by Phizo. The Naga Hills, a district of Assam, was upgraded to a state in 1963, by also adding the Tuensang Tract that was then part of NEFA. In April the next year, Jai Prakash Narain, Assam Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha and Rev. Michael Scott formed a Peace Mission and got the government and NNC to sign an agreement to suspend operations that September. But the NNC/NFG/NFA continued to indulge in violence, and after six rounds of talks, the Peace Mission was abandoned in 1967 and a massive counter-insurgency operation launched.

When did the NSCN come into being?

On November 11, 1975, the government got a section of NNC leaders to sign the Shillong Accord, under which this section of NNC and NFG agreed to give up arms. A group of about 140 members led by Thuingaleng Muivah, who were at that time in China, refused to accept the Shillong Accord, and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1980. In 1988, the NSCN split into NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) after a violent clash. While the NNC began to fade away, and Phizo died in London in 1991, the NSCN (IM) came to be seen as the “mother of all insurgencies” in the region.

What did the NSCN (IM) want?

A “Greater Nagalim” comprising “all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas”, along with Nagaland. That included several districts of Assam, Arunachal and Manipur, as also a large tract of Myanmar. The map of “Greater Nagalim” has about 1,20,000 sq km, while the state of Nagaland consists of 16,527 sq km. The claims have always kept Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh wary of a peace settlement that might affect their territories. The Nagaland Assembly has endorsed the ‘Greater Nagalim’ demand — “Integration of all Naga-inhabited contiguous areas under one administrative umbrella” — as many as five times: in December 1964, August 1970, September 1994, December 2003 and as recently as on July 27, 2015.

When did NSCN (IM) join peace talks?

The Government of India signed a ceasefire agreement with NSCN (IM) on July 25, 1997, which came into effect on August 1, 1997. Over 80 rounds of talks between the two sides were held subsequently.

Naga Peace accord 2015:

Nagaland peace accord is the accord signed in August 2015 by the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) to end the insurgency. The framework agreement is based on the “unique” history of Nagas and recognising the universal principle that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) has given up its demand for ‘Greater Nagaland’ and vowed allegiance to the constitution of India. The details of the accord are yet to come in public domain. Government of India has also made clear that existing boundaries of states will not be altered.  It will restore peace and pave the way for prosperity in the North East. It will advance a life of dignity, opportunity and equity for the Naga people, based on their genius and consistent with the uniqueness of the Naga people and their culture and traditions. The Government of India recognized the unique history, culture and position of the Nagas and their sentiments and aspirations. The NSCN understood and appreciated the Indian political system and governance.


Insurgency in Tripura finds its root in the influx of refugees from the newly emerged East Pakistan after partition, post-independence and post 1971 war liberation in Bangladesh. Migration fuelled discontent and demographic inversion in Tripura. The ratio of population of tribals and non-tribals which was 70:30 at the time of independence in 1947 changed to         70: 30 in favour of non tribals. This injustice has led to insurgency. The evolution of insurgency in Tripura can be traced to the formation of the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS) in 1971, followed by the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) in 1981. The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) was formed on March 2, 1989 and its armed wing, the National Holy Army and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), in July 1990, queering the pitch. The two outfits came up with a secessionist agenda, disputed the merger of the kingdom of Tripura with the Indian Union, and demanded sovereignty for Tripura, deportation of “illegal migrants,” the implementation of the Tripura merger agreement and the restoration of land to the tribal people under the Tripura Land Reform Act, 1960. Between 1990 and 1995, the insurgency remained low-key. But it grew in extent and magnitude between 1996 and 2004 — and then started melting.


The Meghalaya state was carved out of the Assam state, with an aim to address the unique needs of the major tribes in the region: the Garos, the Jaintias and the Khasis. However, discontent grew among the tribal due to the alleged high-handedness of the security forces, inter-tribal conflicts, the youth unemployment and the inability to compete with non-tribal businesses, illegal migration from Bangladesh. This led to the rise of several insurgent groups in the state. The few insurgents group active in the state are Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA ) and Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).


Arunachal Pradesh, spread over 83,743 square kilometres in north-eastern India , was hailed until recently as the abode of peace. However, the State is gradually being afflicted by insurgency. Neither the State government nor the Centre have taken stock of the situation, nor drawn up an action plan to arrest the downslide. The only case of indigenous insurgency movement in Arunachal Pradesh was the rise of the Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF), which was rechristened as East India Liberation Front (EALF) in 2001. The outfit remained active in the Lohit district, before being neutralised by the state police forces. Indigenous insurgency movements have only been a fraction of the problem that Arunachal Pradesh has come to encounter in the past years. A variety of factors including its geographical contiguity with Myanmar and ethnic similarities among the residents in some of Arunachal Pradesh’s districts with the locals in Nagaland has been the reasons why insurgent outfits from Assam and Nagaland have exploited the State for their activities. Traditionally, the south-western districts of Tirap and Changlang, in the proximity of Nagaland, have been a happy hunting ground for both the factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). While the Khaplang faction (NSCN-K) made its first inroads into the virgin territory in the early 1990s, the NSCN-IM faction soon made its move and carved out separate areas of influence in the district. Arunachal Pradesh has also been used as a transit route by the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). While the movement of the ULFA cadres between the easternmost districts of Assam and the outfit’s facilities in the Sagaing division in Myanmar through Arunachal Pradesh can be traced back to the late 1980s, the State’s strategic importance for the ULFA has grown manifold after the outfit’s December 2003 ouster from Bhutan, following a military crackdown. The outfit’s dependence on its 28th battalion headquartered in Myanmar, for its hit and run activities in Assam, has become almost irreversible. ULFA cadres traversing the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar route had set up transit camps and safe houses in the Manabhum Reserve Forest, spread over 1500 square kilometres in the Lohit district. There were also a few incidents which revealed a nexus between the militants and the politicians, like the arrest of a NSCN (IM) militant from the residence of a former Minister of Arunachal Pradesh in Itanagar. Instances of forceful recruitments of tribal youths by the militant organizations, especially NSCN-K were also found. In a Conference of Chief Ministers on internal security, held at New Delhi on August 17, 2009 and attended by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, the Arunachal Pradesh government asked the Centre to seal the entire stretch of the 440-km-long India-Myanmar border along the state in order to check the movement of insurgent outfits.

Impact of insurgency

The impact of insurgency on the State has been serious. According to intelligence sources, every government employee and businessman in Tirap is forced to pay nearly twenty-five per cent of his gross income as a tax for the Republic of Nagalim . In the districts of Tirap and Changalang, branches of the State Bank of India have been shut down after they were served with extortion notes by the NSCN-K. In 2001, the operations of the Oil India Limited in Changlang district were brought to a halt after the NSCN-IM demanded an amount of Rs. 60 lakhs (US$ 125,000). The oil major had to pull out 130 of its technical staff from the area.


A situation similar to Nagaland developed a few years later in autonomous Mizo district of the Northeast. Secessionist demand backed by some British officials had grown there in 1947 but had failed to get much support from the youthful population. However, unhappiness with the Assam government’s relief measure during famine of 1959 and the passage of the Act in 1961, making Assamese the official language of the state, led to the formation of Mizo National Front (MNF), with Laldenga as president. While participating in the elections MNF created a military wing which received arms and ammunition and military support from East Pakistan and China. In March 1966 MNF declared independence from India, proclaimed a military uprising. The GOI responded with immediate massive counter insurgency measures by the army. Within a few weeks insurgency was crushed and government control was restored.

In 1973, after the less extremist Mizo leaders has scaled down their demand to that of a separate state of Mizoram within the Indian Union, Mizo district of Assam was separated from Assam and, as Mizoram was given the status of a Union Territory. Mizo insurgency gained some renewed strength in the late 1970’s but was again effectively dealt with the Indian armed forces. A settlement was finally reached in 1986. An ‘accord’ was signed between the Union Government and the Mizo National Front in 1986, according to which insurgents group agreed to surrender before the Union and re-enter the constitutional political stream. A year later, statehood was conferred. Since the MNF has a formidable political force in the state.

Hmar insurgency

Not satisfied with the Mizo Accord of 1986 that ended two decades of insurgency led by the Mizo National Front (the peace deal did not grant the Hmar tribe administrative autonomy), some Hmar leaders formed the Hmar People’s Convention (HPC), and began a struggle for autonomy. The insurgency raged until 1994, when the Mizoram government set up the Sinlung Hills Development Council for Hmar-inhabited areas. The HPC joined the political mainstream, but Mizoram police and politicians say their best weapons were never surrendered, and an offshoot — the Hmar People’s Convention Democrats (HPCD) — emerged almost immediately and pressed on with the old demands.

Maoist Consolidation in North East

The Maoists have been able to extend the red corridor to the Northeast. The arrests of various top Maoist leaders in this region during 2013 revealed the extent of Maoist infiltration in Northeast India. Though at present they are restricted to certain pockets of this region, like along the Assam‐Arunachal Pradesh border areas, there is every possibility that they can extend their influence further in 2017. The Maoist rebellion in Northeast India is at present in its latent phase. The ‘latent phase’ involves mobilization of the masses, political awakening, visiting villages, engaging in small struggles on local issues, picking up students’ issues, fighting corruption, short–listing shelter and arms dumps and identification of local militant elements. This exactly is what the Maoists in Northeast India are doing at present. But this phase may soon pass away. With the arrested Maoist leaders already revealing that they were in touch with youths from Meghalaya and they being able to create a support base in the districts of Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Silchar, Karimganj and Kamrup in Assam. It is a possibility that the Maoists may be able to consolidate their presence further in the region during 2017 and we may see the Maoists begin to engage in violent activities against the state machinery.

Spread of Islamist Militancy

Northeast India, shares an 1880 km long porous border with Bangladesh, a country that is a hotbed of Islamist militancy. Though radical Islam has not yet seeped into the Muslim population in the region, the arrests of twelve persons in Assam during November‐December 2014 with links with the Islamist terror outfit Jamaat‐ul‐Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) shows that radicalization of a section of Muslim population has begun in the region. The arrested persons have confessed that JMB was eyeing pockets inhabited by people of Bangladesh origin as well as districts like Sivasagar in eastern Assam, where it is said to have motivated some people. Though Islamist militancy is yet to find a root in Northeast, we may see efforts from Islamists to spread radical Islam among the Muslim population in the region in 2017.

Sankar Ray

Faculty, North East Institute of Advanced Studies

Neighbouring Countries and Changing Dynamics

………To be continued in Part III


Part I and II : Some references

  1. North East division – Ministry of Home Affairs
  2. Administrative Reforms Commission: arc.gov.in/arc_7th_report/ARC_7thReport_Ch12.pdf
  3. Centre for development and peace studies: cdpsindia.org/ne_insurgency.asp
  4. www.satp.org/satporgtp/publication/faultlines/volume17
  5. scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu
  6. Instability Parameters in Northeastern India – IDSA research
  7. INSURGENCIES IN NORTH-EAST ASIA: Moving Towards Resolution by Gautam Das
  8. Internal Security Problems in Northeast India: Insurgency and Counter Insurgency by Onkar Pawar
  9. IPCS (Institute of peace and conflict studies)
  10. C-NES (Centre for North East studies and policy research)



What Threatens Peace in India’s Northeast?



(A complete diary of insurgency, extremist movements, Ethno-political scenario on Strategic alliance and cross-border links)

State and non-state elements in India’s neighbourhood have been supporting insurgency in the North-East to weaken the Indian state. In the 1960s and 1970s, insurgents from the region, particularly the Naga rebels, had received moral and material support from China. Moreover, elements in Pakistan and Bangladesh too have been aiding North-East Indian insurgents from time to time. The sanctuaries in Bhutan and Myanmar have emerged out of the inability of their governments to adequately administer the border areas or deal effectively with the hostile activities of the Indian insurgents inside their respective territories.

An introduction – North East India

Northeast India is the eastern-most region of India. It is connected to East India via a narrow corridor (Siliguri corridor) squeezed between independent nations of Bhutan and Bangladesh.  North East India comprises of seven states commonly known as the “Seven Sisters”. They are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.


Comparative status of North East




(as per Census 2011)


(Sq Km)

Percentage All India Person

(per Sq Km)

  Population Area  
Arunachal Pradesh 1382611 83743 0.11% 2.54% 16.51
Assam 3,11,69,272 78438 2.57% 2.38% 397.37
Manipur 2721756 22327 0.22% 0.67% 122.17
Meghalaya 2964007 22429 0.24% 0.68% 132.15
Mizoram 1091014 21081 0.09% 0.64% 51.75
Nagaland 1980602 16579 0.16% 0.50% 119.46
Sikkim 6,07,688 7096 0.05% 0.21% 85.63
Tripura 36,17,032 10486 0.29% 0.31% 344.93
Total NE 4,55,33,982 262179 3.07% 7.97% 173.67
All India 121,00,00,000 32,87,263   374.17

Strategic Importance

Northeast India has an extraordinarily important international strategic dimension and is a vital part of the nation’s defence architecture. These states share their borders with other countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China.

  1. International border

It makes up close to 40% of India’s land borders with its neighbours.

  1. Bridge to South East Asia

The region is at the crossroads of India and Southeast Asia. It is a bridgehead between India and the vibrant economies of Southeast Asia, including southern China.


  1. Economic Significance

North East is endowed with huge natural resource (oil, gas, coal, hydro, fertile land etc.) which can be harnessed for nation development.

The conflict in North East India – overview

In the brief “overviews” of conflicts in the different northeastern States, the aim seems to be to present a quick take on the northeast, without entering into the cardinal factors that have sustained the militant movements over several decades. But the fact is that the region has had, for centuries, a wonderful mix of peoples and civilisations.  A cursory look at the demographic mosaic of northeastern India would show that this region is home to a curious amalgam of cross-cutting societies. What compounds the problem of this plurality is the fact that the tendency for ethno-political assertion is high among almost all the groups. This is primarily because the political boundaries in most cases do not coincide with the existing social boundaries. The northeastern units of the Indian federation, in spite of several political permutations and combinations have not been able to cater to the demands of all the ethnic categories clamouring for recognition of their distinctive identity.

National conflicts: It involves concept of a distinct ‘homeland’ as a separate nation and pursuit of the realization of that goal by use of various methods both violent as well as non-violent. Ex: ULFA demand for sovereign Asom, NSCN for Greater Nagaland.

Ethnic conflicts: It involves assertion of numerically smaller and less dominant tribal groups against the political and cultural hold of the dominant tribal group. In Assam, this also takes the form of tension between local and migrant communities.

Sub-regional conflicts: It involves movements which ask for recognition of sub-regional aspirations and often come in direct conflict with the State Governments or even the autonomous Councils. Ex: UPDS in Assam.

Major insurgent groups in North East India


1. United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA)
2. National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)
3. Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO)***
1. Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC)
2. Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA)***
1. All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF)
2. National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT)
1. People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
2. United National Liberation Front (UNLF)
3. People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK)
4. Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)
5. KangleiYaolKannaLup (KYKL)
6. Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF)
7. Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF)
8. Coordination committee Cor-Com

Conglomerate of Six valley base UG outfit

1. The National Socialist Council ofNagaland (IsakMauivah) [NSCN(I/M)]
2. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) [NSCN(K)]**
3. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khole-Kitovi) [NSCN(KK)]
4. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Reformation) [NSCN(R)]
*All militant outfits mentioned above except NSCM(I/M), NSCN(KK) and NSCN(R) have been declared ‘Unlawful Associations’ under Unlawful Activities(Prevention) Act, 1967. In addition, the outfits named above in respect of Assam, Manipur and Tripura have also been listed as ‘terrorists organisation’ in the schedule to mentioned Act.

**NSCN(K) declared as ‘Unlawful association’ and terrorist organisation

***KLO and GNLA declared only as terrorist organisations.

Reasons for conflict – State wise


Assam is the first state of NE India post 1947. Radical turn in Assamese nationalism can be traced back to the influx of illegal migrants from East Pakistan after Partition in 1947 and later since 1971 onwards after the formation of Bangladesh. Massive migrant flow created immense anxiety amongst the Assamese middle classes and the rural masses and led to Violent protests. Revenues from Assam’s other famous product—tea—were also going to the head offices located in West Bengal. Most proximate cause of the Assam Agitation (1979-1985) was however malpractices in the electoral procedure in 1978. All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led an agitation demanding the 1951 National Register for Citizens be utilized to determine the citizenship of all those living in Assam. There was creation of one of the most persistent of violent ethnic movements in Assam—the United Liberation front of Assam(ULFA). On 07 April 1979, ULFA was formed on at Ranghar, in Sivasagar, a sight of historical significance since the time of the Ahom rule. ULFA wants Assam’s status to the Ahom ruled Assam, pre-1826 treaty of Yandaboo between the British and the Burmese, which brought in British rule in Assam. Recruits of the ULFA were drawn from the Asom Jatiyabadi Parishad (AJYCP)-SwadhinAsom (Independent Assam). On 03 September 2011, peace talk held and Tripartite agreement for Suspension of Operations (SoO) against ULFA was Signed between Indian Government, Assam government and ULFA. On July 2012, violence broke out with riots between indigenous Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims (who were suspected to be illegal Bangladeshi muslims. There are various Statehood demands in Assam like, Bodoland, KarbiAnglong, Dimaraji, Kamtapur. General reasons behind their demand of separate statehood are based upon preserving and promoting their ethnic identity, for rapid economic development in backward areas and to ensure control over natural resources like land.


Kingdom of Manipur was merged with the Indian Union on 15 October 1949. However, only after a protracted agitation interspersed with violence, it was declared a separate state in 1972. The emergence of insurgency in Manipur is formally traced to the emergence of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) on 24 November 1964. The alleged ‘forced’ merger of Manipur and the delay in the conferring of full-fledged statehood to it was greatly resented by the people of Manipur. Since then several other outfits, like the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), founded on September 25, 1978, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) set up on October 9, 1977 and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) that came into being in April, 1980 have emerged in the valley areas consisting of four districts of the State. All these insurgent groups have been demanding a separate independent Manipur.

From Nagaland, violence by the Naga groups has also spilled over into Manipur, a substantial part of which is claimed by the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) as part of Nagalim, the proposed unified territory of the Nagas as claimed by the Naga rebels. Several clashes between the NSCN-IM and the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) have been reported from the hill districts of the State. Kuki tribals in the early 1990s initiated their own brand of insurgency against the alleged oppression by the NSCN-IM. Following ethnic clashes between the Nagas and Kukis in the early 1990s, a number of Kuki outfits were formed. Several other tribes, such as the Paite, Vaiphei and Hmars have also established their own armed groups. Similarly, Islamist outfits like the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) have also been founded to protect the interests of the ‘Pangals’ (Manipuri Muslims). Today, Manipur is one of the worst affected states in the Northeast where at least 12 insurgent outfits are active at present. A report of the State Home department in May 2005 indicated that ‘as many as 12,650 cadres of different insurgent outfits with 8830 weapons are actively operating in the State’.

According to government sources, the strength of those concentrated in the valley districts, is assessed at around 1500 cadres for the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) and its army wing, the PLA, 2500 cadres for the UNLF and its army wing Manipur People’s Army (MPA), 500 cadres for the PREPAK and its army wing Red Army, while Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and its Yawol Lanmi army is assessed as having a strength of 600 cadres. The Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)’s strength is assessed at 100 cadres.

The UNLF, PLA, KYKL, PREPAK and the KCP have been involved in some of the serious attacks on security forces. The insurgents have an avowed policy of not targeting the state police personnel, unless circumstances demand it. The practice of directing their attack on the Army and the central para-military personnel is an attempt to create a divide between Manipur and India and to secure vital popular support.  Manipur had been declared a ‘disturbed area’ in its entirety in 1980 and the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), 1958 was imposed in the State on 8 September, 1980, which continues to be in place till now. The implementation of this Act resulted in the State witnessing an unprecedented civic uprising, including the infamous “mothers’ nude protest” and Irom Sharmila protest against the Act . The AFSPA is still embroiled in controversy and the people of Manipur are continuing their protest against the Act.

Sankar Ray

Faculty, North East Institute of Advanced Studies [NE-IAS]






Act Northeast instead Act east Policy


Since 1992 liberalization, India is trying to reduce trade barriers and is expanding. With SAARC not coming to a fruitful position of lately, India’s Act east policy (Look east policy) has taken pivotal role. Developing northeast as the gateway to countries located in east of India has been the talking point.

Trilateral highway(India, Myanmar, Thailand), BCIM( Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) and Kaladan Project(India, Myanmar) are the road and river connectivity Corridors which will link northeastern states to neighboring countries like Myanmar, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, China etc.

Bright areas

It will boost the infrastructure in Northeastern states of India. Once the infrastructure is placed, economic activities will get boost from neighboring countries. Which is good for specific development of northeastern states to its potential and India at large. Social and cultural exchanges which include health and education will also go to next level because of means of communication available. Economic prosperity will also bring some respite to conflicts like insurgency, ethnic conflict. This step will also develop neighboring countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh and hence the need of migration to northeastern states from these countries will not be as before.

Grey areas

 Connectivity may not filter to grassroots level as intra connectivity within northeastern states is also important. It may happen that this connectivity may only enrich already rich strata of society. The insurgency and ethnic conflict may play spoil sport in proper functioning of these highways.


 Act northeast instead act east may be the solution of the problem. Developing northeast from grassroots level by enriching road and train connectivity within the northeastern states. Bringing the different leaders of all ethnic variety to one table and making arrangements that all the differences are solved on table instead of insurgency and armed rebellion. Leaders in Delhi of central government have to be sensitive to the dynamism of northeastern ethnic and cultural richness and should find the optimum consensus. Concern of northeastern leadership that centre takes away precious minerals and oil from northeast but doesn’t reciprocate equitably to northeast development should be handled with sensitivity and concrete results. Then act east will also become reality as its core that is northeastern India is safe and prosperous which is long overdue.

Sunil k Awasthi

Faculty, North East Institute of Advanced Studies [NE-IAS]