India`™s Look East Policy evokes different response from different quarters. First, there is the Panglossian school of thought in which many presume that the policy in its wake will bring all round development to the North-east region. Then there are the opinions of those who are asking for a more cautious approach towards the policy which is being bandied around. Buying into the rosy picture adumbrated by foreign policy mandarins would prove catastrophic as the people of the region, the most important stakeholders of the policy were not either taken into confidence or consulted despite the assertion that the policy was initiated for their development. A panoptic critique is the need of the hour as in its current form the policy looks detrimental to the people of the region. Proactive deliberations by various stakeholders will prove prudent in the long run. Those enchanted by the policy are soft selling it as a precursor to the good times that will follow in the region. The State, devoid of any proper medium or big scale industry, is all geared up to be promoted as a tourist destination. However enticing the idea may sound, a proper mechanism is yet to be put in place in the State where carbon footprints left by tourists can be measured. The Thailand model of tourism development is gaining traction with a lot of policy makers. We also need to take into account that the South-East Asian country, compelled to rely on tourism as a major source of income, was chastised for pushing its children into prostitution by the then visiting American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, aftermath the Asian financial crisis. The land of the white elephant which now earns 70 percent of its foreign exchange from tourism was compelled to turn into a tourist destination rather than by choice. We need not go into why Thailand is a popular tourist destination. A distinguished East Asian and South East Asian foreign policy expert had posited in an international conference held at the Manipur University that the North-east was `the e
picenter of the Look East Policy`. He had also added that India would promote anything in which ASEAN was the pivot drawing attention to American President Barack Obama`™s suggestion some years ago during his visit that the country should “act east instead of looking east`. Bertil Lintner in his book, Great Game East: India, China and the struggle for Asia`s most volatile frontier, has insinuated that the region will act as an important theatre of engagement between the new emerging world powers. The two taken together sheds light on how India`™s foray into the east through the North-east is not only out of a sheer concern for the development of the region but a compulsion made more urgent by Beijing making rapid strides in spreading its tentacles around its southern neighbour. We agree that the country with its ever burgeoning population needs to tap into the huge ASEAN and North-east Asian market; besides, many foreign policy pundits see little difference between foreign policy and economic policy. The trilateral highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand begins in Imphal and many consider it as an indication of the primacy the state enjoys in India`™s Look East Policy. But, training young students with proper formal education as masseurs and spa therapists is not a great way to begin with. The new Silk Route may pass through Imphal but we must not reduce ourselves to those travellers across the deserts who take a mirage to be an oasis all too often.
Leader Writer: Svoboda Kangleicha