Post Covid-19, What next for the North East Region and the Act East Policy

 By Jason Wahlang
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The Post-Covid-19 world would bring about new paradigms for India with a potential for new advances in economy, trade, connectivity. The Covid-19 crisis has hit India hard with more than million cases and more than a lakh of lives lost. Major states have suffered the most with Maharashtra, New Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka being amongst the top ten Covid-19 cases states, the north east region however apart from Assam has had a relatively quiet Covid-19 scene .

The Covid-19 crisis has also not only impacted the domestic aspects of the country it’s had a major impact in the foreign policy aspect particularly with the international borders being shut down for a long period of time.

The South Asian and South East Asian nations have however acted against the Covid-19 crisis with sheer restraint and alacrity. These nations having not openly criticised China for its handling of the virus however appear to have lost some confidence. With China engaged aggressively in disputes with various members of the ASEAN in the South China Sea , and India developing relationship with these countries, this could act as a blessing for India in the post Covid-19 era.

A poll conducted by ASEAN Studies Centre at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute among academics, government officials and business enterprises show that China is the least trusted from major powers and India is better off than China with people having more confidence on India . This trust can be crucial in the post Covid scenario as both China and India compete for improving relations in the region.

India with its vaccine diplomacy has managed to send vaccines to various countries including two major countries of its Act East Policy Bangladesh and Myanmar . This step shows that it is focused on the Act East Policy and one region which can play an important role in this policy is the North East Region.

The North East region is resource endowed and a major connection to the South East Asia through the Act East Policy which would play directly in benefit for India due to the availability of said resources in the post Covid-19 trade scenario.

The importance of the North East with regard to the Act East Policy can be highlighted with the speech of the Foreign Minister who stated that “Assam has long been a bridge between India and the world to our East” . He further states that the connectivity from Assam to the North East to Myanmar and Bangladesh would not only be an economic venture, “make it more connected, energetic, contributing and employed” This shows that in the post Covid-19 era, the North East would play a major role in the Act East Policy and would act as a bridge between the countries involved in the policy and India.

Another mention of the north east was made by the Minister of Development of the North East who focused on the North East in the post Covid scenario. He stated that the region would act as a great business and tourist destination, and they have an important role to play when it comes to the Act East Policy and will act as a gateway to the growing economies of South East Asia .

With the coming up of the idea of Aatmanirbhar Bharat during the Covid period and the Prime Minister’s focus being in the North East region as well , there is a high chance that the North East can play an important role when it comes to the various policies economic, strategic including in the Act East Policy. The presence of small and medium scale industries in the region would further improve the idea of a self-reliant India and could play a major role in the post Covid scenario.

The presence of the Borders Haats in the Bangladesh border of the North East can play a major role in the Act East Policy in the post Covid scenario, the border haats play a big role in boosting of peace, stability, prosperity and security of the trade border areas and in the post Covid era act as the major connectivity and trade route for both the nations as well as ensure that there is peace and stability in the border areas.

The recent Myanmar coup situation does create a spot of bother for the Act East Policy and it is a matter of concern for India and one situation that India would be looking closely and attentively. Since Myanmar does play a big role in the Act East Policy and its close proximity to the North East Region, an unstable Myanmar would not only affect the trade but it could also lead to tensions in the border areas as well.

Recently, even Japan who seeks to invest in India and the North East Region in particular held an Act East Forum meeting the fifth of its kind in New Delhi. The Forum discussed various issues regarding the ongoing projects of the North East including various projects related to connectivity and sustainable development . The focus given to the North East Region during this meeting shows that in the post Covid scenario the region would play a major role in the Act East Policy and would-be mainstay in developing the policy.

Therefore, in the post Covid world, when the international borders reopen and India’s focus in the Act East Policy is continued then the North East region in particular would play a role in the initiation of the policy. The North East would not only be a game changer in the connectivity aspects but the presence of abundant resources could help in further improvement of the policy. With the government highlighting the importance of the North East specially in the post Covid scenario this shows that the region will be one of the major connecting points of the Act East policy.