Imphal-Mandalay bus service: Engaging neighbours & beyond

Finally, bus service between Imphal and Mandalay is taking a concrete shape and it is indeed a landmark development for both India and Myanmar, particularly for India’s landlocked North East region. For the landlocked North East, direct flight service between Guwahati and Bangkok launched on September 22, 2019 was another significant stride towards regional connectivity. As stated by Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren in the State Assembly, an MoU was signed between Yangon-based Shwemandalar Express Company Limited and Imphal-based M/s Seven Sisters Holiday on February 14, 2020 for commencement of bus service between the two neighbouring countries within three months. The bus service would certainly open a new horizon of opportunity as well as challenges. Till recently, the landlocked North East region was locked away from the outside world. Manipur-Myanmar connectivity is limited to the border towns of Moreh and Tamu. On the western front, all trade and commercial activities of the region are done with mainland India through a chicken neck called Silliguri Corridor which is just about 22 Kms wide. Imphal-Mandalay bus service is not about connectivity alone. It is an undeniable testimony of New Delhi’s conviction to engage with South East Asian countries through Myanmar, one of the most reclusive countries on the planet till the turn of the last decade. Through economic cooperation and political engagement, India is also determined to check the growing influence of China over Myanmar. If Myanmar was the most reclusive country, Manipur and for that matter the entire North East India still remain landlocked, backward and isolated from all directions. It was against this backdrop that the Government of Manipur envisaged the grand project of introducing regular bus service between Imphal and Mandalay.
Once the Imphal-Mandalay bus service is introduced, Manipur will definitely earn the moniker ‘Gateway to South East Asia’ and the tiny State would be exposed directly to the juggernaut of global finance and other forces that come together with globalization.  Definitely Manipur and the entire North East region would be bombarded by global finance capital from all directions.  One pertinent question arises here. Are we prepared to face the impending onslaught of globalization? After all, the information technology revolution dictates that the world has become a closely knit globe, and thus, globalization is inevitable. One cannot simply escape from the integrating clutch of technology. So the advice is: mitigate risk and become a partner in the new process. The unsaid part was/is that globalization is a new force in which liberalization and privatization of economy are the central unchangeable configuration. In this age driven by information technology, Manipur cannot afford isolation. In fact, connectivity is crucial for economic development. Sure enough, Imphal-Mandalay highway would open a thousand opportunities. But we cannot help asking whether we are prepared to exploit these opportunities. Along with the opportunities, the international highway would unleash several formidable challenges upon the State of Manipur. Human resources development, resource mobilization and infrastructure development are the keys to overcome these challenges, if we must suggest. If globalization is inevitable, we must adapt and thrive. At the same time, a lot more needs to be done, that too expeditiously without bureaucratic or political hassles in order to tap the potential and opportunities provided by the region’s highly strategic location, and transform the region as India’s gateway to South and South East Asia.