NE and New Delhi: Bridging policy disconnect
Indeed it is pleasing to hear that now policies for the North East are formed as per the needs of the region, and not only as per Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was candid enough to admit that “Earlier policies were formed behind closed doors in Delhi and then unsuccessful attempts were made to fit the Northeast in this”. This is indeed a paradigm shift in New Delhi’s approach and treatment of the Northeast region as far as policy matters are concerned. Earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on record stating that the Northeast has the potential to become India’s growth engine. Although the Prime Minister’s remark rather sounds like a very tall call in view of the region’s backwardness as compared to other regions of the country, it did fire the imagination of the people of the whole North East region. He coined a new acronym for the region ‘New Engine’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quoted by media as saying, “NE will not be known as North East anymore, but New Engine — which will drive India’s economy forward.” The Prime Minister seemed committed to put the backward North East region on a new trajectory of development and progress. The acronym given by the Prime Minister for the region was quite impressive and holds a lot of promises for a better future, specially when policies are framed in accordance to the needs of the region. Apart from the immediate needs, the aspirations of the region should also be taken into account while framing policies and they should be connected to the ground. Policies and programmes, albeit quite impressive on paper, may fail to take off if the ground reality is not taken into account. One fine example is the ambitious Act East Policy (earlier Look East Policy) which has failed to take off even after 30 years of its inception.
A critical analysis of the ground reality would render the Prime Minister’s acronym bombastic. The North East region still remains quite backward in all aspects of socio-economic development parameters. Yes, many development projects including construction and expansion of roads are being implemented across the region but they are too little and too late. For too long, the Government of India neglected the region and blamed the region’s underdevelopment on militancy and its geographical features such as land-lockedness, hilly terrain, remoteness etc. But it is a fact that there was a disconnect in New Delhi’s policy with regard to the North East region, and this policy disconnect is largely responsible for the vast disparity between the region and other parts of the country. We hope this disconnect would be bridged by analysing the ground reality and taking the respective State Governments into partnership in the policy making process. The Prime Minister may have his own vision to transform the North East region as a new engine of growth and development for the whole country. But the bitter truth so far is, 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 geographical location, and transform the region as India’s gateway to South and South East Asia. Now with policies being framed as per the needs of the region as stated by the Prime Minister, the policy-makers are expected to address the issues of absence or lack of adequate infrastructure for higher education, health care, connectivity, industrial growth, trade and commerce on priority bases. It would be a boon for the whole region if the Prime Minister’s New Engine (North East region) of growth comes alive sooner than later.