The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Northeast takes bite of Big Apple

New York, Sept. 29: At least for one day, the conversation on Assam was not about how much damage the floods had caused this year. And there was little talk about “disturbed areas” or about how many insurgent organisations were active in the Northeast.

Instead, a procession of chief ministers, deputy chief ministers, senior ministers and chief secretaries from six northeastern states were at their best in New York last week, selling their region to the world at a full-day Northeast India Investment Conference.

They used Powerpoint presentations, slides and prepared speeches — neatly printed and distributed among the audience by bureaucrats, not hotel waiters — to project a picture of the Northeast that people here had never seen before.

The orchids, fruits, aromatic plants and bamboo plantations of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur’s Loktak Lake with its surrounding green hills and Keibul Lamjao, the world’s last habitat of the Sangai, the bow-antlered deer, the Muga silks of Assam, Sikkim’s success with the environment, which earned its chief minister, Pawan Chamling, the title of “greenest chief minister” in a nationwide poll... and so on.

Mukul Sangma, Meghalaya’s deputy chief minister, told The Telegraph that states in the Northeast had to stand together, combine their resources and present themselves as a composite region to the rest of India and the outside world in order to benefit from the attention that India is now receiving globally as an emerging economic power.

Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of Assam, said he was in the US as recently as June on an exploratory visit, during which Americans of Assamese origin expressed confidence in the “new India”.

“Taking the cue from the positive feedback I received during my last visit, I decided to come here again accompanied by ministers and officials.”

Neelam Deo, India’s consul-general in New York, appeared to like the flavour of the region and campaigned hard to publicise and promote the one-day event, personally urging potential investors and executives on Wall Street to attend.

America’s response to the conference certainly met the expectations of the organisers, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Union ministry for development of the Northeast region.

In Grand Hyatt Hotel’s Manhattan ballroom, which can seat 400 people, there were no vacant seats at any table when the chief ministers and senior ministers from the Northeast were collectively addressing the conference in the morning.

Tarun Das, the CII’s chief mentor, said this was the “first effort to flag the Northeast as an area of investment internationally”.

Das referred to the familiar theme of insecurity in the region in a conversation with The Telegraph. He argued that the only way to get over this perception of insecurity was to take people from outside to the area. The CII, he said, had plans to do that.

Ibobi Singh, the chief minister of Manipur, conceded that worries about law and order had kept investors away from his region. But he said this was a classic chicken and egg situation. “At the root of the problem is unemployment among educated youth. If investment comes in and jobs are created, the problem can be solved,” he argued.

The presence of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, as the chief guest at the conference lent a lot of credibility to the event because he is well known and respected in the financial and corporate world here as a key promoter of India’s economic reforms.

A high-power team of government secretaries from New Delhi and heads of public sector infrastructure companies demonstrated to the audience that the central government was firmly backing the investment promotion drive by the Northeast states.

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