Participants at the ICCR seminar. (Sayantan Ghosh)
The Northeast is the vantage point India needs to look towards the rising democracy of Myanmar for strategic and economic cooperation.
This was the message put across on Monday during a seminar at ICCR organised by the Centre for Eastern and Northeastern Studies and The Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi, partnered by The Telegraph, by a panel comprising speakers from diverse backgrounds.
Lt Gen. (retd) J.R. Mukherjee provided the reality check. “To consider trade with Myanmar, one has to keep in mind the illegal taxes levied by militants in the Northeast. By the time a truck from Moreh in Manipur crosses the border into Myanmar, taxes of nearly Rs 1 lakh are paid. So to transport goods worth Rs 1 lakh, almost double the amount has to be paid,” he said.
“Around Moreh, the gateway to Myanmar, illicit trade surpasses official trade.”
The chief adviser to the chief minister of Assam, Ranjit Borthakur, was optimistic. He said Myanmar has 93,000 hectares of untapped tea gardens. But the biggest opportunity for Indian business lies in the infrastructure sector.
His hope was echoed by Falguni Rajkumar of Manipur, former secretary of the North Eastern Council. “We have learnt to live with insurgency and we will learn to develop with it, too,” he said.
He added that it was important that the Northeast did not become a mere transit route. “Goods manufactured in the region must find a market in Myanmar.”
Former chief secretary of Nagaland, Lalhuma, had a fresh perspective. “People in Nagaland do not seek permission to develop relations with the Myanmarese, they just cross over,” he said.
For BJP general secretary Tapir Gao, from Arunachal Pradesh, the core of the crisis was in political will.
Benjamina, the chief adviser of Indian Defence Accounts Services, who spoke of the implications of India-Myanmar relations in Mizoram, said Myanmar could be wary of relations with the state, as the country has a large Mizo population.
Maj. Gen. (retd) Arun Roye opened the event, followed by a keynote address by former chief of army staff Gen. S. Roychoudhury. Consul general of Myanmar in Calcutta, U Kyaw Tswe Tint, delivered the closing speech.
Ambassadors Rajiv Bhatiya and Aloke Sen as well as Sanjay Pulipaka from Maulana Abul Kalam Institute of Asian Studies also spoke on the Northeast’s link with Myanmar.