| Ranjit Borthakur, chief adviser to the chief minister of Assam, speaks at the seminar in Calcutta on Monday. Picture by Sayantan Ghosh |
Calcutta, Sept. 18: To look east towards the rising democracy of Myanmar for strategic and economic co-operation, India needs a steady vantage point — the Northeast.
This was the message put across yesterday in Calcutta during a seminar at ICCR organised by the Centre for Eastern and Northeastern Studies and The Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi, by a panel comprising speakers from diverse backgrounds.
In a reality check, though, the shakiness of the ground, which supports the vision, was elaborated by Lt Gen. (retd) J.R. Mukherjee, who minced no words.
“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.”
He was also sceptical of the construction of the Stilwell Road.
“Development and security have to go hand-in-hand. Else, Stilwell Road will only be a mode of illegal trade.”
However, Ranjit Borthakur, chief adviser to the chief minister of Assam, was optimistic.
“India must take an active part in Myanmarese nation-building for its own benefit,” he said.
He said Myanmar has 93,000 hectares of untapped tea gardens. But the biggest opportunity for Indian business lies in the infrastructure sector.
To participate in the nation-building process, education institutes in India are offering scholarships to and reserving seats for students from Myanmar, namely, the Indian Institutes of Information Technology and Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
His hope found an echo in 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 is important that the Northeast does not become a mere transit route.
Goods manufactured in the region must find a market in Myanmar.
Former chief secretary of Nagaland, Lalhuma, had an entirely fresh perspective. “People in Nagaland do not seek permission to develop relations with the Myanmarese, they just cross over,” he said.
He added that before building roads connecting India with foreign countries, it is important there is proper connectivity between Dimapur and Moreh.
For BJP general secretary Tapir Gao from Arunachal Pradesh, the core of the crisis was in political will.
“We need peace for trade to flourish. But the Centre seems reluctant to look at our issues seriously”.
Benjamina, chief adviser to the Indian Defence Accounts Services, who spoke of the implications of Indo-Myanmar relations on Mizoram, said Myanmar could be wary of relations with the state, as the country has a large Mizo population.
Moreover, the state had also provided shelter to pro-democracy activists from Chin province of Myanmar.
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, where he pointed out that Myanmar does not host any militant group and its leaders are eager to sort out this issue.
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.