Addressing a special session of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly here today, President Pranab Mukherjee underscored the urgency of accelerating economic development in a state that borders China, Bhutan and Myanmar through internal and external connectivity.
“Since Arunachal Pradesh has common borders with three countries,” Mukherjee said, the development of these frontier regions is “vital and must receive our utmost attention”. With China vigorously asserting its territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh and showcasing rapid economic development across the border in Tibet, Delhi has been under considerable pressure to get its act together in Arunachal.
Early in its first term, the UPA government had discarded a long-standing policy of treating India’s frontier regions as “buffer zones” against external powers. India had to pay a big price for employing the strange logic of defending frontiers through a deliberate strategy of underdevelopment.
Mukherjee emphasised the importance of connecting the region to the Indian heartland and across borders with South East Asia and China. Declaring that the Northeast “no longer be considered remote”, Mukherjee asked the centre and the state government to “rapidly build infrastructure linkages and connectivity with the rest of India”.
The President welcomed the current plans to unveil the first rail link to Itanagar in the next few months. On the energy front, hydropower development in the state could make Arunachal one of the richest states in the country, the President said. He noted that hydel projects of nearly 46,000 MW have already been allotted for development by central public sector undertakings and independent power producers.
Arguing that Arunachal is “an integral and important” part of India’s Look East policy, Mukherjee said the Northeast is “a natural bridge between” India and South East Asia. He insisted that the region “must harness the opportunities that are emerging from the rise of Asia and India’s growing economic integration with the region”.
Although Mukherjee did not mention China by name, it was very much the elephant in the room as Mukherjee arrived here for the second presidential visit to in less than five years.
For one, the President’s remarks reinforced the UPA government’s newly positive approach to expanded over-land connectivity and cross-border cooperation with China and East Asia. He was responding to the growing aspirations in the Northeast for economic engagement with East Asia, including China.