Sunday, August 1, 2010

Updates and an excellent op-ed piece

1) While we tend to make great bones about the chinese' closeness to the Burmese junta, what is not realized is that till the 1988 elections, the junta and the chinese had been heavily wary of each other. On the other hand, the Burmese had only been ambiguous about India, but not wary of us. India fixed its foreign polcy by around 1998, so that is a ten year lag on the India-china-Burma triangle. There is also a subtext to the use of the word Burmese vs. Myanmarese: the junta prefers the Myanmar tag, hence the renaming of this, that and sundry while the US prefers the Burma tag. I will go with GoI tag, which is Myanmar, that ends the divide on this matter.

Indian investments in Myanmar include the 160 Km Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road in Myanmar originating from the Manipur border. The trilateral highway project to connect Moreh in Manipur to Bagan in Myanmar and further to Mae Sot, Thailand has received Indian assistance. The Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project would ease connectivity of the northeastern States from the Mizoram border to Sittwe Port in Myanmar.

The best course of action for India remains to work within the space it has created in Myanmar and not make the junta too apprehensive, while still trying to nudge for greater political reforms. Myanmar has traditionally been a neutral State, a stance that we need to strengthen, and avoid possibilities of the Chinese navy garnering huge strategic advantages. It is also important to keep Myanmar out of a possible Chinese economic trap. In fact, the inclusion of Myanmar in ASEAN in 1997, primarily steered by Thailand, is both in our and Southeast Asia’s interests. Myanmar is pivotal to our Look East Policy. Myanmar and our northeastern States must benefit from liberalised economic policies. The Kaladan project provides a great opportunity and gives us access right up to Sittwe Port, including its development.

2) Linky

North Korea's foreign minister met his Myanmar counterpart during a trip to the country, Pyongyang media reported yesterday; in a visit likely to be watched by Western nations fearful the two regimes could be co-operating on nuclear weapons. The Korean Central News Agency said a delegation led by Pak Ui Chun met with U Nyan Win and officials on Friday in the administrative capital Naypyidaw. "At the talks the two sides exchanged views on the issue of developing the friendly relations between the two countries and regional and international issues of mutual concern," KCNA said.

3) Linky

Understanding the Troubled Northeast ---- Pranjit Agarwala

Militancy has become an endemic feature of Northeast India earning it the dubious distinction of being identified as one of the trouble-spots of the world. Yet in 1951, Assam, which then included within its geographical boundaries all the present northeastern States except the then princely States of Manipur and Tripura, had the second highest per capita income in the country. It was India’s biggest foreign exchange earner, supplied 60 per cent of the country’s energy needs, and had well-established oil, tea, coal and timber industries. The region was cohesive and inhabited by liberal-minded peace-loving people.

Sixty-three years of freedom has seen the region Balkanized and drop to the bottom of the country’s development charts. Development if any has always been achieved by public agitation as otherwise post-1947 New Delhi developed a remote-corner syndrome about the area and neglected it, but fully utilized its rich natural resources. While for a majority of the Indian public it has always been a land of head-hunters, tantriks and now terrorists despite the fact that people like Kanaklata and Kushal Konwar of Assam, Jadonnang and Rani Gaidinliu of Nagaland, U Kiang Nangbah of Meghalaya, Durga Das Sikdar of Tripura, and Haidua and U Tirot Singh of Manipur were a few amongst many from the region who were martyred or persecuted for the cause of India’s freedom. The consequent alienation created the ideal ground for forces inimical to the country’s interests to stoke separatist sentiments.

The inability of the Union of India to integrate its Northeast into the national mainstream must be considered as one of the biggest failures of India’s national integration policy. Realizing the folly, from the turn of the century New Delhi has gone into an overdrive, formulating plans and policies and allocating funds for the region’s inclusive growth. But the results so far have fallen far short of the objectives set and money spent. To get tangible results, it is, therefore, necessary to understand and know more about the region, its people and problems. Otherwise arbitary plans and policies will only repeat the past mistakes and continue to do more harm than good.

Geographically the region is surrounded by international borders and shares 99 per cent of its boundaries with foreign countries — Bhutan in the northwest, China in the north, Myanmar in the east, and Bangladesh in the southwest. It shares only one per cent of its border with India, Assam being connected to North Bengal by a narrow corridor only 20-km wide known as the “Chicken’s Neck” situated between the foothills of the eastern Himalayas and Bangladesh. Hence India’s foreign policy with the neighbouring countries of the area needs to be compatible with its perspectives for the Northeast to help improve connectivity to the region and also curtail the anti-national activities of insurgent outfits.

Demographically the population follows a geographical divide. The hill ranges are dominated by the people of Mongolian origins who have their own different languages, traditions, customs and culture. On the other hand, the plains of the Brahmaputra, Barak and Manipur Valleys have a heterogenous culture with people from different races having settled since time immemorial. According to ancient history, there was a large transmigration of Mongoloid people from China, Tibet and Burma into the region. These people are its earliest inhabitants. Later early Vedic literature indicates that the Aryans also came and settled in the plains while the indigenous tribes retreated into the hills where they continued to live preserving their ethnicity. Hinduism and its influences came with the Aryans. Still later, in 1228, the Ahoms led by Sukapha came to the Brahmaputra Valley from Maulung, a powerful Shan Kingdom in Northern Burma. The Ahom rule over Assam and suzerainty over the adjoining areas continued uninterrupted for 600 years. It is also noteworthy that the Mughals were unable to subjugate the Ahoms despite 17 attempts — their last comprehensive defeat was in 1671 in the Battle of Saraighat. From this it is evident that the Ahom kingdom was a prominent and powerful kingdom of medieval India, and their protracted reign was a rare feature of medieval Indian history, which, however, finds little mention in the country’ history books.

Ironically, with the coming of the British in 1828 the region came into the Indian mainstream with a fresh influx of people. The Bengalis came to man the offices, the Adivasis from Central India to work in the tea gardens, the Marwaris for trade and commerce, and the Christian missionaries to spread Christianity among the nature-worshipping hill tribes. Thus Northeast India possesses a unique socio-cultural milieu where people from various origins, with different languages, ethnic customs, traditions and religious beliefs coexist. Contrary to the Indian ethos, here social liberalism is widely prevalent and people are not bound by caste, community or religion leaving little room for strife.

However, after independence, because of increasing socio-economic differences, the dichotomy between the hills and plains people became pronounced with the hill tribes asserting their separate identity. A corollary of this was the division of Assam with the States of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh being carved out of it. The division of Assam quelled the sub-national aspirations then prevailing in the region, but over a period of time secessionist sentiments surfaced because of the failure of the Government of India to integrate the region into the national mainstream.

Enough indications were given about the spreading disillusionment. But no heed was paid, resulting in peaceful movements which developed into mass agitations followed by armed insurgency by a section of the disillusioned youth. Yet, except for Nagaland, sovereignty was never the core issue that instigated them to take up arms. In Assam and Tripura, it was the threat to the existence of the indigenous people from the large-scale influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In Mizoram, it was deprivation after the famine in the early 1960s. The Mizo National Front (MNF) has since given up arms and joined the political process. In Manipur, it is hill tribes trying to assert their separate identity from the dominant Meties of the plains. In Meghalaya and the hill districts and the Bodo areas of Assam, it is inter-tribal and factional rivalry that is causing fraternal violence.

Therefore, the Centre cannot have a uniform policy for tackling insurgency in the region. Instead, depending on the ground situation, different strategies need to be adopted for different States. Further, the government’s strategy of signing ceasefire agreements with militant groups to contain the level of violence is deceiving. In most cases the militants have used the truce to regroup or are otherwise openly indulging in extortion and violence with the government remaining a mute spectator to avoid creating a situation of conflict. For instance, in Nagaland and Manipur, all government employees, traders and even petty hawkers have to pay a monthly tax to militant outfits. While in the case of treasury bills or large monetary transactions, an amount is deducted and paid to the outfits as service tax.
New Delhi’s belated awakening to the dangers of losing its Northeast corner to fifth columnists has forced it to shed its earlier indifference and seriously take up the plank of development for peace. Huge amounts of Central funds are being pumped into the region, while the outlay for the 11th Plan period is equally mind-boggling. But there has been a massive leakage of these funds earmarked for development.

Substantial amounts have gone into the hands of militant groups in nexus with a section of politicians, government officials and businessmen. The recent scams unearthed in Karbi Anglong and North Cachar hill districts of Assam where thousands of crores of rupees of development funds have been siphoned off is a case in point. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, there are also serious allegations of politicians and political parties coming to power backed by militant organizations. Militancy thus suits the interests of a corrupt coterie as it helps divert the people’s attention from the core issues of government accountability, maladministration and corruption.

Now the ground reality is that militancy exists not because of any ideology or public sympathy but because of the collusion of an unscrupulous coterie. Quite plainly, unless and until the political establishment and the government machinery adopt an honest approach, militancy will continue and peace will be elusive and remain a mere topic of discussion on the negotiating table.

4) Sibal: we need 800 more varsities Linky

Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal said on Saturday that the government aimed to send 30 per cent of the school going population to colleges by 2020. At present, a mere 12.4 per cent of India's 220 million school going population could get higher education. Inaugurating a two-day India-United States Summit on Higher Education organised by the Indo-American Society here, he said that in the U.S. 30 per cent of the school going population reached college. Mr. Sibal said that to accommodate 60 million students in colleges by 2020, the country would need 800 more universities and 35,000 more colleges.

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At August 1, 2010 at 10:41 AM , Blogger Sid Gau said...

Awwww.... I like the Burma tag. It is what we have been using for eons. It is like using Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Why change now onlee? The subtext is a creation of the West, and why fall into their framework, huh?


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