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Why did NE states back off from K2K !
Subir Bhaumik Former BBC Correspondent
Why did NE states back off from K2K !
PHOTO : Dr. Dipu Moni,MP and Bangladesh ex Foreign Minister inaugurating Tripura conclave on July 9,2014. TIWN Pic

Delhi seems to be clearly ignoring the aspirations in India's Northeast to open out to neighbours - as a recent survey indicated this week. The majority of informed people in the region, the survey showed , wanted BCIM and K2K to floourish and help develop relations between the region and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh. Myanmar and China.

But Delhi seems to think otherwise. The Ministry of External Affairs has been on an overdrive this week, asking government in Northeastern region not to send officials in the delegation going to Kunming for the K2K summit. This is not an appropriate forum, the MEA told Assam , Bihar and Manipur government who were willing to send senior ministers and bureaucrats with the delegation that will be led by former Foreign secretary Krishnan Srinivasan.  These state governments saw the potential of attracting Chinese investments through this forum , as a large number of Yunnan based industrial houses and some from the other Chinese states were to be present there as well.  But they are dismayed by the MEA's reactions because the ministry, which is expected to encourage Track2 process that can be slowly turned into Track1, has done everything possible to nix the BCIM. But many in the region argue this was the only trans regional process capable of attracting huge investments because it included global economic powerhouse China  . Atleast some governments in Northeast are waking up to the need to attract foreign investments -- and to leverage trans-regional processes to get them.  

But tragically, Tripura does not appear to be one of them. The Tripura Conclave was organised in July 2013 precisely to generate consciousness about such trans-regiuonal processes India is involved in and which could benefit the northeastern states. But the lessons from that Conclave does not seem to have rubbed on to the state administration, surely not on the man heading it. The Tripura government has  been lukewarm about joining the K2K process, despite repeated assurances . After all, this is a forum that seeks close relations with China , though one never knows whether the Sarkar government's CIA paranoia goes as far as to make them suspect possible entry of CIA into Tripura through China.

Dr.Dipu Moni (MP & ex Bangladesh Foreign Minister) , Subir Bhaumik (ex BBC correspondant), Matlub Ahmed (President, Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce)

at Tripura Infoway Office on July 9, 2014.

Plainly speaking, the Tripura administration does not seem to be interested in securing foreign investments. Except for former industry ministers Pabitra Kar and  Jiten Chaudhury , who were keen to get investments in the far-off state, none else in the state administration has ever made efforts to get investments. Interestingly, both these leaders have lost their industry portfolio , despite their proactive role in trying to seek investments. The Sarkar government is still happy to lobby and get central aid and grants and run the state on dole from Delhi , little realising that Modi's and Jaitley's love for free market will soon change the ways public finance is handled in India. Only states who can get investments and boost their economies will survive. It will be a day for developers, not clerks who love surviving on dole. 

Investments dont fall from heaven as manna from sky -- they have to be sought and attracted . And big time industrialists wont come to Tripura by reading the chief minister's memoirs or some absolute trash written by his former chief secretary . These dont encourage investors -- so it is time the bigwigs of Tripura administration got down to the serious business of marketing their state .The state has several plus points -- power, peace and proximity to important markets -- to hit it big in attracting investments.

The leadership has to be investor-friendly. In this, Manik Sarkar has only to follow Buddhadev Bhattacharya without going overboard. And he has to seek it from neighbouring countries rather than from India , whose private sector , in Mani Shankar Aiyar's words, has been criminal in its neglect of Northeast. If Sarkar fails in doing this, he will fail to Tripura anywhere near the growth levels of a rising Indian state. He will fail in his duty to the state which has reposed faith in his leadership again and again if he fails to create employment opportunities for the tens of thousands of youngsters in the state. I am fine with thousands of our boys and girls going outside to mainland India and abroad for work -- but I am against the total brain drain we see happening now. Some talent should be able to remain behind power the state's growth story. Unfortunately that is not happening now. And precisely because the Sarkar government has failed so far in attracting worthwhile investments.

Now back to the MEA and the calculated way it is trying to sabotage the BCIM and K2K processes by asking state governments to stay away. The states in Northeast , who realise they have much to gain from these processes, as the recent CESPR survey shows, must get back to Modi and rock him hard by pointing to the double standards that makes Chinese investments in Gujarat acceptable but not acceptable if they are made or intended for Northeast. 

During Premier Li Keqiang’s visit in May 2013, India agreed to ‘explore’ possibilities of carrying forward the BCIM process including the proposal for an economic corridor. More than a year later, during President Xi Jinping’s visit, the situation was unchanged. The BCIM economic corridor figured very marginally in the bilateral agenda and found no mention in the joint communiqué , its status unchanged from the Li-Manmohan understanding more than a year. India merely agreed to continue to explore ways and means of setting up a BCIM economic corridor. Modi not only made it clear to Xi  India would not join China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Route initiative but he effectively nixed the BCIM economic corridor proposal.  India’s lack of enthusiasm on the BCIM economic corridor, to implement which the Chinese have already finalized a slew of proposals , was responsible for China backing down the scale of its investments in India. Before Xi’s visit, Chinese diplomats had hinted that Beijing was looking to invest $ 100 billion , almost thrice the amount promised by Japan. During Xi’s visit, only one fifth of that materialized -- $ 20 billion was promised for projects mostly located in Gujarat and Maharastra.  Chinese sources now say that most of the big-ticket investments were planned for the BCIM economic corridor or Indian states located around it. That would mean the country’s East and Northeastern states. When Modi did not warm up to the BCIM economic corridor , the Chinese did not put these proposals on the table.  Most of the big ticket investments were for building infrastructure to implement the economic corridor – and if that was not happening, the money would not flow out of Beijing .

India is clearly insecure letting the Chinese invest bigtime in its eastern and northeastern states. But this security logic onl;y exposes Delhi’s classic double standards. Assam cannot be given a refinery and that must go to Barauni in Bihar before it is too close to China and Pakistan. Now Arunachal Pradesh can have 157 big and small dams for power if all the MOUs materialize. Is it not closer to China than Assam. Now that India is desperate for power for its energy-starved economy, the security logic can be swept under the carpet. By the same logic, Modi welcomes Chinese investments with open arms to Gujarat and Maharastra but not in the east and north-east. So much for his promises to use our Look east policy to develop Northeast ! Delhi has to realize it cannot keep China hanging on the BCIM economic corridor proposal as both Bangladesh and Myanmar are keen to take it forward . Hasina raised the issue with Modi in New York recently . If India is out of the equation, China can still develop the Yunnan-Arakan-Chittagong axis as the BCM economic corridor minus India and then link it up to Xi’s ambitious Maritime Silk Route, about which BIMSTEC countries like Sri Lanka and Maldives are enthusiastic. It makes no sense for India to pursue Look East through Northeast unless it is to engage China , the world’s biggest economy.  It makes much more economic sense to engage the ASEAN nations by sea.

(Mr. Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist, former BBC correspondant and author of  two well acclaimed books ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’) 

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