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Subir Bhaumik, Former BBC correspondent and Author
PHOTO : Subir Bhaumik at the launch of his book ' Troubled Periphery' with Sir Mark Tully at British Council, Kolkata

Tripura has no choice , no room for complacency. Many states have huge resources or are blessed with great geo-political location they use for trade and commerce. We have some vital resources, specially natural gas, which translates into energy.

But after Cyril Radcliffe's pen ran riot with the map of British India, Tripura was consigned to a corner of the Indian Republic that none in the mainland would have good reasons to care about. Even after resources like natural gas was found here in some quantity, Indian companies would ask the question -- how do we take that gas out ! 

We should not allow anyone to take our gas out. We should make electricity out of it and sell it to someone offering the best price. None in a right mind should allow a state like Tripura with limitations of resources to allow raw material taken out without value addition. We should get investments for manufacturing that can grow around our natural rubber or other locally available material like bamboo.

But what is most important for Tripura is to play into what B G Verghese aptly describes as the 'new geo-politics of Asia'. Since we are encircled on three sides by Bangladesh, we have no choice but to be friends with all in that country. It suits us best if pro-1971 forces are in power. They have a strong memory of Tripura and the role it played in 1971 and it makes it easy for us to bond together. Tripura has played a historic role in the making of Bangladesh -- beginning with the Agartala Conspiracy Case. As a state of 1.5 million people, we sheltered more refugees from East Pakistan in 1971 than the population of our state. We dont have to remind Bangladeshis to be grateful to us but we need to tell them that we did what we did, not because we had huge strategic calculations but because our people in Tripura saw the fight in 1971 as our own. We were emotionally involved.

But business and trade, economy and commerce dont blossom on emotions alone. So Tripura must have a conscious policy of attracting investments from Bangladesh. Manishankar Aiyar, while launching my book ' Troubled Periphery" in Delhi's Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in 2009 had lambasted Indian private capital for its neglect of Northeast. He called upon Delhi to open the gates of Northeast to Bangladesh capital, though he insisted on a tight border regime to check influx of people. So far we have done the reverse of what Aiyar prescribed. We need to get our act right on Bangladesh. We have to develop tourism to attract Bangladesh tourists and so pitch hard on developing sites related to 1971 Liberation War to promote nostalgia tourism. We need to get Bangladesh companies to invest in rubber based industries in Tripura. 

But we also need to get a measure of successful men and women from Tripura who have done well elsewhere in India and abroad. That again to generate investments. We cant hedge all our bets on rubber though that is one crop that has done well to turn round our rural economy specially in tribal areas. We need to develop other plantations of commercial crops , specially medicinal plants which would get us huge returns. We need to seriously consider planting Stevia over huge acreage because that is a zero calorie natural sweetner in great demand if processed and marketed in proper corporate style. 

 So we need to develop a calibrated approach to industrialisation , rather than try something rampant. We need to encourage industries which would cater to local demand and help keep out imports in the first phase. Then we should encourage some industries that can cater to regional demand -- Northeast and neighbouring Bangladesh. Finally we should encourage industries that could sell their products with profit in India's mainland market or maybe exported through Bangladesh.

 We need to carefully identify the thrust areas and encourage those industries that have a chance to do well rather than those who eye government subsidy and vanish with it at some point. 

 India and China has agreed to take forward the BCIM process. BCIM stands for Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar. THis is a regional grouping that is beginning to come into its own. K2K (Kunming to Kolkata) is a track 2 process meant to cement the BCIM , which is now starting to research how to develop an economic corridor covering the BCIM zone. It will essentially grow around the Friendship Highway that will connect Kolkata to Kunming through Bangladesh, Northeast India and Myanmar.

 The highway will probably follow the route taken by the Feb-Mar 2013 BCIM car rally. So It will not touch Tripura and go through Barak Valley of Assam.

But since Tripura is not far off from the corridor, it must make an effort to get major investments , specially in the north of the state. This whole area produces a lot of ginger -- Mizoram, NC Hills and Karbi Anglong of Assam and other areas around it. But since these areas lack power, North Tripura could emerge as an ideal location for a Ginger Ale plant. 

 Tripura has to seek big ticket overseas investments from foreign companies -- Chinese, Bangladeshi or otherwise . It has to seek investments from Non-resident Tripuraites and domestic Indian industry. With the BCIM taking off, the geopolitics is in for a change. What was an isolated region will become a bridgehead between some of Asia's -- and world's -- biggest economies.

Tripura must closely follow these processes , the regional groupings and the opportunities they bring. It can't be happy with itself , be a fish in a small pond. With the pond joining up with rivers, we must learn to swim bigger waters.


((( Subir Bhaumik is former BBC correspondent and author ))) 


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