India’s “north east region” has long been neglected and is little known among western leaders – but it has a crucial future because of the role it can play in India’s strategic and commercial connectivity in the surrounding region.
The role of China in the Indo-Pacific increases the focus on this sensitive region.
India is now giving the NER priority – there are around 30 major road and highway links under construction, a complex process when border crossings are involved. There are also around 10 major railway construction projects including bridges and new lines.
This has been so well described by Sreeparna Banerjee and Ambar Kumar Ghosh, “India’s Northeast: Gateway to Connectivity with Eastern Neighbours,” ORF Occasional Paper No. 395, March 2023, Observer Research Foundation.
India’s northeast consists of eight states—Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Nagaland. It shares 5,812 km of international boundaries with the neighbouring countries of Myanmar, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is landlocked; seven of the eight states are linked to the rest of India only through the Siliguri Corridor in North Bengal—a narrow strip of land (22-km wide) that is also called the ‘Chicken’s Neck’. The corridor is flanked by Nepal in the north and Bangladesh in the south.
This region can serve as a pivotal connecting space between India and its neighbours to the east in South Asia, as well as to East and Southeast Asia and beyond, enhancing the country’s diplomatic, infrastructural, and commercial engagements.
India’s foreign policy priorities, reflected in its ‘Act East’ and ‘Neighbourhood First’ policies, also bring the northeast into focus as a connectivity gateway to the wider Indo-Pacific.
Japan, with its long-standing expertise in the infrastructure sector, continues to play a significant role in developing physical connectivity projects within and across the northeast.
Australia shares many of the strategic goals of India, and now through the QUAD (India, Australia, Japan and USA) the countries are closer together through their commitment to democracy, open and free cultures and more.
The focus on this region will continue – India is crucially positioned within South Asia and in the broader Bay of Bengal region. It needs to play a more vibrant role in the region, and to do so, must engage more strongly with its East and Southeast Asian neighbours.
Watch this space…