Across cultures the number eight is held as a symbol of victory, prosperity and overcoming. It also represents infinite perfection, balance and harmony. Ashta, in Sanskrit, is the number for wealth and abundance and one can draw a fascinating correlation between the eight years of governance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the magical transformation of the eight Northeastern states. It is an inspiring lesson in the governance of a region neglected over a long period of time, shooting to prominence as the Ashtalakshmi of the nation.
After the huge mandate in 2014, Prime Minister Modi expressed his conviction to usher in a new dawn of progress in the region. He called the Northeast “India’s natural economic zone” and made it a priority to tap into it. Today, he calls it the “new growth engine of India”.
Despite being endowed with extraordinary natural wealth, a strategic advantage as the gateway to Southeast Asia and unrivalled economic potential, the eight states of the Northeast never got the attention they deserved. Unwilling to expend serious political capital, successive governments harped on insurgency, difficult terrain and cultural distinctiveness, as excuses for their political apathy. However, winning the public mandate in 2014, the Prime Minister started articulating solutions ingrained in the governance philosophy of sewa, sushasan and gareeb kalyaan.
Eight years hence, we are seeing visible differences in every aspect. Since 2014, militancy incidents have reduced by 74 per cent, civilian deaths have come down by 84 per cent and with more than an 800 per cent increase in surrenders by extremists, AFSPA has been lifted from some districts for the first time in decades. With sheer political will and leadership, decades old standoffs have been resolved. The intent of this government to resolve such long standing issues is clearly visible in the case of the resettlement of the Reang community.
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While ushering in peace, foundations for prosperity were simultaneously laid with massive financial outlays: Budgetary support to the Northeast has risen from Rs 36,108 crore in 2014 to Rs 76,040 crore in 2022 (110 per cent). Cumulatively, since 2014, over Rs 3 lakh crore has been spent in the region.
The pinnacle of sewa to the people of Northeast has been to impart them the power of mobility and connectivity. In 2014, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya were put up on the railway map for the first time. Before 2014, only Guwahati was connected. Today, Arunachal’s Itanagar, Tripura’s Agartala and Manipur have been connected and in the remaining five capitals connectivity projects worth Rs 45,016 crore are near completion. The Government of India has also spent over Rs 41,000 crore on road connectivity — over 38,000 kms of rural roads have been completed since 2014 while projects worth Rs 75,000 crore are currently ongoing in the Northeast. There are 15 new airports in the Northeast now, from just six in 2014. The region is a priority area under the UDAN scheme with 46 operational routes.
The tele-density (number of phones per 100 people), especially rural tele-density, in the Northeast has significantly improved. In April 2014, rural tele-density at 42.68 per cent was below the national average (43.96 per cent). Today, at 61.36 per cent, rural tele-density is above the national average (58.50 per cent). The recent commissioning of 20 Gbps international bandwidth for the Northeast through Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh by BSNL is a quantum leap in internet connectivity. This would not only address the issues of latency and network congestion, but will open doors to North East’s potential in becoming a leader in the BPO and IT industry with the establishment of software parks and high speed data centres.
To ensure that sewa of the Northeast continues unrelentingly, sushasan has been adopted as the key enabler: Working with committed state governments, we are moving ahead with a concrete plan of action working to leverage the inherent strengths of the region in sectors like agriculture, tourism , textiles, handicrafts. Recent initiatives such as the revival of the North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation and the National Mission for Edible Oil (for palm oil) aim to leverage the region’s potential. The Edible Oil Mission aims to increase cultivation from 40,000 hectares to 3.4 lakh hectare (700 per cent) in the Northeast and more than 50 per cent of the Mission’s Rs 9,000 crore outlay will accrue to the Northeast region. The formation of a joint agri task force to provide strategic direction to these initiatives will ensure speedy resolution and implementation of various agri and allied sector schemes. An upcoming workshop of chief ministers and chief secretaries of Northeastern states along with Union ministers and secretaries on developmental issues of the Northeast is likely to break the ground for a tradition of cooperative federalism and collective responsibility for development of the region.
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The government is determined to ensure that welfare schemes reach every corner of the region. Towards this goal, in the past eight years, more than Rs 10,000 crore under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) and more than Rs 64,000 crore under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) have been spent. More than four crore accounts have been opened under Jan Dhan, and Rs 31,000 crore has been spent under MGNREGA.
Today, there is an ambition of making the Northeast the hub of sports in the world, a leading exporter of exotic horticultural products and a hotbed of startups while fast becoming the most tourist destination in India.
It is now time to brace for Amrit Kaal and herald a glorious chapter of growth for the Northeast.
The writer is the Union Minister of Culture, Tourism and Development of North Eastern Region