GUWAHATI: Assam Chief Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma has declared that the people of the region were “standing up to violence and turning their energy and skills to building a better, stronger, safer, productive and stable society.”
In prepared remarks which were read on his behalf by Chandra Mohan Patowary, Environment and Forest Minister, at a book launch on North East India and Japan, Engagement through Connectivity, Dr Sarma underscored the transformation in attitudes and approaches.
“Till a few years back, in our region violence and armed uprising were the order of the day”, he said in the speech on Wednesday (June 22), stressing that the North-east, building on peace and development, was currently “positioned at the cusp of great changes.”
An attentive and appreciative audience comprising of scholars and diplomats, writers and researchers as well as senior officials from the Centre and states attended the event at New Delhi’s intellectual, literary and cultural hub, the India International Centre. The programme was organized by Francis and Taylor, the international publishers of the book, and the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES).
The audience observed a minute’s silence to express solidarity with the suffering of people in Assam and other states, reeling from floods and rain-fed devastation.
In his remarks, Dr Sarma underlined the bold steps announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in removing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from large parts of Assam, and parts of Manipur and Nagaland (the latter for the first time since its imposition in 1958).
“For many years, major constraints holding back development in our region was inadequate infrastructure and inadequate investment, especially in the communication front,” he said. “We were regarded as economically backward and geographically isolated. Since 2014, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the north-eastern region has witnessed rapid progress in the connectivity sector.”
Dr Sarma stressed that improved India-Japan and increased Japanese investment in North East India needed to be seen in the backdrop of such a changing scenario, including what he described as ‘historic’ efforts to resolve boundary disputes with Meghalaya and neighbouring states.
In his speech, Dr Sarma highlighted PM Modi’s vision of “Transformation through Transportation” and emphasis given on “Act East Policy”. This has given new hope, energy and force to our people to give a paradigm shift to development in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, economy and other sectors, he said, while emphasizing the NER’s locational advantage of being at the centre of the country’s burgeoning commercial relations with ASEAN, BBN and East Asian nations.
He mentioned that State Government “has initiated a number of impactful developments to entirely transform the Healthcare scenario of the State.” Dr Sarma referred to the recent inauguration of seven State-of-the-Art Cancer Hospitals by the PM, in partnership with Tata rust. Dr Sarma was hopeful that this would “take the healthcare systems in the region to the next level and our effort will soon see realization of our dream of making the NER a healthcare hub in the Southeast Asian region.”
“These committed endeavours herald better coordination and a peaceful environment in the North East today. Our government deeply feels that a united Northeast can be the most potent force for development in the country,” he added.
Sanjoy Hazarika, who also moderated the event, referring to the current flood devastation urged Japan to share its expertise on climate change with policymakers and specialists “to help our region and its people cope with the massive transition caused by climate change”.
The book, North East India and Japan: Engagement through Connectivity has been edited by Mayumi Murayama, Vice President of JETRO-IDE, Sanjoy Hazarika, the author and columnist and Preeti Gill, writer and cultural curator. It delves into the shared heritage between Japan and the Northeast through unique stories, collective memories, memorials about World War II and research. It highlights the importance of the region in the context of Indo- Japan relations and looks at shared economic, socio-political, and environmental concerns. With contributions from 16 Indian and Japanese academics, including 9 Japanese scholars, the authors believe the volume will be key to understanding Asian politics and the new architecture that is growing across countries, the new highways, infrastructure and knowledge routes.
Presentations were made by Dr Murayama, coeditor, and the trade economist Prof Prabir De who was a contributor. Others who spoke were former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar, Afghanistan and Syria, Gautam Mukhopadhyaya, Prof Srabani Roy-Choudhury of the Centre for Japan studies at JNU and Takehiro Tsuchiya, economic counsellor at the Japanese embassy. Gill, the third co-editor, was also present.