Across cultures the Number 8 is held as a symbol of victory, prosperity and overcoming. It also represents infinite perfection, balance and harmony. Ashta, in Sanskrit, is the number of wealth and abundance and one can draw a fascinating correlation between the 8 years of governance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the magical transformation of the eight northeastern states. It is an inspiring lesson in governance, of a region neglected over a protracted period of time, shooting to prominence as the Ashtalakshmi of the nation.
After the huge mandate in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his conviction to usher in a new dawn of progress in the region. He called the Northeast region ‘India’s Natural Economic Zone’ and made it a priority to tap into it. Today, firmly on the agenda, he calls it the ‘New Growth engine of India’
In spite of being endowed with extraordinary natural wealth, strategic advantage as the gateway to Southeast Asia and unrivalled economic potential, the eight states of the Northeast never got the attention that they deserved. Unwilling to expend serious political capital, successive governments harped on insurgency, difficult terrain, 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 and the numbers speak for themselves. Since 2014, militancy incidents have reduced by 74 per cent, deaths of civilians 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 are nearing resolution – the Naga Framework Agreement and the tripartite agreement on the rehabilitation of the Bru-Reangs, to name a few. The intent of this government to resolve such long standing issues is clearly visible in the case of the resettlement of Bru-Reangs. In May 2012, the government at that time planned for the repatriation of about 669 Reang families but was able to repatriate only seven Bru families. The UPA government blamed resistance and misinformation campaign by a section of Bru leaders for this. On the other hand, in the recently finalised agreement, the government will provide an assistance of close to Rs 600 crore for the rehabilitation of Reangs, and ensure all-round development of Reangs including providing a plot of land, assisting in the construction of a house, provide rations and access to public welfare schemes of the state and central governments. It is this 360-degree thinking that has allowed the government to provide compelling solutions.
While ushering in peace, foundations for prosperity were simultaneously laid with massive financial outlays: The Northeast has seen a huge jump from Rs 36,108 crore in 2014 to Rs 76,040 crore in 2022 (110 per cent) in the budgetary support by Government of India. Cumulatively, since 2014, over 3 lakh crore have 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 Assam’s capital Guwahati was connected. Today, Arunachal’s Itanagar, Tripura’s Agartala and Manipur have already been connected and the remaining five capital connectivity projects worth Rs 45,016 crore are nearing completion. The Government of India has also spent over Rs 41,000 crore on road connectivity with over 38,000 kms of rural roads having been completed since 2014 while projects worth 75,000 crore are currently ongoing in the Northeast. Today there are 15 new airports in the Northeast, from just six in 2014. Making sure that, like the rest of India, aam naagrik of Northeast also receives help from improved air connectivity, 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 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 Northeast’s potential in becoming leaders in BPO and IT industry with the establishment of software parks and high speed Data centers for business purposes in Northeastern states.
To ensure that Sewa of the Northeast continues unrelentingly, Sushasan has been adopted as the key enabler: Working hand-in-hand with the dynamic and committed state governments of the Northeast, 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 cabinet initiatives such as the revival of the Northeast Agricultural Marketing Corporation (NERAMAC) and the National Mission for Edible Oil for palm oils aim to leverage the Northeast region’s potential. The Edible Oil Mission aims to increase cultivation from 40 thousand hectares to 3.4 lakh hectares (700 per cen) in the Northeast and more than 50 per cent of the Mission’s 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 the various agri and agri sector allied schemes. Today, we are working closer than ever and building consensus on development of the Northeast like never before. 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 Northeast.
The ultimate object of Sushasan with the spirit of Sewa is the welfare of our citizens across economic backgrounds, which makes Gareeb Kalyan the fountainhead of it all.
The government is determined to ensure that welfare schemes reach every corner of the region. Towards this goal, in the past eight years, under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY), amounts more than Rs 10,000 crore and more than Rs 64,000 crore under National Food Security Act (NFSA) have been spent. More than 4 crore accounts are opened under Jandhan, and over Rs 39,000 crore were spent under MGNREGA and the coverage of these central flagship schemes for Gareeb Kalyan is being improved every passing day.
This comprehensive approach of good governance is instilling hope and aspirations in the people of the region like never before. Today there is an ambition of making 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 attractive tourist destination in India.
Wrapping up the eight years of transformation, it is now time to brace for the Amrit Kaal and herald a glorious chapter of growth for the North East Region.
(The views expressed are personal)