Economic Benefits

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 22 Aug 2017 12:01:11

Reviving Kalinga dialogue and handing over levers to Odisha to build linkages in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar have had innumerable paybacks. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik pointed out that scores of benefits to his State were in store in the sectors of tourism, manufacturing, mineral processing and information technology with the state entering into a partnership with Indonesia.

AT A recent meeting in the national capital, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti pleaded to evolve a narrative that counters ‘azadi,’ but is psychologically closer to openness and freedom.

Over the past many years, successive Indian governments, and now more particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have effectively pushed a plan to promote enhanced connectivity and greater people-to-people contact. Modi can be duly credited for allowing States like Odisha, Gujarat and seven sister States in the North-East to revive their historical and civilisational links with the external world.

Unfortunately, post-Independence, leaders in India opted for an inward-looking approach, halting the re-emergence of India. This not only affected the psychological behaviour and entrepreneur skills of people, but also denied the country its share in world trade. Reviving Kalinga dialogue and handing over levers to Odisha to build linkages in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar have had innumerable paybacks. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik pointed out that scores of benefits to his State were in store in the sectors of tourism, manufacturing, mineral processing and information technology with the State entering into a partnership with Indonesia. Former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik has a special place in the history of Indonesia for his daring airlifting of the then Indonesian freedom fighter Sukarno to India on request of the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Similarly, the Modi Government has used Gujarati connections to reach out to the African continent and to drive a little-known Act West policy activated over the last couple of years. The Government has shown good judgement by hosting the annual meetings of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and Finance Ministers of member-countries in Ahmedabad last June.

As well known historian Makrand Mehta put it, “Gujarati businessmen, ranging from dhoklawalahs and middlemen to industrialists have played an important role in the economic development of East Africa.” So well are they integrated that there are around 15 Swaminarayan temples in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kerugoya, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret towns.

There is a similar story in Kerala as well, where some 10 per cent of population or about 2.4 million Malayalees are sending home about Rs. 1 lakh crore every year from the Gulf.

Despite insurgency and mushrooming of militant organisations, North-Eastern States are also being encouraged to drive the PM’s ‘Act East’ vision. There have also been efforts to expedite important projects like the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway, as well as the Kaladan multi-modal transport project. Efforts are also on to revive South India’s historical trade and maritime links with Indian Ocean countries that existed during the Chola Empire from the latter half of the 9th century till the beginning of the 13th century.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during his visit to Chennai remarked that 7 per cent of the total population of his country consists of Tamils. Going back to what J&K CM pleaded, there is a case for the revival of traditional linkages between her State and Central Asia. Noted scholar Siddiq Wahid, who had recently travelled to Central Asian countries, said that the region in its socio-cultural frame is so akin to Kashmir that he wondered whether Kashmir is in its essence Central or South Asian. Until the early 20th century, the Kashmir Valley with its great geostrategic significance was an economic hub, linking South and Central Asia. In fact, Islamic scholar Mir Syed Ali Hamadani who brought the Sufi version of Islam to Kashmir, though originally from Iran, travelled to Kashmir from Tajikistan. He is buried in the Klobe province of the Central Asian Republic. Much before the Partition in 1947, Kashmir had already lost its vast linkages with the Soviet Union blocking Tajikistan and then Chinese conquests of Kashgar and Tibet. The drawing up of LoC along with heavy militarisation dealt another severe blow, completing the cycle of locking the region.

Significantly, till this date, raw material for world famous Kashmiri shawls and carpets is imported from these regions and far off Mongolia.

The abrupt disruption of linkages has created a ‘siege mentality’ in Kashmir, which, when mixed with political issues, becomes a lethal cocktail. There is a case to break this ‘prison mindset.’ Monitory appeasements hardly help to change this negative prison mindset. When Atal Behari Vajpayee conceived the idea of opening up of LoC for trade and travel, an elementary step, which was then operationalised by his successor Manmohan Singh, the idea was to hit this siege mentality, which would later help in to bring in a positive change to achieve a larger political objective.

There is a case to robustly pursue Kashmir’s Central Asian linkages, as with the Gulf oil drying up, the region is emerging as an energy house for the world over the next few decades. There cannot be a better gift to Central Asian Republics, which are currently celebrating 25- years of Independence.