Look (Act) East Policy and Northeast India: Reimagining the Space Through Institutional, Physical and Social Connectivity

Published date01 April 2023
AuthorRubul Patgiri,Obja Borah Hazarika
Date01 April 2023
Subject MatterResearch Articles
International Studies
60(2) 176 –196, 2023
© 2023 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00208817231167994
Research article
Look (Act) East Policy
and Northeast India:
Reimagining the Space
Through Institutional,
Physical and Social
Rubul Patgiri1 and Obja Borah Hazarika2
The underdevelopment of Northeast India is quite often explained in terms of
economic isolation primarily on account of its geographical peripherality. To
address this challenge, a new imagination, through the Look (Act) East Policy
has been proposed. This approach, makes India’s Northeast the centre of
a unified economic, physical and social space through its integration with the
trans-border neighbouring regions. In this article, an attempt has been made to
examine the logic of developing an ‘extended Northeast’ and how it has been
sought to be realized. The article argues that the actualization of this proposed
integrated space is ridden with serious difficulties and the internal fragmentation
of Northeast India and the exceptional rules and administrative arrangement
that are in place in the region along with the geopolitical compulsion of India
may act as significant barriers in this regard. And most importantly there are
apprehensions that the proposed integrated space may lead to the appropriation
of resources of the Northeast by the corporate houses without benefiting the
people of the region.
Look (Act) East Policy, Northeast India, global trade, cross-border region, trans
national space, subregionalism
2Department of Political Science, Dibrugarh University, Dibrugarh, Assam, India
Corresponding author:
Rubul Patgiri, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam 781014, India.
E-mail: rubuldu@gmail.com
1Department of Political Science, Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam, India
Patgir and Hazarika 177
The relative underdevelopment of the seven adjacent states of India—Arunachal
Pradesh, Assam, Manipur Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura—
compared to other parts of the country, is often sought to be explained in terms of
its geographic and economic insularity and the border status of the region. These
seven states taken together is linked to the rest of India only by a thin strip of 21
kms and the rest of it is entirely hemmed in by international land borders of China,
Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan. These states, along with that of the state of
Sikkim are referred to as the Northeast region of India or as the Northeast.
The enactment of India’s Look (Act) East Policy primarily underscored the
imperatives for forging closer economic and subsequently security ties between
India and its immediate and extended neighbourhood in response to the emerging
geo-economic and geo-strategic realities in the post-Cold War era. India’s Look
(Act) East Policy has been laced with considerations for the development of the
national economy, which has evolved to have significance for India’s strategic
countenance as well. Within the larger rubric of the Look (Act) East Policy, there
emerged a ‘Northeast India’ component wherein it was emphasized that economic
cooperation of the Northeast with the neighbouring countries could engender the
development of the former. Post-1947, when India became independent from the
colonial yoke, the Northeast of India remained rather tenuously integrated with
the national economy due to decades of appropriation of economic surplus and as
a consequence of political cartographic changes. In independent India, several
pathways for the development of this region were undertaken, among which was
a model of development for the Northeast under the Look (Act) East Policy that
emphasized on the transnational economic integration of the region. The future of
the Northeast was thus perceived to rest in its political integration with India and
intensified economic cooperation with Southeast Asia (Ramesh, 2005).
Therefore, under the Look (Act) East Policy a new imagination of Northeast
India was proposed—‘not as a periphery of India but as the centre of a thriving
and integrated economic space linking two dynamic regions with a network of
highways, railways, pipelines and transmission lines crisscrossing the regions’
(Sikri, 2004). Such an idea of an ‘Extended Northeast’ (S. K. Das, 2010)
underscores the possibility of converting the Northeast and the neighbouring
regions of South and Southeast Asia into a single economic, geographical and
cultural space. The idea was fore grounded in the notion that the Northeast and the
neighbouring cross-border regions, given their geographical, historical and
cultural proximity and under the present transnational logic of development can
be economically, physically and socially integrated.
Under the Look (Act) East Policy, which has become a major prong of India’s
overall multifaceted outreach to the countries in its near and extended
neighbourhood, some measures are underway which aim to realize this reimagined
space covering Northeast India and the neighbouring regions of Southeast Asia.
However, thus far these measures have remained confined mainly to the
development of different modes of connectivity and linkages-institutional,
physical and people-to-people contacts. It is expected that these linkages, once

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