The Look East Policy/Act East Policy-driven Development Model in Northeast India

Date01 June 2020
Published date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
1 PhD Student, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University, Guwahati, India.
Corresponding author:
Taz (Tonmoy) Barua, PhD Student, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University,
Guwahati, Assam 781014, India.
The Look East
Policy/Act East
Model in
Northeast India
Taz (Tonmoy) Barua
Under the Look East Policy (LEP)/Act East Policy (AEP), connectivity
constructions, development of transport routes, and related indus-
trial and trade infrastructures have sought to rescue the Indian North
Eastern Region from the trap of a security paradox that was said to
have limited availability of developmental opportunities in Northeast
India. Adoption of the LEP came in the foreground of economic
reforms in India in the early 1990s. The LEP identified Northeast India
as throughway for trade expansion and joint economic growth in
India–Southeast Asia region. For facilitating the objectives of expansion
and growth, the LEP/AEP has sought to build a network of infrastruc-
ture for the sake of connectivity in the region. Due to this focus on
infrastructure constructions, the LEP/AEP has advanced an economic
development model that prioritizes creating physical infrastructures
over social development. This article looks at the chartering of this
development model and the contestations it faces from people in the
region. For different social groups, the LEP/AEP has come to be seen
as a developmental imposition that risks making the Northeast region
a mere regional trade and logistics transit hub
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
24(1) 101–120, 2020
2020 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0973598420908844
102 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 24(1)
Look East Policy/Act East Policy, road constructions, connectivity, India–
ASEAN, Northeast India
India rediscovered the potential for engaging with its eastern
neighbours—Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal (BBN), and the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members in the 1990s as the end of
the Cold War, the consequent end of existing polarizations, and
ascendancy of neoliberalism across the world changed the global
political scenario. Indian ambitions for attaining the status of a great
power reordered economic issues to the top of foreign policy priorities.
For tapping the vast economic benefits from closer engagements with
the ASEAN, India inaugurated a Look East Policy (LEP) in 1991. Prior
to time of the LEP, it was understood to be within the best foreign policy
interests of India to follow a simple principle of ‘Asian solidarity’, but
non-Asian influences on foreign policy considerations had stymied real
progress on building closer economic cooperation within South Asia and
the ASEAN countries (Dubey 2013).
The LEP was a foreign policy change from a security-centric dealing
with India’s neighbours in the east to a prioritizing of economic issues for
benefiting from the common potential for economic growth across the
region. There was a moving away from ‘state-centric traditional security
perception’ (Patgiri and Hazarika 2016: 241). Economic liberalization in
India in the 1990s widened the economic capacities in India and sought
newer areas for trade expansion. In the mid-1950s, the share of foreign
trade in gross domestic product (GDP) was 16.33 per cent. It declined
until the 1970s and then began to climb with the gradual opening up of the
economy. It accelerated under the New Economic Policy inaugurated in
the early 1990s with the share of foreign trade reaching 25.24 per cent in
1998 (Sarkar and Bhattacharya 2005). The impact of the LEP on trade
outputs in India can be gauged from the fact that since its coming into
effect, India–ASEAN trade has grown from US$2.9 billion in 1993 to
US$81.33 billion in 2018 (Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] 2018).
In 2014, the LEP was renamed as Act East Policy (AEP), and
academicians and observers marked this as a re-energization of the LEP,
especially as the LEP was not seen to have improved the potential for

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