The Three Decades of Look East Policy and India’s Northeast Region

Published date01 December 2023
AuthorM. Amarjeet Singh, Yihingle
Date01 December 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
27(2) 212 –235, 2023
© 2023 Jadavpur University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/09735984231188410
The Three Decades
of Look East Policy
and India’s
Northeast Region
M. Amarjeet Singh1 and Yihingle1
India has been trying to enhance overland trade and the movement of
people between South and Southeast Asia through its northeast region,
as well as Myanmar and Bangladesh. To materialize this, the Look East
policy has been giving due emphasis on developing strategic roads and
logistic facilities in the northeast region. Myanmar and Bangladesh are
also crucial to achieve the twin objectives, and hence India is supporting
the development of transport infrastructure. Three decades later the
outcome of the policy is merely limited to the upgradation of strategic
roads that are thought to have regional importance and the putting in
place the modern logistical facilities at several border towns. Interestingly,
the states of the region that share a border with Bangladesh are going to
reap the benefit of the policy sooner as compared to the states sharing
a border with Myanmar.
Bangladesh, border towns, India, look east policy, Myanmar, northeast
1Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi,
Corresponding author:
M. Amarjeet Singh, Honorary Director, Centre for North East Studies and Policy
Research, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi 110025, India.
Singh and Yihingle 213
Understanding the Background
India is keen to expand security, economic, and cultural ties with
Southeast Asia, most notably Myanmar and Thailand. In this regard, the
Look East policy is dubbed as the ‘major policy instrument’ of
engagement with Southeast Asia that has evolved over the last three
decades (Ngaibiakching and Pande 2020: 70). By doing so, India is keen
to project itself as a ‘regional power in the Indo-Pacific region and to
respond strategically to the rapid expansion of China’ (Yumnam 2020:
104). Unlike other regions of the country, the northeast region is an
integral part of the policy since the latter is strategically ‘significant and
vital’ for India’s economic growth and for its aspirations to assume
global leadership (Choudhury et al. 2021: 358).
Shortly after assuming office in 2014, the Indian government renamed
the Look East policy as the Act East policy. A few scholars (such as
Ngaibiakching and Pande 2020: 67–78; Brahma 2018: 10023–10033)
had argued that the Act East policy is more progressive in terms of
India’s integration into the Asia-Pacific region. On the other hand, others
noted that it is merely an extension of the Look East policy (Boruah
2021: 1–10). However, we felt that in the context of the northeast region
of India, there is no clear-cut difference between the Look East policy
and the Act East policy, and hence this essay shall use the two terms
Against this backdrop, the northeast region of India (hereafter the
region or northeast region) along with Myanmar is viewed as the
potential overland ‘inter-regional bridge’ between South and Southeast
Asia (Asian Development Bank Institute 2015: 2). For India, Myanmar
is considered important since the two not only share land borders but
also owing to the rapid growth of China and insurgency movement in the
northeast region. As a result, there are several Indian-assisted projects in
Myanmar related to road development, border area development, higher
education, and healthcare (Ministry of External Affairs 2017). Similarly,
improving connectivity with Bangladesh is equally important for
improving connectivity between the Indian mainland and the northeast
region. India has better connectivity with Bangladesh than Myanmar.
The region comprising eight states, namely Assam, Arunachal
Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura,
is landlocked and characterized by poor connectivity, banking, healthcare,
and power consumption. Although the literacy rate is relatively high, the
skill development is low. Unemployment among the youth is alarmingly
high. Several parts of the region have been facing separatist armed

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