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Shillong: The “Agartala Doctrine,” a compilation of essays on India’s engagement with South East Asia and North East India’s role in the Look East Policy, edited by senior journalist turned foreign policy analyst, Subir Bhaumick was launched by former Ambassador Riewad Warjri at Asian Confluence on Saturday.
Discussing journalist author Subir Bhaumik’s ‘Agartala Doctrine: Proactive Northeast in Indian foreign policy, a select panel of diplomats, scholars, politicians and media persons conceded that Tripura’s handling of Bangladesh as a strategy of appropriate political response is worth emulating for India’s neighbourhood policy.
Meghalaya Chief Secretary K S Kropha said there is much in this doctrine that could be used while dealing with neighbouring countries.
“Other states in Northeast should carefully analyse the Tripura experience and take lessons,” he said while launching the book at ‘Asian Confluence’ in Shilloing.
“Tripura’s leaders play a strategic role in setting the stage for India’s ultimate intervention to create Bangladesh. That is a huge contribution because that act of throwing Pakistan out of the East pioneered by Sachindralal Singha saved Northeast and helped India tackle the insurgencies in the region,” said Prof B B Dutta, chairperson of ‘Asian Confluence’.
He also lauded current Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar’;s proactive role in striking at insurgent bases inside Bangladesh during 2001-2004 by using surrendered guerillas and Bangladesh mafiosi, as detailed in Bhaumik’s book published by Oxford University Press.
“Tripura’s smart play of geopolitics has helped it turn its disadvantages into advantage and leverage an access to sea via Bangladesh. That should incentivise other states to develop good relations with Bangladesh and the Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma was following a similar policy now,” Duitta said.
Former ambassdor Riewad Warjiri , chairing the discussions , said India’s Look East must happen through Northeast and the states must play a positive and pro-active role.
He referred to departed leader Purno Sangma’s vision on the issue and said Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar was perhaps on the same track.
Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim endorsed the ‘Agartala doctrine’ but lashed out at Delhi’s inadequate understanding of ground realities in Northeast’, which she said was reflected in former junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor’s article in the book edited by Bhaumik.
She also stressed for a ‘stronger Northeastern voice’ on critical issues relating to neigbourhood policies and pointed out that The Tripura Doctrine could be the lever to push for a more articulate Act East Policy where governments and people of the region can be actively engaged with.
“But I insist that one state cannot achieve much. All Northeastern states should join hands to provide the big push so that Look East actually becomes Act East and not just remain a cliche,” Patricia Mukhim said. She said Delhi has to stop viewing Northeast from a security prism and take definite steps to make regional groupings like BCIM and BIMSTEC meaningful.
Toki Blah raised crucial issues connected to the ‘direction’ of the Look East policy.
“We need clarity on the content and direction of Look East policy and who is it going to benefit,” he said.
Replying to issues raised by panelists, Bhaumik said the doctrine of appropriate response has worked for Tripura in creating a positive neighbourhood environment for its security and development at the same time.
“Now it is up to the mandarins in Delhi to adopt this doctrine to help it tide over huge policy confusion in handling the neighbourhood. We neither need Monroe doctrine of neighbourhood dominance nor Gujral doctrine of unilateral magnanimity. We need to be friendly with friendly neighbours but consider tit-for-tat with those who create trouble for those who create trouble for us,” Bhaumik said.
He said China must be in the matrix of Look East policy — or else Indian or foreign capital will not come to Northeast to set up industry .
“They need to be promised the Chinese market. They will not venture into the region if you promise them the market of Laos,” said Bhaumik.
NEHU vice chancellor SK Srivastava, while launching the book, announced that his university would soon have a research and study centre on South-east Asia.