Much has been written in the past few days to analyse the assembly election results in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya. Political “pundits” are splitting hair to unravel the secret of the BJP’s meteoric rise in the Northeast, that turned Tripura from red to saffron. Journalists who analyse election outcomes through tools developed to understand earlier regimes will find it difficult to fathom the BJP’s relentless efforts in the past three years — at the government as well as at the organisational levels — to achieve these results.
While Amit Shah is possibly the first-ever president of an Indian political party to have begun his tenure with an extensive tour of the Northeast — he spent not less than two days in each of the eight states — it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has set a record of sorts through his personal outreach. He has offered support to developmental activity and undertaken extensive tours, unmatched by any of his predecessors. The PM has undertaken 14 official visits to the region and almost an equal number as a party leader to campaign during the assembly elections in Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
The PM’s tryst with the Northeast has been marked by several firsts. He is possibly the first PM in four decades to have visited Shillong to attend the North Eastern Council’s (NEC) plenary meet. It was after several years, if not decades, that a PM undertook a long visit to Mizoram. In three-and-a-half years, the PM visited Arunachal Pradesh twice — his immediate predecessor had visited the state only once in 10 years. His two-day visit to Sikkim was packed with official and public engagements that began at 7.30 am and went on till midnight, without any time for recreation — unlike most of his predecessors who visited this scenic state.
The PM’s visits were marked by the launch of historic projects and the initiation of schemes, aimed at providing livelihood to the people of the region. The people of Meghalaya had never seen a train before 2014, but today work is underway to lay a double-gauge railway line in the state. Tripura will have its first train to Bangladesh — a rail track from Agartala to the Bangladesh border is under construction with funding from the Ministry of Development of North East Region (DoNER).
Less than six months after assuming office, in November 2014, the PM embarked on a three-day tour of Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland. He flagged-off of the first-ever train from Mendipathar in Meghalaya to Guwahati in Assam and dedicated Unit-II of the ONGC Tripura Company Ltd Power Plant to the nation. He also attended the inauguration of the “Sikkim Organic Festival” in January 2016, when Sikkim was declared the first “Organic State” of India. In the same month, the PM laid the foundation stone of IIIT Guwahati.
In May 2017, the PM inaugurated the Dhola-Sadiya bridge across the Brahmaputra — also called the Bhupen Hazarika Setu. In Mizoram, in December 2017, he distributed the first lot of cheques of the Northeast Venture Capital Fund launched by the Ministry of DoNER. He inaugurated the Turial Hydro-Electric Power Plant at Aizawl, making Mizoram a power-surplus state.
One of the PM’s earliest statements after assuming office was, “we cannot ensure the wholesome growth of Mother India if only the West grows and the East does not.” This is the spirit behind his “Act East” policy. The first-ever Global Investors Summit he inaugurated at Guwahati in February is in line with that vision.
PM Modi’s personal initiative led to the culmination of the historic Indo-Bangladesh Agreement on the exchange of enclaves. He introduced the Cabinet note to amend the 90-year old Indian Forest Act. The amendment took bamboo grown in non-forest area out of the Act’s purview. This will enable the use of bamboo to generate livelihood. An exclusive Niti Aayog forum has been constituted for the Northeast.
Under the PM’s direction, a roster has been put in place, wherein eight Union ministers are expected to travel to the Northeast every fortnight. In other words, one Union minister visits each of the eight states in the region every fortnight. Inspired by PM Modi’s vision, the DoNER ministry initiated a unique experiment — it holds a “camp secretariat” in one of the eight Northeast states every month, by rotation.
The PM ensured the budget for the Northeast was increased and it currently stands at nearly Rs 49,000 crore. A separate North-East Road Sector Development Scheme (NERSDS), one of its kind in India, was initiated for the region. A North-East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme” (NESIDS) that focuses on the region’s roads and its tourism potential is also underway.
Work on 15 new railway lines has been initiated, six double-gauge rail lines are being developed and three double-gauge rail lines are ready for use. A comprehensive telecom plan, amounting to Rs 5336 crore, is in place. In the power sector, six out of 19 projects were commissioned in less than four years. For the first time, in 2014, Rs 10,000 crore was sanctioned for laying transmission lines.
Sikkim got its first airport at Pakyong as a result of PM Modi’s intervention. The Guwahati Airport has been upgraded to an international air-transport hub. Work on the upgradation of Agartala and Shillong airports has also begun.
The PM’s sincerity to uplift the Northeast has led to the blurring of the distinction between the so-called “hinterland” and “mainland”. The entire country, including the eight states of the Northeast today constitute the mainland. History will record this as one of the major contributions by any Indian prime minister.