By Mukut Mithi
Let me make the first statement: Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. But over the years it has remained isolated from mainland India, mainly because it is located in the eastern-most corner of India. It is incidentally the largest North-Eastern state in terms of area, and it shares a 1,680 km-long border with three foreign nations: China, Bhutan and Mynamar.
With China alone, Arunachal shares a 1,080 km-long border. To stretch the introduction a little further, it is India's land of the rising sun and home to 26 major tribes and over 100 sub-tribes who speak different dialects. Apart from abundant forest resources and huge hydro-power potential, the state has mineral resources like oil and gas, dolomite, graphite, coal, quartzite, limestone, marble etc.
When students from the north east were targeted in Bangalore in August via hate SMSes, the population from Arunachal Pradesh was mostly unaffected. Yes, there were anxieties, but they did not leave the city in fear. Maybe they are too small a number to be noticed by those who were spreading rumour.
We need to devise institutionalised ways to make the integration of the north-east with the rest of India more meaningfully. Currently, central government employees are given a little more incentives in their LTA if they choose to visit the north-east.
The government also sponsors youths from various parts of India to visit the north-east to get first-hand experience. I suggest, both the Centre and state governments must devise more schemes whereby people from the rest of India are encouraged to visit the north-east and understand the region better.
On China, my views are straight and simple. China is an economic giant and we need to enhance trade ties further. But Arunachal Pradesh will benefit if we develop trading links by land. So far the only border trading point between India and China is located near Nathu La in Sikkim.
I suggest we must work towards converting the 1962 war routes as trade and friendship routes. In October 1962, Chinese soldiers occupied Tawang located in the western part of Arunachal, then called North East Frontier Agency, or Nefa. On east Arunachal, Indian and Chinese soldiers fought at Walong. We all grew up with stories around those battles.
I strongly believe that after 50 years, both New Delhi and Beijing must enter into a serious dialogue to make Tawang-Bum-La and Walong-Rima trading routes a reality. Let those be named as friendship routes. Once those land routes are opened for legal trade, entrepreneurs from Arunachal will be able to export products such as rice, oranges, orchids and handicraft items to China.
In recent years, the connectivity to those border towns has improved, making it easier for them to handle goods coming from Assam plains too. The Rupai-Walong and road to Tawang are being widened. Tawang has always been a popular tourist spot. Let it also be known for serious business with China.
(The writer is member of Parliament & ex-CM, Arunachal Pradesh)