UPA must bring us development, peace, says northeast

May 23rd, 2009 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Mani Shankar Aiyar By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala/Guwahati, May 23 (IANS) Economic stimuli and peace - that’s what India’s restive northeastern region is looking for as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government begins its second term at the centre.

Some of the eight northeastern states are also hoping for a repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which is aimed at tackling insurgency.

“The prime minister has a base in Assam’s principal city Guwahati and the UPA has a record of giving priority to the development of economically backward northeast. People are expecting more to speed up development, improve connectivity and infrastructure besides efforts to bring back peace,” said Nityananda Das, a political science professor at Tripura University.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is hoping for greater focus on connectivity and infrastructure.

“We are definitely optimistic that the new UPA government will give more attention towards development of the region. The Assam government will definitely be asking for more economic packages and we are confident of getting a positive response,” Gogoi told newsmen in Guwahati.

“The creation of more employment opportunities, providing social security to all sections of society and establishing peace are some of the priority issues of the landlocked northeastern region.”

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA) had become a major poll issue during the Lok Sabha elections in the northeastern region, especially in Manipur, with demands for its repeal becoming louder.

“The repeal of the AFSPA is the main issue in Manipur before the new UPA government while terrorism is a cause of concern for the centre,” said Rajkumar Kalyanjit Singh, a social activist.

After many years, the Congress has won both the Lok Sabha seats from militancy-ravaged Manipur.

In fact, the northeastern region, which has 25 seats, has sent 13 Congress MPs to the Lok Sabha. The Bodo People’s Front is an ally of the UPA and the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) has also declared its support.

The Congress is in power in five northeastern states - Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram - while the Left Front, the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) and the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) have been ruling Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim respectively.

While Tripura is Left-ruled, it too expects generous help from the centre.

Chief Minister Manik Sarkar told journalists: “The UPA has got the mandate of the people to rule the country. We would observe the functioning of the new UPA government and its attitude towards northeast India for the time being and then we would take our course of action.”

Gautam Das, CPI-M spokesman in Tripura, told IANS: “We are hopeful that the UPA government would not deprive the northeastern region of developmental programmes and suitably utilise the region’s untapped resources.”

The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) is a separate ministry to look after the northeast region. But Mani Shankar Aiyar, who had taken several initiatives as DoNER minister, has lost the elections.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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