The Act East Policy and the intent to develop overland communication linkages through the North-Eastern States for enabling the seamless movement of goods and people between the South and South East Asian regions is a strategic necessity for India. Enhanced Indian interaction with South-East Asian countries may transform Northeast India economically and also moderate Indian concerns about China’s influence in that region.
Importance of Bay of Bengal –
- An important area of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, which is enclosed from three sides by the territories of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar has not escaped Chinese attention.
- India must wake up to the reality that its Eastern coast needs a different kind of security framework than the Western coast.
- The growing Chinese interest in Myanmar and Bangladesh, both of which are geo-strategically important as they cover the northern and eastern coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, makes a rethink in this regard imperative to ensure optimal security.
Historical and geographical significance of Odisha –
- By virtue of its location, the state has a wider ‘line of sight’ covering all the places around the Bay.
- Odisha has had a rich maritime tradition and its geostrategic importance stands inadequately appreciated. The famous ‘Bali Jatra’, being observed with pomp and enthusiasm every year in Odisha during autumn, offers a reminder of the seaward forays of Odia sailor-merchants (called Sadhabas) and the nostalgia about it persists till today.
- During the Mauryan era, Emperor Ashoka used Odisha to send out Buddhist preachers to Sri Lanka and to countries of South East Asia. Ashoka’s influence extended from Sri Lanka to the Indonesian islands and even as far as Japan. There were established trade routes connecting Odisha to South East Asian countries.
- A long coastline, ports, and availability of airfields all make Odisha a strategic asset that provides considerable leverage for securing India’s national interests and enhancing influence in South East Asia.
- In addition to its coastline, ports and airfields, Odisha is also rich in mineral resources. Recent years have seen an appreciable infrastructure build-up in the state, the establishment of major steel plants and an oil refinery at Paradip, and the inclusion of Bhubaneswar in the list of the national plan for establishing Smart Cities.
- Further, Odisha is home to strategic installations such as the Chandipur missile testing range, Abdul Kalam Island, storage of strategic reserves of petroleum, IOCL Refinery at Paradip and steel industries.
Leveraging Odisha’s location –
- It is time to develop Odisha as a strategically important state and effectively use its location for security, surveillance and domination of the East coast with electronic and physical capabilities of all three services in conjunction with the Coast Guard and the state machinery.
- As regards military training, Odisha provides the best possible menu in terms of types of terrain and weather conditions. While the temperature soars to 48-49 degrees Celsius in summer, in winter the mercury drops to the single digits in the western part of the state. Rivers provide water bodies and the state’s coastline is ideal for amphibious training. The state’s hills, with their jungles, offer the desired level of difficulty for combat orientation.
- The shortest aerial route from Delhi to Port Blair passes through Odisha. A dedicated force contingent, as proposed above, will give quality protection to national assets, and help promote the national interest in the neighbourhood.
- On the internal security front, the approximately 475 km-long long coastline will experience better security. It will provide better preparedness for emergencies like the 1999 super cyclone.
- At the same time, Odisha will also benefit in terms of development of infrastructure such as airfields, surface connectivity and construction of military stations. Needless to add, all this would generate employment opportunities for locals in various projects and boost economic activity.
Culture – Bali Jatra literally means A Voyage to Bali. This festival is held in Odisha in the city of Cuttack at Gadagadia Ghata of the Mahanadi river, to mark the day when ancient Sadhabas (Oriya mariners) would set sail to distant lands of Bali, as well as Java, Sumatra, Borneo (all in Indonesia), and Sri Lanka for trade and cultural expansion.
Q- Odisha has always been the gateway to a secure, prosperous and peaceful Bay of Bengal region. Discuss how it is the best possible bet for India to pursue its ‘Act East’ policy in conjunction with a prosperous Northeast India and Eastern coast.