How India reconnects with its North-East

Harjeet Johal, a London-based journalist with an experience of living in India, wrote on MONOCLEs site recently about the way India gets its regions more interconnected, something that cuts down on violence caused by the many-decade-long difference of vision for India’s future. Johal writes:

Had anybody from Guwahati in Assam wished to travel to Delhi 15 years ago, they

The Airports Authority of India plans to make north-eastern Indian city Guwahati a hub of air connectivity

would have had only two affordable options: take a 27-hour train, or stay at home. Assam, part of India’s north-east region which borders China, is, like all of its neighbouring states, mountainous and swathed in tea plantations, mists and mysticism.

Its people are not only virtually physically disconnected from India – a slip of land above Bangladesh links them to India’s bulk – but spiritually and emotionally they are considered very much “other” by the Indians of Bombay and Jaipur.

The region became disconnected from the national consciousness. Investment and growth was rare, yet political unrest was only too regular: the Maoist rebellion currently searing India’s east coast has its roots in the north-east.

Yet now the strange sounding states of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, Assam, Mizoram and Sikkim are finding themselves more than ever connected back to a national sense of India. And this is not due to the steel railway lines that once attempted to bind and weave together this vast and beguiling nation, but to a growing fleet of Airbus A320s and Boeing 737-800s.

According to Wikipedia, Guwahati is serviced by the Lokopriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport at Borjhar, about 20 km west of the city center. Air connections have improved considerably in the last couple of years and all major domestic airlines fly into Guwahati. Helicopter services are operated from Guwahati to Shillong (30 min), Tura (50 min), Naharlagun (Itanagar), Tawang (75 min) by Pawan Hans, a helicopter service. Guwahati airport averages about 95-100 arrivals and departures a day. Guwahati is serviced with direct flights to Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore,Chennai, Ahmedabad and other major cities in India by different airlines. Druk Air connects Guwahati internationally to Bangkok and Paro twice a week. A modernization plan is underway at Guwahati airport right now and once it is completed, the Airports Authority of India plans to make Guwahati a hub of air connectivity.

The liberalisation of Indian civil aviation has created a thriving low-cost carrier sector, where

Guwahati railway station at night. The city still lacks direct connectivity through railway to Bhopal Junction, Indore Junction BG, Gwalior, Pune and many central as well as western cities of India.

efficient operators such as Spice Jet, Indigo and Kingfisher Red offer fares that allow the average Indian to do something they have never been able to before: travel around India, quickly, cheaply and in comfort far beyond that of a carriage on an Indian train –

On 19 December 2007, it was announced that Air Deccan would merge with Kingfisher Airlines. Since Indian aviation regulations prohibited domestic airlines from flying on international routes until they had operated in the domestic market for five years, it was decided to instead merge Kingfisher Airlines into Deccan Aviation, following which Deccan Aviation would be renamed Kingfisher Airlines. This was because Air Deccan was the older of the two airlines, and therefore would be the first to qualify for flying on international routes.

or a European low cost carrier. There are now over 40 daily flights into the north- eastern states from around India. With speed, and powered with jet fuel, the north-east is seeing the real benefits of a re-connection back into the nation.

As with all these economy-class flights not only come more tourists, but also vitally for any regeneration: the business men. Assam’s growth rate has risen from 2.6 % in 2000, to 8 % in 2010. Perhaps because of this economic boom and the reintegration back into a

Spice Jet India Route Map

national sense, peace also seems to be a possibility. The rebellion which cost 998 lives in 2009 is now being directly challenged. The notoriously bitter partisan political parties have come together to sue for peace. The government has recently reacted in kind with a huge infrastructure programme worth around €3bn; a first in this once-considered investment black-hole. This is a strong endorsement given the federal government’s “2020 Vision” once claimed that “the challenges to ensuring peace and progress in the region are formidable.”

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