Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to inaugurate the greenfield ‘Donyi Polo airport’ at Hollongi in Itanagar Capital Complex, Arunachal Pradesh whose foundation stone was laid by him on February 9, 2019. Named after ‘Donyi Polo’, the deity revered by the indigenous communities of the state, the airport will fulfill an important aspiration of the people of Arunachal Pradesh and upper Assam. Itanagar was the only capital city in India that remained unconnected through airways. Arunachal is the largest state of North East India spread from Bhutan in its western border to Myanmar in the east. It shares a sensitive border in the north with Tibet autonomous region of China. The indigenous culture of the state has thrived for ages along the five great rivers namely Kameng, Subansiri, Siang, Lohit and Tirap. It has 26 major tribes and over 100 sub tribes with unique culture, language and traditions. ‘Arunachali Hindi’, the form of Hindi spoken in the region acts as the lingua franca. The abundance of nature throughout its geography has remained unexplored due to poor connectivity. The region today known as Arunachal Pradesh was called North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) until 1972 and administered by the Ministry of External Affairs. In 1972 it got its current name when the Ministry of Home Affairs took charge and it remained a Union Territory till 1987 before attaining statehood. Trajectory of development of the region has remained slow, almost to the extent of being negligible.
The North Eastern part of India is connected with the rest of the country through a narrow corridor popularly called Chicken’s neck, Arunachal is even far in the North East with the mighty Brahmaputra acting as a great divide. Post partition the natural lines of movement were severed and the northeast region became landlocked. There were decades of political struggle, armed conflict and insurgency in this region after independence. Successive governments did make attempts to bring political stability in the region by signing pacts with insurgent groups or mainstreaming their leaders by electoral process. The region has historically been viewed from the lens of security and development never became a priority. When Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani visited Arunachal Pradesh in November, 2003 he remarked that ignoring development of the region was deliberate and the approach needs to change.
There has been a marked shift in the approach of the Government of India lately. ‘Look East’ and the ‘Act East’ policy have changed the mindset of policymakers in New Delhi but prosperity depends on political commitment. Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu pointed out the fact that Prime Minister Modi has visited North East more than 50 times in his 8 year tenure, which is more than the cumulative visits of all other Prime Ministers in the past. The Government of India has been building physical as well as social infrastructure at an unprecedented pace in order to improve connectivity and improve ‘ease of living’. This is evident with the increase in the number of highways, railways, airports and improved telecommunication networks. A case in point is the Bogibeel bridge, which is the longest rail-cum-road bridge of India whose construction began in the year 2002 and was inaugurated in 2018 after continuous delays. The completion of this bridge is a remarkable change from the earlier apathetic attitude of New Delhi towards the region. Construction of National Highways (NH) in the North East is at a faster pace than the rest of India today and new railways projects are being undertaken. Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) under UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) has been a boon for the region with 76 RCS routes and 9 airports operational under it. Around 1000 4G towers are being installed across Arunachal Pradesh for improved connectivity and internet access. These initiatives are important from an economic as well as national security point of view. The biggest benefit is for the poor in society who could previously not afford to venture out or have exposure to the outside world.
A flight from New Delhi to Itanagar would not only mean a reduction in travel time, but accelerated growth with the opening of new economic avenues. An airport in Itanagar is not merely an infrastructure but a commitment for national and emotional integration. It will be a flight of aspiration that brings the country closer every time a plane flies.
(The article was published by India Today. )