Walking around the Bagyoke Aung San Market in Yangon gives one a personal sense of the cultural affinity between Myanmar and Northeast India. Every now and then one can hear people speaking in Mizo or some other common language. The traditional Burmese dress is worn just the way it is in Northeast India and the street food and traditional food items of both the regions bear a close resemblance too. The saying that Southeast Asia begins in Northeast India takes credence.
Yet, India and Myanmar have not been able to exploit these close historical and cultural connections. Recent writings and research overflow with expositions on the opportunities that exist in the developing of connectivity infrastructure, but the gap between the purported potential and what has been realised remains enormous. What is also true is that the northeastern part of India and the western part of Myanmar consisting of Chin, Sagaing and Kachin states are both underdeveloped. The neglect leading to low economic and social development in the region has often been cited as one of the causes for the insurgencies raging on both sides of the border. Indeed, even as there are shared opportunities, both regions share very similar risks and challenges.
Northeast India and Myanmar also share similar economic and business structures. The economy, which is largely agrarian and dependent on the export of unprocessed primary commodities and in which micro, small and medium enterprises are prevalent, provides for the basis of industrial development.
A Manipuri folklore talks about prosperity that will fill the lands once the “eastern gates are opened.” Perhaps this foretells what is in store in the future.
– Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters