Japan Association for South Asian Studies Report

Closely following on the heels of the World Social Science Forum came a panel at the Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for South Asian Studies, held in Kanazawa on 29 and 30 September, 2018. This panel was convened by Edward Boyle, and supported by both a Progress100 grant for the Commemoration of the Completion of Ito Campus, Kyushu University, awarded to Professor Akihiro Iwashita, and a Wakaba Challenge Grant examining “Japan and Northeast India: Development Aid, Connectivity and Reterritorialization”, awarded to Edward Boyle. This support provided through Kyushu University enabled the attendance of both Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman and Jabin Thomas Jacob in Kanazawa, and all the participants offer their gratitude to Kyushu University for the opportunity received.

The panel was entitled “The Connectivity Panacea: geopolitical postures and developmental dilemmas in Northeast India” and sought to bring together four scholars working on India’s dynamic Northeast region from a variety of perspectives. Chaired by Edward Boyle, it sought to critically examine the place of the Northeast within India, as well as its role as a theatre for an expanding geopolitical competition involving India, China and Japan, and seek to reflect upon the possible effects of such contestation for the region itself. The first paper, given by Rohan D’Souza (Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University), sought to highlight that “Connectivity has no Pulse: Rivers as a biological challenge to Infrastructure in North East India” in order to emphasize the unintended consequences that could result from the construction of riverine infrastructure, but also the problems of promoting a form of connectivity based upon static, rather than a more natural, dynamic infrastructure.

This attention was built upon by the second paper, from Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman (Visiting Faculty to TISS Guwahati), on “Infrastructure Development in Northeast India: Examining Inequality and Exclusion in the Development Promise of Economic Connectivity”. In it, Mirza focused on the policy of connectivity, and sought to highlight that infrastructure and connectivity development in Northeast India has resulted in the coupling unequal spaces within that region, and, in Mirza’s words, “the path to ‘progress’ and ‘prosperity’ cannot hop, skip and jump such inequality”. Both papers emphasize the lop-sided pattern of development in the region.

The lop-sided nature of development is reflected in the impact of foreign state’s on this borderland space. Security concerns stemming from the territorial dispute with China over Arunachal Pradesh is frequently presented as an impetus for connectivity projects, a factor reviewed by Jabin Jacob (Associate Editor, China Report) in his paper on “The China Factor in Northeast India’s Connectivity Projects”. Tracing the contrast in Indian and Chinese infrastructural projects on both sides of the border, the paper brought into focus the capacity gap that exists between India’s aspirations for the Northeast and what it is able to achieve there.

It is to overcome this gap, indeed, that the Japan International Cooperation Agency has been invited to invest in the region by the Indian government, which is the focus of Edward Boyle’s Wakaba Challenge project and his paper here, which was “Exploring Connections in Connectivity”. Offering some early reflections from what is intended to be a long-running project, it sought to trace out the effects of Japanese investment on how the space of the region is understood. There was finally time for brief questions from a packed audience.