Defence Minister of India, Mr AK Antony visited Nathu La in East Sikkim in the first week of December 2007 and was visibly taken aback to see the difference between infrastructure on the Indian and the Chinese sides. Mr Antony termed the visit as an eye opener. He was candid enough to accept that the infrastructure on the Chinese side was far superior and promised to take urgent steps to develop frontier areas. This is despite the fact that Nathu La is far well connected compared to most areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh and North Sikkim.
A look at Arunachal Pradesh, India’s largest frontier state in the North East with international border with Bhutan, China and Myanmar tells the true story. Average road density in Arunachal Pradesh is 18 km per every 100 km against the national average of 85 km. There are four district headquarters which do not have all-weather roads. This is despite the fact that roads are the sole means of communication in the mountainous terrain. Out of 157 administrative centres and 3860 villages, 34 administrative centres and 2453 villages are yet to be connected by road. Railways have a token presence in Arunachal Pradesh. The State till date does not have an airport for its capital. It has one of the poorest health conditions in the country, with life expectancy of 54.05 years being the lowest among major States.
Whereas all countries try to integrate their frontier areas into the heartland through expeditious economic progress and emotional integration, India, on the contrary, took a conscious decision to make frontier areas more “˜frontier
Whereas all countries try to integrate their frontier areas into the heartland through expeditious economic progress and emotional integration, India, on the contrary, took a conscious decision to make frontier areas more ‘frontier’ by deliberate neglect of their development. It was done in the mistaken belief that India’s security concerns would thus get addressed. It is a major failure of India. Even after six decades of gaining Independence, India has not been able to integrate its frontier areas physically and emotionally. There is a sense of neglect and alienation among the local population. The backwardness of these areas becomes more pronounced in view of the advanced stage of development achieved on the other side of the Indo-China border.
Defining Frontier Areas
It is not possible to define frontier areas in absolute terms. Many consider it to be a concept or a discernment that defies specifics. During the early period of settlements and colonisation, the term indicated a region at the edge of a settled area. But now frontier area has broadly come to be accepted as borderland or an area close to an inter-country boundary. It is a way to differentiate between the hinterland and the areas on the fringe. In a way, a frontier area is generally far removed from the heartland and away from the mainstream of a nation. It has come to be identified with lesser development as compared to the centre.
Some of the common characteristics of a frontier area are as follow:-
- Lack of adequate infrastructure and industry. The economy is usually based on a few specific resources or activities.
- Comparative geographic isolation due to distance from a population centre. Seasonal travel barriers can make travel difficult. For those living in mountainous areas, some roads and passes may be closed in winter, leading to longer travel times.
- Sparsely populated rural settlements. Some frontier areas are inhabited by tribal and ethnic minorities, resulting in a cultural divide and remote attachment.
Reasons for Continued Neglect of Frontier Areas in India
Indian history bears testimony to the fact that the Indian rulers have always been concerned with the security of their capitals and centres of power. They took to battle only when the invaders reached the doorsteps of their capitals. Outlying areas could easily be annexed by invaders without even a challenge. Most rulers considered it prudent to fight from their well-stocked forts, leaving their populace at the mercy of an invader. Every battle of Panipat was fought when Delhi got threatened. Otherwise, the rulers at Delhi cared little for the outlying areas.
Indian rulers have always been concerned with the security of their capitals and centres of power. They took to battle only when the invaders reached the doorsteps of their capitals.
Many experts feel that the major reason for non-use of air power (though India was favourably placed) during Indo-China War of 1962 was fear in the minds of the rulers that the use of the air force might escalate the war and bring it closer to the heartland. According to their perception, remote and frontier areas of India were not well worth risking the mainland for. No wonder that only lip sympathy was paid while consigning the North East to its fate – at least the heartland was saved.
Unfortunately, such an attitude pervades even today. Every hostile activity closer to Delhi (like a terror strike) gets immediate reaction. Erstwhile terrorism in Punjab became a cause for immense concern due to proximity to Delhi. On the other hand, problems of areas far removed from the heartland continue to multiply with little concern in the corridors of powers.