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Pranab visits Arunachal,focus on sovereignty | The Indian Express

Related. President Pranab Mukherjees two-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh starting Friday is likely to draw attention to the increasingly assertive Chinese claims to this border region and the urgent imperative of boosting the sensitive states connectivity to itself,the rest of India,and Asia. In Itanagar,Mukherjee will address the members of the legislative assembly. This is the the second presidential visit to Arunachal in less than five years. Pratibha Patil had traveled to the state in April 2009. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went there in January 2008. Going by the record,Beijing is likely to object to Mukherjees visit. China had protested against the high-level visits to Arunachal in 2008 and 2009. The frequent visits by the top Indian leadership underline New Delhis determination to leave Beijing in no doubt about Indias unassailable sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh. Attempts to resolve the boundary dispute through negotiations since 2003 have stalled amidst Chinas demands for significant territorial concessions,especially in Tawang. As a result,the two sides are now focused on maintaining peace and tranquility on the border rather than a final settlement. Chinas contestation of Indias sovereignty over Arunachal,however,creates continual tension between the neighbours. China,for example,has opposed international development assistance to projects in Arunachal. It provides stapled visas for Indian citizens from Arunachal. India does not accept these as legitimate travel documents. Although New Delhi will brush off any Chinese protests against Mukherjees visit,its challenges in Arunachal are likely to persist. It is one thing to assert formal sovereignty; it is entirely another to effectively integrate this remote border province through strong connectivity and rapid economic development. Indias under-perfomance in these areas has been accentuated by Chinese successes across the border in Tibet. Beijing has transformed the transport infrastructure in Tibet and its investments there have made the region one of the fastest growing in China. Recognizing the dangers of the widening developmental gap,the UPA government has announced a variety of packages for the state. Among the major projects under way is the construction of a nearly 1,800-km trans-Arunachal highway. The strategic imperative of internal connectivity in Arunachal has not been matched by project implementation. The same is true of connectivity between Arunachal and the rest of India. The question of trans-border connectivity for Arunachal is also gaining traction. Like other states in the Northeast,Arunachal too would like to gain access to East Asia. Of particular interest to the state might be a decision during the recent visit of the PM to Beijing to explore the possibilities for overland connectivity between India and China. While India is showing signs of new thinking on overland connectivity,China remains somewhat reluctant to open up Tibet for greater connectivity to India. Signals of firmness on Indias territorial sovereignty and flexibility on trans-border connectivity from Mukherjee could help reassure the people of the region,as well as encourage Beijing to take a more pragmatic political approach towards India in the Himalayas. Above all,it could hold Delhis feet to the fire on implementing its promises to Arunachal Pradesh. (The writer is a Contributing Editor for The Indian Express and a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation,New Delhi)
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