States' border disputes stumbling block in framing uniform NE development strategy: Assam CM

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(Eds: Recasting intro & headline, with minor edits) By Durba Ghosh Guwahati, June 29 (PTI) Border disputes among North- Eastern states are a major stumbling block in formulating a uniform strategy for the development of the region, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, asserting that resolving them will be his government's top priority.

Assam has border disputes with Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.

Assam being the 'gateway' to the North East, the development of the state is linked with that of the region but there are some kind of rivalry in 'maintaining the borders and these have acted as a stumbling block towards developing a unified policy for the development of the region', Sarma said in an interview to PTI.

Resolving the problem and bringing uniformity in various policy approaches like tourism, infrastructure development and connectivity will go a long way in the development of the region, he said.

These are among the important objectives of his government, the chief minister said.

The four states with which Assam has border disputes are ruled by parties that are a part of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) of which Sarma is the convenor. The NEDA is the NDAs version in the region.

Asked if being the NEDA convenor makes the task of resolving the border dispute easier or difficult, he said that as a chief minister, 'I have to protect the interests of my state and in doing so, there are bound to be certain reactions from the other states as huge sentiments are involved in this matter'.

As a chief minister, there are certain problems working with states having border disputes but at the same time, it can be an asset too, he added.

'It can be an asset because of the relationship we have established with our colleagues in the other states over a period of time which can be utilised for solving these issues.... So, there are both pluses and minuses,' Sarma said.

Asked whether he is coordinating with other states in the region as part of his government's crackdown on drug dealers since Assam serves as a transit for the contraband coming from neighbouring states, Sarma said that he has not done so as Union Home Minister Amit Shah is likely to visit Shillong next month and he will take it up at his level.

'Basically, whenever the leaders of the North-Eastern states meet, we discuss the issue and the need to control the drug menace,' he said.

The chief minister said that he has not initiated a discussion primarily because Shah's meeting will have an agenda on coordination among the NE states towards controlling the menace of drugs and other issues such as illegal trafficking of women and children.

'When it will be taken up by the Union Home Minister and he will address the chief ministers and director generals of police, there is bound to be more prompt and positive results,' he said.

Sarma, as the NEDA convenor, is credited with spreading the BJP's influence in most of the states of the region, except Mizoram where the saffron party does not have a solid base.

Asked about that, he said that before the last assembly elections in that state in 2018, 'we had worked very closely with the Mizo National Front and after the polls, the support provided by the central government to the state was very good and substantial'.

The idea was not to have a Congress government in Mizoram and 'we achieved that. The next aim was to ensure that the state government works with the central government for the development of the state. We have achieved that too,' he said.

As far as the BJP is concerned, Mizoram is a state with a majority Christian population and so 'there are mindset issues. It takes time to make inroads and we do not want to make it in such a way that the success of our NEDA partners is jeopardised in any way', Sarma said.

'We have to balance our journey and the political future of our partners,' he added. PTI DG NN NN

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