Moreh is a small and sleepy border town in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. If I tell you that a cavalcade of about 30 cars (mainly SUV’s) entered this town, few days ago, from other side of the border. Many readers are likely to question the newsworthiness of this event and surely ask; why am I writing about this non event? Yet this insignificant event, is an important precursor or a time marker of many great things to come in future.
Let us see first of all, where this place called Moreh, actually is? This town, sitting right on India-Myanmar international border, is about 109 Km from Imphal, the capital city of the state of Manipur. This is the nearest place in India to Myanmar’s second largest city of Mandalay. At ‘Moreh’ town, which is now connected with Imphal with an all weather mettle road NH 102, India is creating infrastructure, that is fit for an important border town. A ceremonial archway, a barrier just beyond it and then a large, shiny border gate with the Indian state emblem on it ( like at Bagha border post in Punjab) have been erected.
This town with a single main road in the middle, with rows of wooden shops, restaurants and houses lining either side, is destined for a big future. A border trading mall or ‘Haat’ has come up here recently as per agreement with Myanmar Government. Burmese town of Tamu is just across the border. Indian Border Roads Organization has already constructed and handed over to Government of Burma, the Tamu-Kalaywa-Kalemyo Road. Kalemyo town is already connected by road to Mandalay. By connecting Moreh in Manipur to Mandalay, India is planning to make ‘Moreh’ town as the entry point of a Trilateral Highway, joining India, Myanmar and Thailand, which would later be the key to the proposed Asian Highway network.
All this sounds very nice on the paper, but the ground realities are rather unknown. It is in this context that this cavalcade of cars arriving in Impahal via Moreh assumes great significance. The cavalcade of cars were actually the participant vehicles of ASEAN-India car rally. The countries participating in the rally are Burnei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and India. This cavalcade of 31 cars with 116 participants from 11 countries arrived in Imphal after covering 9 other ASEAN countries. In India, the cars are expected to travel to Guwahati via Kohima, capital of Nagaland. After completion of their 8000 Km ordeal.
The importance that the north eastern states of India attach to the concept of Pan Asian highway can be judged from the fact that the cavalcade was accorded a warm welcome on its arrival in Manipur by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi, Deputy Chief Minister G. Gaikhangam, all Ministers, ranking police, army and civil officials. Passenger buses, trucks and private cars were not allowed for some time along Highway 39, to facilitate the rally. Security measures were stepped up to ensure that there was no untoward incident. The rally participants were treated to Manipuri delicacies and special cultural presentations were organised in their honour.
An agreement for opening the Imphal-Mandalay (Myanmar) bus service is likely to be signed early next year (2013), when the President of Myanmar visits New Delhi. Within two years, other cities of Myanmar also may be covered by this service. India is now thinking about Myanmar not just as a neighbour, but rather as a gateway to south-east Asia and ASEAN.
The safe and sound arrival of the cars participating in ASEAN-India rally thus can be truly considered as a precursor of the economic integration of India with countries of South east Asia, where emergence of new trade routes between India and South east Asia, using surface transport, are likely to bring great economic benefits to this neglected region.