In the midst of reports of hardening identities and stricter borders, the opening of the Friendship Bridge at Moreh, on the India-Myanmar border, offers cheer. Moreh, a town 110 km from Imphal, is expected to be the gateway to Myanmar: Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, is a 10-hour drive from the Manipur town. Mandalay, where “the flyin’-fishes play”, offers direct land connectivity to both China and Southeast Asia. In short, the road to Mandalay can mean a long drive to East Asian cities including Yangon, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and Kunming in Yunnan, China.
Moreh has for some time been designated an immigration check post of India. Citizens of both countries were allowed to cross the border and travel upto 16 km of each other’s territory. Indians, who wished to travel beyond that needed special land permits from Myanmar authorities. Hereafter, Indian passport-holders can get their visas at Moreh and travel on. The easing of travel restrictions at Moreh transforms Manipur from a land-locked, frontier state to a trade and transit hub connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia. The closing of borders in the years since Independence had blocked old travel routes and disrupted community ties.
Myanmar is still home to a large population of Indian origin and Indian soft power has a resonance in this large country, which now has deep trade and strategic ties with China. Since the 1990s, India has recalibrated its Myanmar policy with the Look East and Act East visions. However, the talk of a trans Asian highway and such has hardly been backed by action. In contrast, China has been successful in judiciously investing in the region and also turning it into political capital. The promise of Moreh will be fulfilled only if New Delhi invests in back-end projects and also completes ongoing road and railway projects that ease travel to the border town.