The Moving Finger Writes: Note to Modi: After SAARC, Remember ASEAN
Intro: It was under Jawaharlal Nehru that close ties with Indonesia began; it must be under Narendra Modi that, that relationship should fructify beyond our wildest dreams.
Narendra Modi's first “foreign” visit after coming to power has been to Bhutan and a very wise move it turned out to be. His next visit will be to Japan which should be even more fruitful, considering past associations between the two countries. Modi’s concern for recognising the importance of SAARC countries deserves applause. It shows a certain amount of political maturity. But shouldn’t he be concerned just as much with ASEAN countries – our eastern neighbours – especially Indonesia, not to mention the other equally important member nations of ASEAN? Indonesia is India’s second largest trading partner within ASEAN increasing in trade volume from 6.9 billion dollars in 2007-2008 to 20.1 billion dollars in 2012-13 with the target of 25.0 billion dollars set by 2015.
Between 2000 and 2014 there has been as many as ten heads of State/Government visits both ways which stand ample testimony to the intensification of bilaterial ties. This exchange is something of a record that has seldom been noticed. As late as March 11-16, 2013 a Goodwill Parliamentary Delegation of 10 M.P’s led by the then Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Kamal Nath visited Jakarta and Bali. Even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh visited Indonesia thrice. Similarly, Indonesian President Yudhoyono has been to New Delhi thrice, including in 2005, as Chief Guest for Republic Day celebrations in January 2011 and later to attend the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in December 2012. Significantly, during his 2011 visit Indonesia and India signed several important agreements. During Dr Singh’s visit on October 10-12, 2013 he held discussions with President Yudhoyono on a wide range of subjects, ending with the signing of Memoranda of Understanding.
In the field of education, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offers 20 scholarships every year to Indonesian students at under-graduate, post-graduate, doctoral and post-doctoral levels in 181 participating universities and educational institutions. India has established a Vocational Training Centre in Jakarta and Aceh. An IT laboratory was set-up in West Java and handed over to the Indonesian Military Academy in May 2011. In the field of Energy, an Energy Forum was created during the visit of President Yudhoyono in January 2011. The Forum is co-chaired by the Ministry of Coal from India and Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources from Indonesia. Till date, over 500 trainees from the Indonesian Ministry of Public Works have obtained post-graduate degree in M Tech in Water Resources & Irrigation Management from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee. According to information available, a Chair on Indian Studies has been set-up in a Bali University and there have been many cultural exchanges between the two countries.
It comes as a surprise to know that there are around 100,000 Indonesians of Indian origin, mainly engaged in trade and commerce and another 10,000 serving as engineers, consultants, Chartered Accountants, etc making Indonesia their natural home.
According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, a large majority of Indonesians view India’s influence positively. It is said that the Indian community is very well regarded in Indonesia, many of them holding senior positions in local and multi-national companies. For India, approaching Indonesia under several caps is entirely in line with its Look Fast Policy that was prioritised during PV Narasimha Rao’s Prime Ministership and has been carried forward since then.
In the field of Defence, India and Indonesia stepped up their cooperation in 2012 when Defence Minister AK Anthony held meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro in 2012 and resolved to cooperate on counter-terrorism and maritime security. Defence cooperation between the two countries isn’t quite as profound as some would like it to be, but this is a challenge that Prime Minister Modi should face – and the sooner, the better. It should be a matter of pride that India has had the best of relations with the largest Muslim country in the world with India being among the first countries to provide assistance in relief supplies following the tragic tsunami disaster in 2004.
-M V Kamath (The writer is a senior columnist and former editor of Illustrated Weekly)