At the forthcoming summit of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) beginning in New Delhi from January 25, India would push for two important issues. First, India would strongly ask for better and enhanced trade and diplomatic relations amongst the Member countries. Second, India would work for minimising the influence of China in the region.
This summit is being held at a time when China has adopted aggressive posturing in the South China Sea. Series of missile launch by North Korea is also a matter of grave concern in the region. These issues are likely to figure when the heads of the nation meet for deliberations. In fact, China is working for its Project One Belt One Road to assert its hegemony in this region. China has also dispute with some countries adjoining South China Sea. India would try to work for a solution that would reduce tension and resolve dispute between the nations.
Act-East Policy on Fast Track
With an objective of improving relations with Member countries, India is working on its Act-East Policy with renewed vigour. Under it India would like to work for better cooperation in the field of culture, economy, history, and defense strategy. In is 25 years since when India entered into relationship under the umbrella of ASEAN countries. Heads of States of all 10 Member nations are coming to take part in the summit.
While the summit begins on January 25, a day after on January 26 which is celebrated as Republic Day in India, this year at the Republic Day Parade on Rajpath, not one but ten Heads of States would be the Guest of Honour at the ceremony. Never before so many Heads of State attended the Republic Day parade as chief guest. It was only in 1968 and in 1974 when more than one Head of State were chief guests. In 1968 Heads of State of Yugoslavia and that of Soviet Union were the chief guests. In 1974 Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Sirimavo Bandaranaike was chief guest along with Yugoslavia President. This year history will be made. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited three nations on the eve of the summit. She was in Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.
History of Religious and Cultural Ties
In fact, India has close cultural and religious proximity with ASEAN countries that include Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar, Brunei and Lagos. India finds itself in closer proximity with most of these nations because of Buddhism and Hinduism. A large number of tourists from these countries come to India because of Buddhist Centres that includes Bodh Gaya and Sarnath. India will have to work to attract more tourists from these countries. If we talk of Thailand, more than eight million tourists visit Thailand alone because Thailand had majority of its population who are Buddhists and there are Buddhist Centres of Pilgrimage. In India not more than a million tourists come every year to visit Buddhist Circuit. There are estimated more than 50 crore Buddhists in the world. India should try to attract the Buddhists from other countries since Lord Buddha was born in India. India can improve facilities in the Buddhist Circuit comprising Bodh Gaya, Rajgir-Nalanda and Sarnath so that more and more tourists visit us from the ASEAN countries. We should learn a lesson or two from Thailand where idols of Budha are the presiding deities of temples in many places. Lord Budh is seen in different postures in these temples that are centres of attraction.
Hinduism a Link between India and Indonesia
When we talk of India and Indonesia, Hindu religion is a common link between the two countries. Despite being an Islamic country, India takes pride in its adaptation of Ramayana.
The Ramayana of Indonesia is famous and popular in the world. Indonesia wants that Indonesian version of Ramayana should be staged in different places of India at least twice in a year. Both the countries agree that by better exchange of culture through Ramayana, the ties between them would be strengthened further besides giving tourism a boost.
At the ASEAN summit, business occupies as an agenda of priority. India would seek better participation and cooperation in the field of Road Transport, Waterways, Finance and Highways.
Migrant Indians in Malaysia
Prime Minister of Malaysia is also coming to India to attend the ASEAN summit. There are approximately three million Indian migrant workers in Malaysia. These Indian workers face many problems over there. India would take up the issue of Indian workers in that country with the visiting Prime Minister. Most of the migrant workers are from Thanjavore district of Tamil Nadu. The British rulers had taken these Indians to Malaysian in 1830 to work as a farm labourers. Though these workers of Indian origin, they are fully Malaysian now. Yet, in many cases, these Malaysian people of Indian origin are treated as second class citizens in that country.
(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)
R K. Sinha