India–Indonesia strategic partnership


Oct 8, 2009

Tamalia Alisjahbana, Jakarta

Indonesia may trade with China but it sings and dances with India. If Gandhi and Nehru or Indonesia's Founding Fathers, Muhammad Hatta and Sjahrir were alive today, they would say that India and Indonesia have a moral duty to create a vision of a democratic and pluralist Asia.

India is the largest democracy in Asia and Indonesia is the largest democracy in ASEAN. Democracy has not always been considered an Asian value.

At the "India-Indonesia New Strategic Partnership" seminar last week, Dr. Raja Mohan, strategic
affairs editor of the Indian Express, described how in the late 1990s the Singapore government spoke about Asian values as opposed to Western values, but how the discussion came to an abrupt end, when the people of Jakarta poured out into the streets demanding democracy in 1998.

For India and Indonesia, democracy is an accepted Asian value. An important aspect of this is also having a pluralist society. Former Indian ambassador to Indonesia Vinod Khanna expressed this by saying that diversity was a source of enrichment to all mankind.

It is a matter of little surprise that both India and Indonesia also currently face extremist groups bent on establishing uniform, homogenous societies for, as a noted Indonesian scholar once wrote, "A society that does not give its people the right to think and express themselves freely is a society that has not yet evolved out of its own tribalism." — tribes being usually homogenous in character.

It emerged that one of India's main interests in the ASEAN is security. The more nations of Southeast Asia that are democratic and pluralist, the more India and Indonesia's security interests are served.

During India and Indonesia's struggle for independence, the leaders of the two nations had a close relationship and frequently tried to assist each other in their fight for freedom.

Gandhi and Nehru were profoundly inspiring figures not only for Indonesia's founding fathers but for the Indonesian people.

In 1947, Nehru organized a conference of Asian nations in Delhi to support Indonesia's struggle for independence and to fly Sutan Sjahrir through the Dutch blockade for the conference.

Later when India experienced famine, Indonesian nationalist forces collected rice. Nationalist posters at the time cried out, "Help Mother India!" During the struggle for independence our founding fathers shared common goals, values and visions for India and Indonesia.

A democratic and pluralist Asia would certainly has been a part of their long-term vision.

Obviously, the governments of India and Indonesia are reluctant to lecture other nations about democracy, let alone coerce them into becoming democracies.

To do so would be a grave mistake for democracy needs to grow from the people.

So in creating a vision of a democratic and pluralist Asia, the people need to be given the opportunity to speak and act.

Both India and Indonesia have active NGOs in the field of democracy and human rights that should be encouraged to meet, exchange ideas and work together not only in the interests of India and Indonesia but also in building a vision of a democratic and pluralist Asia.

NGOs from Asian nations that are not yet democratic may be allowed to participate. Governments can provide forums and funding.

In brief the governments of India and Indonesia can support the establishment of a continuous and lively dialogue, as well as cooperation on issues of democracy, freedom of the press, human rights and national identity, which evolve around shared values.

An important element in creating and building democracies and pluralist societies is culture, which is why culture and the arts should also be of interest to the governments of India and Indonesia.

Too often Indonesia through ASEAN has been grouped together with China but although we may trade more with China, ideologically and culturally we remain closer to India.

Through the centuries we have seen India's influence on our dance, art, temples and monuments, and our music. Even today, India still delights us with its Bollywood films.

India's influences are not only felt in Bali but throughout the islands of the Indonesian Archipelago as Indonesia's first meeting with India was not just an information and technology revolution.

It was a profound awakening of our creative soul that paved the way for great development of the arts and culture.

Even today, India touches our hearts and inspires our creativity in a way that leaves the Indonesian soul deeply happy.

India and Indonesia should join hands to create dances, dramas, textiles and stories as we did so many centuries ago.

Additionally, why not create a Bollywood film together? It would be in the interests of both India and Indonesia for their governments to inspire a renaissance in the arts and in democracy, a renaissance that could spread throughout Asia.

Let us start with a lively and continued dialogue between India and Indonesia. In the words of
Dr. Raja Mohan, "I believe that India and Indonesia can make a difference in the world. Once you bring people together you will see things begin to happen"¦"

Indonesia may trade with China but it sings and dances with India.

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