“India and ASEAN countries have a long history of cultural, social and
economic interaction”- Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister of India
The year 2017 holds a great significance to India as well as to the ASEAN member countries. It marks the 50th year of the formation of ASEAN and 25 years of Dialogue Partnership between India and ASEAN countries. India-ASEAN member countries have strengthened their bond since they have committed themselves to jointly contribute to the promotion of peace, stability and development in the Asia- Pacific region and have responded positively and mutually to global issues and challenges of dynamic regional and international environment. Another aspect of the relationship is the involvement of Youth in bringing mutual peace and stability in the India-ASEAN region.
To highlight the important role youth play in building this relationship, the first India-ASEAN Youth Summit was organised in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh by India Foundation in association with Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and Government of Madhya Pradesh. Youth Delegates from India and the ten ASEAN countries participated in the Youth Summit which comprised many panel and parallel discussions that addressed a wide range of topics. Speakers from all segments gave their valuable inputs to the gathering comprising of young delegates from India and ASEAN countries.
Day 1: August 14, 2017:
The Inaugural session was chaired by Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. The Chief Guest for the Inaugural session was Gen V. K Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, Government of India and the Guest of Honour was Ms Preeti Saran, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.
While addressing the gathering, Ms Preeti Saran, introduced the theme “Shared Values Common Destiny” to the gathering and also stated the importance of having a stable relationship in the India-ASEAN region.
Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan stressed on a wide range of aspects involving youth as active participators in building strong and stable relationships among the nations. He stated, “India and ASEAN societies were developed way before the societies of the developed nations developed. Hence our (India-ASEAN) relations have been in existence since time immemorial.”
Gen. V. K. Singh spoke of the importance of mutual understanding amongst India- ASEAN nations. He said, “We share values and culture since immemorial times and days are coming when demographic difference will prove to enhance our relationship.” He also said, “Youth are the elders for tomorrow, summits and exchanges like this will not only strengthen the ties but will also provide a platform for the cross-cultural exchange of ideas amongst the youth.”
Day 2: August 15, 2017
The second day proceedings started with a visit to Manav Sangrahalay. This was followed by a session on India-ASEAN Relations. Ms Preeti Saran, in her keynote address stressed on the recent developments in the relationship between India and ASEAN nations which not only involve improving the connectivity but also about India’s attempt to provide financial and technical support to ASEAN. She quoted the role of the youth brigade in strengthening the ties. She also stated that commerce and cultural connectivity has been the hallmark of our relationship and together, we are a perfect example of pluralism in diversity.
Three ASEAN member countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia and Indonesia gave their country presentations, in which the polity, culture and tradition of their respective countries and India’s relationship with them was highlighted. Parallel discussions took place on four themes: Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Digital and IT connectivity, UN SDGs and Polity and Governance. The sessions were conducted in small groups, and focussed on active participation by the youth, to enlist their views and to facilitate an exchange of ideas.
In the discussion on Polity and Governance, Shri Ram Madhav stated, “We should think beyond democracy, our commitment should be for peace and pluralism and welfare of the last person should be addressed first.” The panel discussion on India-ASEAN connectivity was addressed by Dr. Lam Thanh Hah, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of International Economic, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam; Dr. Vidya Natampally, former Senior Director of Strategy, Microsoft Research India; Dr. Shristi Pukhrem, Senior Research Fellow, India Foundation; and Dr. U. Thein Lwin, Deputy Director General, Dept of Archaeology and National Museum, Myanmar. Dr. Shristi Pukhrem said, “We should join hands to promote connectivity between India and ASEAN since it is very important for cultural and civilisational development.” After the conclusion of the day long discussion on various issues, the delegates took part in the ASEAN food festival, where exchange of views took place in an informal environment.
Day 3: August 16, 2017
The 3rd day of India-ASEAN Youth Summit kicked off with visits to Van Vihar and Bhopal Lake. This was followed by three country presentations, namely Lao PDR, Malaysia and Myanmar. Thereafter, a panel discussion on cultural and civilisational linkages in India-ASEAN region took place, chaired by Prof Sunaina Singh, Vice-Chancellor, Nalanda University. In this Panel Discussion, Dr Ram Niwas, Professor at State Pariyatti Sasana University, Myanmar stated, “Buddhism is the basis of cultural and civilisational linkages and it has also played a significant role in building India- Myanmar relationship.” He further added, “It is our common destiny to preserve our cultural and civilisational linkages of India-ASEAN countries since it is a bridge to our future relationship.” Cultural and civilisational linkages among countries have always been the basis for any kind of relationship and hence it becomes very important for us to have a comprehensive discussion on it. Shri Sanyal stressed that, “References of cultural and civilisational linkages of a south east region should be given more importance”. He further said that the then knowledge epicentre ‘Nalanda University’ was funded by Indonesian King, Sumatra. Adding to this, Anuradha Shankar, ADG, Administration PHQ, Madhya Pradesh said, “Cultural reality and political reality are not associated and it should not be associated. We have to look at South East Asia from South East Asia’s perspective. Everyone has a local and cultural history; resemblances remain, but still differences prevail.”
Parallels discussion on the four listed topics were led by Shaurya Doval, Dr Vidya Natampally, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque and Smt Archana Chitnis. The delegation then visited ‘Shaurya Smarak’ which is a war memorial situated in the heart of Bhopal. From there the delegation proceeded to dinner and cultural event hosted by Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, CM of Madhya Pradesh at his official residence. Ms Mithali Raj, Captain, Indian Women’s Cricket Team was a special guest for the evening. In her speech, she spoke of the role of women in building up a strong relationship amongst people to make a stable society. She stressed on the importance of youth and urged the youth delegates to work in such a way that they could bring about a positive change in the society
Day 4: August 17, 2017
The day started with a discussion on ‘Youth Declaration’, where all the delegates had a comprehensive discussion with their respective country members on the draft declaration and some countries came up with their amendment suggestions. Thereafter, the delegates participated in Parallel Discussions, in which different group participated in different discussions. Thereafter, three countries, namely Philippines, Singapore and Thailand gave a presentation of their respective countries. The delegates from Philippines were dressed in their traditional attire that showcased their culture and tradition.
The country presentations were followed by an “Ambassador’s Panel Discussion” on Trade and Commerce. Trade and commerce are the backbones of any kind of bilateral relationship since the economies of all countries are inter-dependent. The speakers for this session were Ambassadors of Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar. In this session, the Ambassadors presented their trade and commerce data with India. Ambassador of Philippines, H.E Ma.Teresita C. Daza asserted the importance of trade and commerce. She said, “India and Philippines are bonded with trade and commerce and this relationship dates back to the colonial era.” Ambassador of Myanmar, H.E U Maung Wai said, “India shares a long border with Myanmar which has the capacity to boost trade and commercial ties between both the countries.”
Day 5: August 18, 2017
The last interactive session of the summit was with Members of Parliament on Governance and Policy. This session was chaired by Shri Ram Madhav, Director India Foundation and National General Secretary of BJP. The panel comprised of three Members of Parliament from India, Shri Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, MP Lok Sabha (Odisha), Dr Subhash Chandra, MP, Rajya Sabha (Haryana) and Shri Conrad Sangma, MP, Lok Sabha (Meghalaya). During this interactive session, the speakers asserted the role of youth in politics as a pivotal part of any particular kind of system of government. Shri ‘Jay’ Panda said, “Political inheritance gives initial benefit only. Politics is brutal and family linkages have no long term advantage. A vision is required for the service of the Public”. Dr Chandra said, “People should not feel neglected since it is the source of any kind of problem.” He also said that politics should not start with a wrong mindset and that commitment and endless service to the people is one thing that a true politician should always remember. Conrad Sangma expressed the view that it is never too easy to shape the next step, but faith and ideology are something which will guide you to take the next step. He was of the view that it is very important to maintain a balance between men and women in politics.
The Valedictory session was chaired by Shri O. P. Kohli, Hon’ble Governor of Gujarat, with Additional Charge of Madhya Pradesh. Chief Guest for the session was Smt Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister, Government of India. Ms Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Youth Envoy was the Guest of Honour.
Smt Sushma Swaraj said that Ramayana and Buddhism connect ASEAN to India. She spoke of bonds of love and not business and asserted the importance of youth as building each block of a nation. She said, “Youth must debate, discuss and actively participate in shaping discourse on polity, governance and sustainable development agendas”. The UN Youth Envoy said that young people need to learn the ways in which humans are able to interact with and adapt to technology and added that in this rapidly changing world, there is no better investment a country can make than in the capacities and potential of youth. Hon’ble Governor of Madhya Pradesh, in his valedictory address spoke of the active participation of youth in various nation building activities, both at national and international level. After this, the Youth Declaration was presented to Smt. Sushma Swaraj.
India-ASEAN Youth Summit not only provided a platform for the young people to have a discussion but also marked the initiation of a forum in which people can come up with views and ideas to address issues of the India-ASEAN region.
(This report is carried in the print edition of September-October 2017 issue of India Foundation Journal.)