The 2nd ASEAN-India Youth Summit was held at Guwahati, Assam from 3 to 7 February, 2019. This was the 2nd leg of the Youth Summit organised by India Foundation in collaboration with ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta, Indonesia and supported by Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and Government of Assam. It witnessed the participation of 100 Youth Delegates from the 10 ASEAN Countries and 80 Indian Delegates. On the first day, the introductory session was addressed by Maj Gen Dhruv C. Katoch, Director, India Foundation. The inaugural session was chaired by Mr.SarbanandaSonowal, Chief Minister, Assam. Welcome remarks were made by Ms. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East), Government of India and Mr. K.J. Alphons, Minister of State for Tourism, Government of India was the Chief Guest. Mr. Kung Phuok, Deputy Secretary General, ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, ASEAN graced the inaugural session as the Guest of Honour. A keynote address was delivered by Ms. Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East).
The first technical session of the Summit was on the theme “Physical Connectivity”. Mr. Chandra Mohan Patowary, Minister of Transport, Industry and Commerce, Skill, Employment and Entrepreneurship Development, Govt of Assam chaired the session. Mr. N Biren Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur said that the year 2017 was a landmark year while ASEAN celebrated 50 years of existence; India celebrated 25 years of meaningful partnership with ASEAN. He mentioned that the Act East policy under leadership of Prime Minister NarendraModi was reflective of India’s commitment to deepening its ties with the region. ASEAN-India relationship banks on strong cultural and civilizational ties.
There exists a strong cultural affinity between the North East region of India and the ASEAN region. The NE region of India is also endowed with rich natural and cultural diversity. It is now seen as new engine of growth for India. He spoke about his state of Manipur which is the land gateway of India to South East Asia. To unlock the latent potential and uncap opportunities in the state, it is important to ensure that physical and social infra services are robust. Physical connectivity through air, land and sea is vital to facilitate enduring partnership and collaborations.
He mentioned of elevated highways, ring roads being planned in Imphal, the capital of Manipur and how through Asian Highways, Manipur is becoming a gateway to ASEAN countries. He talked about recently inaugurated integrated check post cum immigration point at Moreh in Manipur with idea to boost border management, trade infrastructure and people to people connectivity between India and Myanmar. Bus service trial run was flagged off in December 2015 between Manipur in India and Mandalay in Myanmar. While talking about air connectivity he said that there is increased frequency of flights linking India’s NE region to the rest of the country. He also spoke about art and culture related opportunities and how dance, film and theatre are connecting platforms. Saying that the law and order conditions have improved tremendously, he welcomed all the investors to come and invest in Manipur. He also talked about agricultural sector with lots of potential. He mentioned how his state is a sport power house of the country, especially in developing grassroots football ecosystem. He said that Government of Manipur believes that future lies in engaging actively to collectively create synergized and mutually supportive relationship, transforming the lives of the people in the region and reshaping the geo political and economic landscape in the ASEAN sanctuary.
Mr. Sachin Chaturvedi, DG, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), New Delhi said that for physical connectivity we also need to think in the direction of globalization and de-globalization. He spoke about three important factors which need to be understood – scale, technology and network. By scale he meant matching the scale of economies e.g. India and ASEAN, while ensuring local production and skills are preserved and addressed adequately. His second point was to be open to use technology intelligently like Singapore did in 1998 and established itself as global leader in bio-pharmaceutical sector. But technology should be people centric and common people should benefit. His third point was that without network, the technology is of no use. There should be good network between firms, companies, institutions, think tanks or even individual researchers so that growth corridor or growth poles can be created. He further added that physical connectivity empowers youth by integrating internal economy. It creates social mobility, better understanding of culture, which automatically sets stage for small and medium enterprises. While quoting the Prime Minister Modi’s idea to bring Central Asia to South Asia and South Asia to South East Asia toward preparedness of grand Asian century, he said that in order to comfortably move from Kabul to Ho Chi Minh, both digital and physical infrastructure are important.
Mr. Pham SanhChau, Ambassador of Vietnam to India appreciated NE India’s natural beauty as well as its distinctive cultural, historical and spiritual linkages with ASEAN countries. He also appreciated that India is the fourth country in addition to Japan, China and Australia to organise this kind of youth summits. About physical connectivity he said that presently Vietnam does not have any direct physical link by road or by air with India, except the sea link because physical connectivity requires huge investments, policies, internal stability, harmonization and coordination of internal policy of the countries. He acknowledged the importance of physical connectivity requirement and efforts being taken by India and other countries but due to slow progress of projects in absence of funds, he advised that multilateral financial institutes like ADB, World Bank should pitch in for funding. He mentioned his efforts to have direct air connectivity between India and Vietnam but due to less passenger demand and lack of suitable time slot, the airlines are hesitant in undertaking operations. He also talked about India’s intention to invest $ 5 billion to boost air connectivity between India and ASEAN countries and gave the suggestion that all 16 existing ASEAN airlines and Indian operators should sit together and discuss options for mutual growth. He also urged the youth of all the countries to come up with ideas for better connectivity in respect of their countries and let the panel know.
In his concluding remarks he suggested to the heads of the states to select the best feature of their respective state like any art form, place of interest or cultural tradition and put it forward through union government for UNESCO branding for better advertising. This will help in gaining universal acceptance and will improve road, rail, air and sea connectivity. He said that Vietnam treasures the relationship with India and that his team is here to contribute to strong ties, physically, humanly, politically and also spiritually between India and ASEAN and especially between India and Vietnam. After the first technical session on “Physical Connectivity”, a motivational lecture was delivered by Mr.Pullela Gopichand, Chief National Coach, Indian Badminton Team.
The second day of the Summit began with Country Presentations of five ASEAN Countries – Brunei Darussalem, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, and Malaysia. The second technical session on the theme “Economic Connectivity” followed the five country presentations. This session was chaired by Mr.Ranjit Barthakur, Founder & Chairman, Globally Managed Services (GMS) and the panelist of this session were H.E. Chutintorn Gongsakdi, Ambassador of Thailand to India and Mr. Yash Gandhi, Senior Investment Specialist, Invest India. Three parallel group discussions on three themes – Governance & Polity, Cultural & Historical Linkages and Entrepreneurship & Skill Development were held after the second technical session and also on the following day.
The parallel discussion on Governance and Polity was addressed by Ms.Archana Chitnis, Former Minister of Women and Child Development, Government of Madhya Pradesh. She said that the current
generation of policy makers are more refined, evolved, and with a level of maturity in thinking. Speaking from her experiences as a former Minister of Women and Child Development and the work done by her ministry in improving the educational, health and sanitary conditions of women in the state of Madhya Pradesh, she listed out case studies of role of the geography of a state in formulating policies and providing good governance. She also spoke about some of the most popular schemes of the Government of India which have brought about a remarkable change in people’s lives in the last 5 years. The Jan Dhan Yojana, started by the Government of India in 2014, has been credited with being the largest financial inclusion programme ever carried out in the country with 1.5 crore bank accounts opening on the inauguration day itself.
The second parallel discussion was addressed by Mr. Ram Madhav, National General Secretary, Bharatiya Janata Party and Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation along with Ms. Chitnis. In his interaction with the delegates, Mr. Madhav spoke of the aim of governance and polity being that of fulfilling the aspirations of the common man. He then spoke of the four objectives that should be a part of the larger agenda of governance of any country: National Unity; National Happiness; National Security (Internal and External) and to promote National Honour and Dignity. He then opened the floor for the delegates to look back and discuss if their respective governments have been able to fulfil the four objectives listed above. He asked each of the delegates to list one policy implemented by their governments which has left a mark on their society. Delivering the concluding remarks of the session, Ms.Chitnis, spoke of the increased participation of women as one of the take-aways of the policies of the NDA government at the Centre. She also highlighted the role played by education in the level of sensitivity displayed by our policy makers and public representatives towards the concerns of the masses.
In the session on Cultural and Historical Linkages, Ms.Vandana Mishra, Associate Professor of Political Science, Delhi University introduced the panellists. H.E Moe Kyaw Aung, Myanmar Ambassador to India spoke about Myanmar’s cultural heritage giving the example of the temple of Bagan. He said that modernisation does not mean letting go of our culture and stressed on the physical, tangible and intangible culture of Myanmar. He said that for Buddhists, it is ingrained in their culture to pay respects to the Buddha and such examples of culture should not be forgotten. Myanmar’s culture includes stone making, carving and bronze casting apart from fashion, textile, jewellery making and traditional arts of dances and music. He said the best way to cultivate relationships is by enhancing cultural ties especially with neighbouring countries such as India. In Myanmar, performances by Indian cultural troops have been organised since 1997. Similarly, Myanmar groups have been visiting India, especially the northeast region to advocate closer cultural and trade links between the two countries.
Prof. Sunaina Singh, Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University spoke about the historical linkages between India and ASEAN and how these linkages can be preserved and lend to economic ecosystems for today and the future. She defined culture as a way of life, the reflection of spirituality, languages, architecture, day to day conduct, value system, ethics and morality. She said that although culture is seen as a mirror but should instead be looked as a hammer that shapes and sculpts the minds. Looking at historical connects, she said we find many common mythical stories that are very India but at the same time has merged with local cultures. She said there is a need to preserve these cultures, and countries like India and Southeast Asia have strong, historical cultures that can be preserved.
H.E Pham SanhChau, Vietnam Ambassador to India spoke about elements that links India and ASEAN such as religion, including Hinduism and Buddhism. In Bali he saw an authentic Hindu temple which introduced him to Hinduism and it was Indonesia that brought him to India. The first country that President Kovind visited after assuming office was Vietnam where he visited the former Cham kingdom region that has got many Hindu elements. Currently, the Indian government is helping renovate the Hindu temple in Vietnam. He said that Buddhism is the greatest gift that Indian civilisation can offer to the world.
Three Group Discussions were held on the topic of Entrepreneurship and Skill Development. The first such session had H.E. Lim Thuan Kuan, Hon’ble High Commissioner of Singapore to India and Mr.Shaurya Doval, Managing Director, Zeus Caps& Member of Board of Governors, India Foundation as speakers. This session was moderated by Ms.Soumya Agarwal, Board Member and Executive Director, Gateway Education. The second session’s speakers included H.E. Dato’ Hidayat Abdul Hamid, Hon’ble High Commissioner of Malaysia to India and Mr.Shaurya Doval. This session was moderated by Mr.Priyang Pandey, Political Advisor to the Chief Minister of Nagaland. The final session, moderated by Ms.Sonu Trivedi, Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, had H.E. Chutintorn Gongsakdi, Hon’ble Ambassador of Thailand to India and Mr. Shaurya Doval as speakers.
The relationship between entrepreneurship and skill development, to a great extent today is an exclusive one. However, going into the future this is going to be a more synonymous and interlinked relationship. It is a misnomer to believe that skill development is simply a training exercise for jobs and that entrepreneurship is an art. Entrepreneurship is today considered to be a skill bordering on being a science in itself and similarly one can now also be skilled or taught the science of entrepreneurship, much like one can be taught the science of mathematics or physics. The conventional thinking has been that one can only be skilled to be a mechanic, carpenter or teacher etc but, skilling is now also a skill in itself and also on its way to becoming a booming business for new entrepreneurs. This has been made possible with the onset of the digital age. In the internet ecosystem of today, young people are more aware, catch onto new things quicker, are capable of thinking for solutions and are hence disrupting the traditional approach to entrepreneurship and have made it a sort of DIY (Do It Yourself) exercise. It would be a fair assertion to compare the internet of today to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and the role it played in revolutionising the way people were educated and spread information on a mass level, which was previously only limited to an oral, limited reach system of learning. It is hoped that with time and with unhindered, uninterrupted and affordable access to the internet, populations in the future will be able to skill themselves and have an entrepreneurial ‘mindset’.
With regards to skill development, an important change in human life has facilitated the need for the working population to learn how to skill and more importantly reskill themselves. With major advances in medical sciences, compared to previous generations, longevity of human life is increasing all over the world. Thus, the previously established life order of first educating and skilling yourself before taking up a job and then eventually retiring from the same job is passe. Today, a great proportion of millennials take up more than two careers in their lifetime. Moreover, there is greater flexibility in trying out a few job profiles before finally settling in one. In this situation, the importance of learning and the ability to skill and reskill oneself on the go is paramount. We can therefore say that skill development today is a continuous process
owing to a new globalised world order where opportunities are aplenty and mostly free from discrimination.
Two major themes of critique with regards to entrepreneurship and skill development in today’s
‘4th Industrial Revolution’ relate to the scarcity of credit for social entrepreneurship and the impact of
artificial intelligence and machine learning on skill development programmes. Speaking about competitive versus conscious entrepreneurship, it is generally observed that profit making entrepreneurial ventures get more capital than social entrepreneurial ventures and that non availability of credit is the prime reason for failed socially mindful start-ups. However, on closer inspection it is found that scarcity of capital is not an issue but the mindset of ‘whether credit will be available?’ is an issue. There is no doubt that the government needs to initiate reforms for fair redistribution of capital but there is also no doubt in the fact that access to capital is not so much of a challenge as much as access to bankable and sustainable capital is a challenge. In this situation, CSR initiatives must be encouraged and zero-sum game setups be discouraged and dismantled. On the issue of impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning on skills needed in the future to still have a relevant job, there is no doubt that certain jobs are becoming redundant with the passage of time such as need for drivers with the coming in of technology that enables innovation of driverless cars or construction related jobs with the coming in of 3D printing in house design and construction. However, it must be noted that though this change may impact the nature of jobs available but it will not impact the number of jobs available (at least not in the immediate future) so long as there are corresponding changes in the system of imparting skills, for these new innovations and even artificial intelligence is only as good as humans make them.
The chair for the panel discussion on Youth and Socio-Cultural Connectivity was Mr.Shaurya Doval, Managing Director, Zeus Caps and Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation. The panellists were Mr. Bhaichung Bhutia, Footballer & Former Captain of Indian National Team welcomed all ASEAN delegates to the North East of India and Ms.Fientje Maritje Suebu, Deputy Chief of the Mission, Indonesia.
Ms.Fientje spoke of the historic links between the people of the region from the time of Rama and Sita, the Pandavas and Kauravas to the traders, sailors and learned men from the region who travelled and mixed freely. She said we have always been preachers of pluralism and tolerance. Both India and ASEAN region know what it is to be ethnically, religiously, politically, rich and diverse. Our diversity and history will give us the strength to face modern challenges. According to UNFP, India has the world’s largest youth population and will continue to do so in the next few decades. And Indonesia follows closely in this regard. Both countries have to explore possibilities on how to maximize on this demographic dividend. Representing India as a footballer, BhaichungBhutia visited almost all ASEAN countries and discovered a great deal of similarity between India and the ASEAN region in terms of social and cultural aspects of our lives and even food habits. He spoke of North East being the football capital of India and that forging a special connection between the ASEAN nations with the region as youth from both regions are deeply passionate about football.
On the third day of the ASEAN-India Youth Summit, the participants of the summit witnessed a Conversation on ‘North-East as India’s Gateway to ASEAN’ by Chief Ministers of three Indian North East states of India – Mr.Biplab Kumar Deb, Chief Minister of Tripura; Mr. Neiphiu Rio, Chief Minister of Nagaland and Mr.Pema Khandu, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. The session was chaired by Mr. Ram Madhav, Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation. He said that the two Chief Ministers Shri Pema Khandu and Shri Biplab Kumar Deb look young but Mr. Neiphiu Rio and himself are young at heart.
In the Valedictory Session of the 2nd ASEAN-India Youth Summit, Mr.HimantaBiswaSarma, Minister of Finance, Government of Assam was the Guest of Honour; Mr.Jagdish Mukhi, Hon’ble Governor of Assam was the Chief Guest and Swami Mitrananda of Chinmaya mission was Special Guest. The ASEAN-India Youth Awards were presented to promising youth leaders from ASEAN countries and India. The Youth Summit witnessed the attendance of prodigious talent from the region. Youth icons nominated from fields as varied as journalism, law and politics, entrepreneurship, science
and technology, historical studies to social activism, performing arts, and even religious studies enabled the confluence of diverse minds to brainstorm on issues of connectivity between India and South East Asia. Participants were handpicked by a distinguished jury from the organizers of the event, India Foundation and Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, based on their ongoing contributions towards strengthening of ASEAN-India ties, and excellence in their respective professional and academic careers.
(This Report is carried in the print edition of May-June 2019 issue of India Foundation Journal.)