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India-South East Asia Interface

K.P. Fabian

By Sudhir Devare
ISEAS Publications, Singapore, 2006, pp.252, price not stated.


We seldom come across books dealing with Southeast Asia and India. There is a preoccupation with a few other regions and one or two  countries. For example, there are so many books dealing with India’s relations with Pakistan or the United States of America. Ambassador  Sudhir Devare, pre-eminently qualified to draw our attention to this void in our strategic thinking and to contribute towards filling it, has rendered commendable service by examining the interface between India and Southeast Asia in some depth and coming out with serious recommendations for action.       Devare retired as Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs in 2001. During his 37-year long career in the Indian Foreign Service, he has served as his country’s ambassador in Indonesia and South Korea. Currently, a Senior  Visiting Research Fellow at  the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, the author  has a holistic approach that goes beyond the headlines of the day. “Standing on the banks of  the Irrawaddy in Myanmar or Mekong in Laos”, Devare  says in his preface,  “or gazing at the stupendous human feat of  Angkor Vat in Cambodia or Borobudur in Indonesia, I have often marvelled at the tide of history of India’s  association with Southeast Asia over the millennia, blending with each other in a synthesis of thoughts and values, lending assurance and strength to each other. The march of time has seen many vicissitudes. Today, there are many circumstances. Their neglect will be only at the cost of mutual understanding and good neighbourliness. In a world of shrunken communications, the need for knowledge with respect to one another has never been greater.” (Italics added.) The italicized comment  applies to the global situation with poignant accuracy as we see pursuit of policy bereft of the knowledge of history.   India and  the states in Southeast Asia regained their freedom in the post-World War 11 period. The Asian Relations Conference  held in New Delhi in March 1947, attended by high level participants from all corners  of Asia, attested to “the strong sense of pan-Asianness of all participants.” In 1949, India took the initiative  to convene a special conference  of eighteen nations to support Indonesia’s freedom struggle. In the next decade and half, India’s relations with  Southeast Asian states such as Indonesia, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia were  “intensive and covered all aspects, including political, security and economic.”  There was considerable input  “from this ...

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