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So Near And Yet So Far

V. Suryanarayan

By Navrekha Sharma  and Baladas Ghoshal 
Market Asia, Singapore , Research Asia, South Asia Research Series, 2014, pp. 306, price not mentioned.

VOLUME XL NUMBER 9 September 2016

Why is the United States the most powerful country in the world today? I always pose this question to students in my inaugural lecture on contemporary Southeast Asia. Students provide several answers. The United States is the most powerful country in the world; it has vast economic resources; technologically it is the most advanced country, etc. While the above answers contain elements of truth, I clinch the issue by stating that the United States is the first country in the world to realize that knowledge is power. American Universities—Harvard, Yale, Columbia, MIT to name some—attract the best talents from countries across the world and they set in motion concepts and ideas which we in the rest of the world blindly accept. One such concept which originated in the early 1950s was the division of our part of the world into South Asia and Southeast Asia. The Indian School of International Studies, started in 1955, thanks to the initiative taken by Pandit Hriday Nath Kunzru and Professor A. Appadorai accepted this division. It is necessary to remind ourselves that Indian historians like R.C. Majumdar, Nilakanta Sastri, H.B. Sarkar and B.R. Chatterjee used the term Southeast Asia to cover both South Asia and Southeast Asia. By accepting the American premise that South and Southeast Asia are two distinct geographical entities, countries which are close to us geographically and culturally became intellectually distant. Few people in India realize the fact that the distance between Indira Point and Pu Breush in Northwest Sumatra is only 92 nautical miles, less than the distance between Chennai and Tirupati. Similarly the distance between Indira Point and the nearest place in Thailand is less than the distance between Chennai and Madurai. In its Annual Report the Ministry of External Affairs refers to SAARC countries as immediate neighbourhood and countries in Southeast Asia as extended neighbourhood. How much nearer should Thailand and Indonesia be to India for the Mandarins in the South Bloc to realize that Thailand and Indonesia are part of our immediate neighbourhood and not extended neighbourhood? Navrekha Sharma and Baladas Ghoshal are eminently qualified to analyse the twists and turns in India-Indonesia relations. A diplomat, Navrekha had two assignments in Indonesia, first as Minister—Counsellor (1993–96) and second as Ambassador (2006–08). Baladas Ghoshal has specialized in Southeast Asian Studies; his doctoral dissertation was on Guided Democracy in Indonesia; he is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia and, ...

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