INDIA’S ACT EAST POLICY – INDIAN NAVY AS A STRATEGIC INSTRUMENT FOR ITS IMPLEMENTATION
INTRODUCTION AND METHODOLOGY
“Improving connectivity in northeastern states is the key to the success of the ‘Act East’ policy that seeks to strengthen India’s ties with countries in the Asia-Pacific region”
Gen V K Singh (Retd.)
Union Minister of State for External Affairs
1. India is not a stranger to Southeast Asian states and to the regions beyond it, due to its deep historical, cultural and maritime bonds with them. After independence, India looked forward to carve a role for itself in the Asian continent. Nehru, as the architect of independent India’s foreign policy, in general and its Asia policy in particular was aimed at building Asian solidarity. He took in to account the aspiration of a newly independent and resurgent Asia. Consequently, while speaking in the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi, in March 1947, he observed that, ‘We are of Asia and the people of Asia are nearer and closer to us than others. India is so situated that she is the pivot of Western, Southern and Southeast Asia. In the past, her cultural flowed to all these countries and they came to her in many ways. These contacts are being renewed and the future is bounds to sea a close union between India and Southeast Asia.
2. Nehru’s vision seems to have been based on three-fold assumptions, firstly the assertion of India’s geo-strategic centrality to Asia. Second, its deep historical and cultural ties with Southeast Asia and last, non-aligned policy had a considerable appeal in Southeast Asia because newly independent countries of Asia would like to keep away from great power rivalries and conflict. Nehru considered Asian harmony as a precondition in order for it to lend its legitimate weight to world politics. To that end, Nehru underlined the role of regionalism and multilateralism to enhance cooperation and mutual undertaking among these states .
3. The importance of the IOR was realised by the Indian leadership during the initial days of free governance. In the years after independence, this region was overlooked by India because of troublesome relationship with Pakistan and inclination of the government to resolve the Kashmir issue with world support. The need to have a cohesive network of cooperative nations in the region is essential to ensure a peaceful management of the trade and the mulita-lateral trade links thereof. As one of the fastest growing economies in the region, economic security including energy security and security of energy is a pre-requisite for India. (GDP in India was worth 2597.49 billion US Dollars in 2017, represents 4.19 percent of the world economy) .
4. The Look East Policy of India, framed by the Narasimha Rao government in the early nineties, is a substantial manifestation of India’s focused foreign policy orientation towards South East Asia. As one of the most resourceful and flourishing region worldwide, the South East Asia presents itself as a virtually untapped economic market. India’s maritime neighbours are not only those sharing common boundaries of our maritime zones – but also nations with whom we share the common maritime space of the high seas. Accordingly, India has a vast maritime neighbourhood, which extends across the IOR. Maritime relations with the nations in our wider neighbourhood and beyond are an important facet of our broader politico-economic relations, in which the Indian Navy also plays an important role. This was reflected in the “Look East” policy, wherein the Indian Navy was a key instrument in India’s diplomatic outreach to countries in East and South-East Asia, particularly ASEAN members. The “Look East” policy has now been transformed into the “Act East” policy, to expand India’s engagement and relations to its East, across the Indo-Pacific, with emphasis on economic and security cooperation. India has also launched Project Mausam in 2014, to renew the cultural links and contact among countries in the IOR. It has further projected the vision of SAGAR – ‘Security And Growth for All in the Region’, in 2015, as part of India’s endeavours to strengthen economic relations and development in the IOR, in a mutually supportive and cooperative manner .
5. While the earlier `Look East` policy, in its re-incarnated form as ‘Act East’ (ACEP), is under execution, entails a special economic drive towards CLMV (Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam) countries. “The ‘Act East’ (ACEP) policy of the Government of India endeavours to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations in South-East Asia. In order to catalyse investments from the Indian private sector in this region, a Project Development Company will, through separate Special Purpose Vehicles, set up manufacturing hubs in these countries.”
6. India’s neighbourhood with the member-countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, is comparatively an intricate geographical entity. The constituent countries-individually as well as collectively-represent a world of historical links, shared legacies, commonalities as well as diversities which are so elaborately reflected in their ethnic, linguistic, religious and political fabric. China and Myanmar, the other two neighbours, are no less complex. India’s position is unique in many senses. As a matter of an interesting geographic factor, India shares borders with all other South Asian nations whereas no other South Asian nation (except Afghanistan and Pakistan) shares borders with any other South Asian nation. Notwithstanding some limitations, democracy and rule of law as