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View from India: Republic Day, a day to be remembered

India’s Republic Day, which is celebrated on January 26, sports an ASEAN flavour this year. Key representatives from all the 10 countries that constitute the ASEAN region have been invited for Republic Day, which is a first-of-its kind for the country.

ASEAN, an acronym for Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprises 10 countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Seen in terms of population, this amounts to around 640 million people, approximately 8.8 per cent of the world’s population.

The India-ASEAN commemorative summit will be held today and Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi will also hold bilateral meetings with the ASEAN leaders. The bilateral meetings are expected to focus on trade and infrastructural connectivity.

This year, the Republic Day will be a platform for India to forge ties with ASEAN countries. The presence of leaders of ASEAN nations reinforces the Act East Policy (AEP), which has been conceptualised by the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2014. The Act East Policy is a re-energised version of Look Asia, a policy that was formulated in 1991 when PV Narasimha Rao was PM. The Policy has been further strengthened by successive governments led by PMs Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.

Look Asia was intended to build and develop India’s strategic relations with East Asian countries, which are basically the neighbouring countries. With Modi at the helm, Look Asia has been rebranded as Act East and the strategy is to develop relations with countries in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region - East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania. Culture, connectivity and commerce, clubbed together as 3Cs, are the hallmarks of AEP.  

The thrust is on trade and investment through new contacts and connectivity between India and other nations. Besides encouraging partnerships that foster connectivity, there will be new opportunities for infrastructure projects along with manufacturing and Make in India initiatives. Apart from the economic opportunities that it will unlock, cultural exchanges can help increase tourism revenue and become a source of economic empowerment.

In a way, the 2017 Republic Day is also special for India and the ASEAN countries because 2017 marks 50 years of formation of the Southeast Asian bloc as well as India’s 25-year-old partnership with the grouping.

Going back in time, the guest of honour at India’s first Republic Day on January 26 1950 was Sukarno, the President of Indonesia. Sixty eight years later, history repeats itself as Indonesian President Joko Widodo will grace the occasion. However, he’s not the only guest, as he is joined by nine other heads from ASEAN countries.  

Our Republic Day has been declared as a national holiday. It is a day to commemorate the Constitution that has come into force on January 26 1950. It also marks the completion of the country’s transition toward becoming an Independent Republic. The ceremonious Republic Day parade, which commences from the gates of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President's residence), Raisina Hill on Rajpath in New Delhi, showcases India’s Defence Capability, Cultural and Social Heritage.

Earlier in the week, our PM represented India at the 48th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 in Davos Switzerland and he happens to be the first PM who has represented India at WEF in over 20 years. Hard selling India as an attractive investment destination, the PM called on other nations to invest in the country, as he addressed the gathering at the plenary of WEF 2018.

Seen in a different vein, the numeric 10 carries positive connotations. The Pythagoreans took their oath by the number 10 which they believed was the holiest of numbers. Followers of Tarot Cards vouch for 10 as the Wheel of Fortune. Let’s hope something good comes out of this year’s Republic Day, with 10 representatives of ASEAN nations participating in this historic event.

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