By: Valkyn Dmello *)
India and Indonesia have shared deep cultural roots for over two millenia, this something I am proud of as an Indonesian of Indian origins. The cultural pride runs deeply, with the historic Sriwijaya and Majapahit empires, that led to expansion of major religions enter the archipelago, as well as our Ramayana and Mahabarata texts. Indeed our precious Pancasila easily reflects the same secular and cultural aspirations of the Indian people too.
However while we respect this glorious history we must ensure a sustainable future. What led to this closeness in the past? It was the frequent exchanges between these two great nations that was thanks to maritime relations and trade. As we pivot towards a new geo political future, Indonesia and India must come together again to ensure stability in this vital global tradelane connecting the Indian and Pacific oceans. To achieve this deeper maritime ties (with a trade flavour added) is a must.
Indonesia under colonization lost some of our momentum. After all it was a Sriwijaya prince that founded Singapura, so we did and do have a lot to give to the world in terms of talent, resources and creativity. India since independence has leaped forward and I believe we should learn from them, to then rekindle our own ambitions.
This is not one sided of course, we have always been in the minds of Indians. After all it must be remembered that our dear Bung Karno was their first ever guest to the Republic day parade in Delhi, on 26 Jan 1950. Since then trade has flourished however is imbalanced. While our tourism, human capital, investment and geo politics has been low key. Indonesia and India need to be more aggressive together, to redress the other global players with interests in our common region and passages.
Garuda has begun direct flights and Gojek has acquired companies in India, so we are pushing in that direction slowly. What more can be done? Some points I feel worthy for deeper study would include but not be limited to:
- Set up maritime academies here and exchange programs to India, to further boost our future sailors skills. Indonesia have superb talent who only lack comparitive ability to operate confidently in English. Lets change this!
- Create a SME based special trade zone between Sabang and Port Blair which are exempt from usual quotas (betel nut and coffee to India, rice and sugar to Indonesia perhaps)
- Set up cruise / roro service boosting tourism between Port Blair and Sabang
- Encourage Indian investments in Indonesian shipping
- Allow Indonesian barge owners same rights in Indian coastal waters
- Invite Indian cold storage participation to boost Indonesian fisheries
- Create a special task force to look at joint fleets to capitalize on coal shipments
- Invite Indian logistics firms to partner with BUMN for developing our smaller ports
- Coordinate with India on our own ambitions be it in space or ewaste or nuclear power, where they are 10 to 30 years ahead of us.
- Synergize deeper on food security should be achieved as it is always an issue for both nations.
The more we build on such exchanges, the deeper the relation will get. This will bring a better balance to the entire region as well. I am sure there are more ideas and innovations we can think of, the key is to start the dialogue at various levels but with this common goal from the top.
Sabang will be a nice staging area for India and indeed they stand to gain as well as assist balance Asia Pacific through our deepening ties. For Indonesia, it further strengthens our traditional role to be a positive influence to all our neighbours. Together we will be a leading example for social economic growth in the region.
A steering committee and a joint task force made up of business, goverment and military is probably a good way to ensure focus. We owe it to our future generations to take the Indonesia India relation, specific to maritime fulcrum to the next level.
It’s time we take our relationship beyond Bollywood, Bali, Coal and Information Technology.
Semangat and Jai Ho !
*) Valkyn Dmello is a Jakarta based logistics, shipping and trade professional. The views expressed here are his own.