Dr Anirban Ganguly*
Professor Toan, Excellencies and dignitaries, I thank the Ho Chi Minh Academy of Politics, one of the premier think tanks and political studies centre in Vietnam for having extended to me this kind invitation to speak at the international conference on “Vietnam-India Development Cooperation in economics, defense, security in the context of the Free and Open-Indo-Pacific region.”
Indeed this is a very timely conference and is reflective of the growing convergence in India-Vietnam ties. Ever since the 45th year of our diplomatic relations, the activities in exploring India Vietnam ties have widened and broadened, much variety and energy has come into it. It is necessary for the future of our two rich civilisations that we continue with this variety of dialogue, interactions, exchange and adds further dynamism and dimensions in it.
The efforts of the Centre for Vietnam Studies in Delhi which has just concluded a remarkably rich and thought-provoking international conference in Delhi is a sign of how the discourse and narrative of India-Vietnam relationship, its potential and strengths, the possibilities the partnership holds is once more percolating into the minds of the people at large in both countries. The India Studies Centre at the Ho Chi Minh Academy of Politics is the first think tank to translate our book: “The Modi Doctrine: new paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy” (2016) which is an authoritative and comprehensive account of Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy initiatives.
I myself come from a province and state in which Vietnam was a household name – in West Bengal, the slogan “Amaar Naam – Tomar Naam – Vietnam, Vietnam’ was once one of the most popular slogans and even today continues to strike a chord in the hearts of Indians. Therefore, even though I am not a specialist and expert India-Vietnam relations, I keep looking forward to coming to Vietnam and to sharing my views and to show some new ideas and thoughts in this intellectually rich and fertile land and civilisations.
Civilisationally it is Shiva and Buddha who bind us and have defined our relationship over millennia. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Vietnam in 2016, he referred to this special and defining bond in his address at the iconic Quan Su Pagoda where he said: “The advent of Buddhism from India to Vietnam and the monuments of Vietnam’s Hindu Cham temples stand testimony to [our civilisation] bonds...Some people came here with the objective of war. We came here with a message of peace which has endured.”
Prime Minister Modi also pointed out how Buddhism, which took the sea route, travelled to Vietnam in its purest form from India.’ In a sense, therefore, in Vietnam, each one of us can perhaps rediscover ourselves in our true civilisational self and dimension. As Prime Minister Modi reminded his audience at the Shangri-La Dialogue 2018 while delivering his keynote address that Buddhism linked the entire region of the Indo-Pacific, “The ancient wisdom of the region is our common heritage. Lord Buddha’s message of peace and compassion has connected us all.”
Interestingly, it was a well known Indian scholar, historian, parliamentarian and polymath Kalidas Nag (1892-1966), who in his seminal study: India and the Pacific World (1941), used the term: “Indo-Pacific Domain”, noting civilisational India’s footprints in the region and India’s unique propensity of coming in touch with this region and its civilisations through trade, philosophy, poetry, language, textile and architecture, Nag wrote: “What India brought as her real and abiding contributions to the nations of the Pacific were not the conquering armies or ruling dynasties long forgotten, but a veritable fertilising influence in the domain of the spiritual, intellectual and artistic creation.” It was thus the first time that the term “Indo-Pacific” saw being used in the discourse on civilisational India’s past history in the region and her future
India-Vietnam relation is, as President Ho Chi Minh once described it, “a cloudless sky”. Today it is a ‘blue sky of shinning opportunities and possibilities. Vietnam’s tenacious patriotism, its cultural rootedness and historic refusal, throughout its history, to dilute its cultural moorings – is an inspiration to us. Vietnamese adopted Marxism but never gave up nationalism. Their assertion of their national interest remains impressive and inspiring. “Vietnam’s own deeply rooted sense of its own uniqueness and its own stubborn right to autonomy” is an example to be emulated. In history Vietnam stands like a “hard rock. It stands firm and strong, even in the most violent storms.” Civilisationally Vietnam’s wise policy of “truong de ngoai vuong” meaning “inside as emperor, outside as king”, enabled it to strike a balance and to survive and grow civilisationally and politically.
In the present age, India and Vietnam have continued with their civilisational partnership, a partnership which is being worked out to mutually strengthen each other and to evolve an architecture of peace and of cooperation and of freedom of movement in the region. In fact, our relationship has never suffered from the hesitations of history, challenge and adversity has only reinforced in us mutual admiration and the determination to work in unison.
Our focus, in the present age, like it has been in the past era, is the Indo-Pacific, an area which is the theatre of the future and holds immense potential in terms of possibilities and potential. As Prime Minister Modi pointed out his historic address at Shangri-La Dialogue 2018 in Singapore, “For thousands of years, Indians have turned to the East. Not just to see the Sunrise, but also to pray for its light to spread over the entire world. The human-kind now looks to the Rising East, with the hope to see the promise that this 21st century beholds for the whole world because the destiny of the world will be deeply influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region.’
We realise that these words are prescient words which inspire and give direction to our partnership. India’s interests in the region, to quote Prime Minister Modi, “are vast, and our engagement is deep”, in fact, he has described the Indo-Pacific region as extending from, “from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas.” In it he has incorporated “the Gulf region and Indian Ocean island states left out of popular definitions.” It is this region that we have to collectively develop for the Asian century which is the 21st century.
Prime Minister Modi sees the Indo-Pacific region as ‘a natural region’ which is home to a vast “array of global opportunities and challenges’, he also said, that with each passing day, he is convinced that the “destinies of those of us who live in the region is linked’ and that we have to ‘rise above divisions and competition to work together.’ He argues that “Inclusiveness, openness, unity’ and the centrality of ASEAN “lie at the heart of new Indo-Pacific.” In a sense, the countries of the Indo-Pacific can increase their interactions, inspired by a cohesive sense of grouping and yet a grouping, as PM Modi says “which is not directed against any country.” PM “Modi strongly highlighted the importance of partnerships on the basis of shared values and interests.”
In the Indo-Pacific, India can definitely play a linking role. India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific is a positive one, which, in the words of PM Modi, “stands for free, open, inclusive region, which embraces us all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity” and “it includes all nations in this geography as also others beyond who have a stake in it.” In this region we should, as PM Modi articulated it, “all have equal access as a right under international law to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.” If we pursue such a line and consent to “live by that code”, our sea lanes, as PM Modi argues, “will be pathways to prosperity and corridors of peace.” (Part 2)
*Director Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi, Member, Policy Research Department, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Member, Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India & author, columnist, public intellectual.