Car rally, naval expedition to 13 ASEAN ports

Retracing historical links

A car rally from Jakarta to Delhi and an expedition by an Indian Navy sail ship to 13 ancient and modern ports in the region will retrace India’s historical road and maritime links with South East Asia over the next few months.

The “INS Sudarshini” – a sail training ship of the Indian Navy – will embark on a seven-month expedition to most of the modern and ancient ports in nine ASEAN countries from September 15 next to March 26, 2013. The 7,448-km ASEAN-India car rally will be ceremonially flagged off from Yogyakarta in Indonesia on November 26 next and will be received by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of all the 11 ASEAN countries in New Delhi on December 20.

The car rally and the expedition by “INS Sudarshini” will precede the India-ASEAN summit, which is being held in New Delhi from December 20 to 21 next to mark the 20th anniversary of New Delhi’s engagements with the bloc of the South East Asian nations.

Both the events were apparently planned to demonstrate India’s keenness to revive its historical road and maritime links with ASEAN nations as well as to re-assert its role in South East Asia, a region of high strategic importance where the growing clout of Beijing is a cause of concern for New Delhi.

Singh had flagged off the first India-ASEAN car rally from Guwahati on November 23, 2004. Altogether 240 participants in 60 vehicles had driven over 8,000 km through eight countries to reach Singapore on December 6 that year. They had then flown to Batam island in Indonesia for the concluding ceremony. This year’s participants will also fly from Yogyakarta to Singapore before driving all the way to Guwahati.

Bangalore ties

“When we drove through north-eastern states of the country, what overwhelmed us was the response of local people, who had a lot of expectations from the government’s Look East policy and were excited by the possibility of re-establishing the road connectivity with South East Asia,” said former additional chief secretary of Karnataka, Vatsala Watsa, who – along with her husband Michael – had taken part in the 2004 rally.  “We thought the rally would be followed up quickly by some actions to establish connectivity between landlocked North-East India and the ASEAN nations. It however took eight years to hold the second rally,” she told Deccan Herald on Thursday.

Another Bangalorean, R Ramachandra, was the oldest participant in the 2004 rally. “Only the roads in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur and some stretches in Myanmar need to be upgraded to establish all-weather surface connectivity between North-East India and South-East Asia, because the highways in other countries were good even eight years back,” recalled the octogenarian amateur radio operator. Apart from Kochi, Chennai and Port Blair, the “INS Sudarshini” – with 35 cadets and seven officers of Indian Navy – will call at 13 ASEAN ports. The ship would pick up two naval officers or cadets of each ASEAN country from the first port of call in that country till the next port of call.

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