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Modi’s Look East Policy: BUDDHA DIPLOMACY A PANACEA, By Ashok B Sharma, 21 Oct, 2014 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 21 October 2014

Modi’s Look East Policy


By Ashok B Sharma


India’s Look East Policy has undergone a significant change in its emphasis under the new dispensation with Buddha occupying the central stage in diplomacy for the region. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated such a change in emphasis by his first official visit abroad to a neighbouring Buddhist country, Bhutan and then to Nepal where Lord Buddha was born.


The emphasis in the policy is likely to become more evident when the Prime Minister visits Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar for the India-ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit slated in the second week next month. Further edge to the new Look East Policy will be given when he visits Brisbane for G20 Summit and has bilateral meetings with the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the middle of next month. Thereafter, Modi gets the chance of expressing his Neighbours First Policy at the SAARC Summit slated in November 26-27 in Kathmandu.


People-to-people contact is one of the cornerstones of Modi’s foreign policy. His plans for making this as central to South Asia and then integrating with the South-East Asia makes his deploy the soft power of Buddha diplomacy. With vast population of Buddhists in east and south-east Asia, plans are afoot to make India a Mecca for world Buddhists. The work on phase-I Buddhists Tourist Circuit is gathering pace. This includes Lumbini in Nepal where Lord Buddha was born, Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh where he delivered his first sermon, Rajgir in Bihar where he lived and taught, Nalanda which became the centre of Buddhist learning and teaching, Kushinagar in UP where he died, Kapilavastu on India-Nepal border where Lord Buddha spent his first early years before embarking on long journey to enlightenment, Vaishali in Bihar where he delivered his last sermon, Sravasi in UP where he spent 24 rainy seasons at Jetavan monastery and Kausambi in UP where he preached.


A study undertaken by the International Finance Corporation has suggested an investment of Rs 500 crore each by the public and private sector over a span of four years. The Government has proposed some initial investment in the current budgetary proposals. As it is bullish in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), Modi is expected take up this issue with leaders of east and south-east Asian countries. As regards revival of ancient Buddhist centre of learning, Nalanda University, several countries in the region have already pledged their contribution. In the subsequent phases there are plans to develop ancient Buddhist sites across 17 States in the country.


Several Buddhist countries have set up their monasteries in India particularly in Bodh Gaya where pilgrims visit. But in modern times the need is to develop more luxurious accommodations and budget hotels for different classes of tourists. Since the conception of a Buddhist Tourist Circuit in 1986 very little has been done as the country attracts a mere 0.005% of global Buddhist tourists. Most of the tourist arrivals are in the winter season and they miss out visiting Buddhist sites on major festive occasions such as Buddha Jayanti in the month of Vaisakh (April/May). There are other festive occasions celebrated in India like Lasar or the Tibetan New Year, Hemis Fair in Ladakh, Ullambana, Sangha Dayor Magha Puja, Asatha Day and Pavarana Day.


While India is seeking help for revival of Buddhist sites, it is also helping to revive ancient Buddhist temples and ancient sites in South-East Asia. Hence it seems to be on a quid pro quo basis of cooperation. The Archaeological Society of India is engaged in reviving Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm Temple in Siem Reap in Cambodia. Vat Phou Temple in Laos, Ananda Temple in Bagan in Myanmar, Thiruketeeswaram Temple in Mannar in Sri Lanka. It is slated to take works on My Son group of temples in Vietnam.


India has the excellent opportunity to rope in Mahayana Buddhists from China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam, Theravada Buddhists from Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Vajrayana Buddhists from Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan, western China, Russia and Nepal. Sikkim in India is the home to all sects of Buddhism.


Buddha in Indian diplomacy is a soft power that can connect to the people in the east and south-east Asian region. Particular interest to China would be a travel route of the ancient Chinese scholars like Huein Tsang and others. Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh host number of sites which are of interests to Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhists. China which is ready to give alternative route to the Hindu pilgrim site at Mansarovar in Tibet via Nathu La in Sikkim should be liberal in allowing Tibetan pilgrims to visit India.


After hosting the Olympics in Beijing, China has become assertive in projecting its ancient cultural identity with pride. Hence it has to look towards India for its ancient linkage, particularly in matters of spread of Buddhism and the visit of ancient Chinese scholars. Though its claim over Arunachal Pradesh has remained a contentious issue between the two countries, many analysts believe that ultimately it has to look towards India in quest for preserving its ancient tradition and culture.


Buddha diplomacy, therefore, can be an effective tool and soft power for India’s engagement with in South Asia, South-East Asia, East Asia and Russia. People-to-people contact and cultural exchanges can go a long way to resolve contentious political issues in the near future. As a step ahead, Modi at the UN General Assembly proposed UN Day for Yoga which received instant support from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It appealed to many Buddhist countries also. India-Buddhist countries axis is a well thought of plan in the country’s diplomacy for the entire India-Pacific region desirous of looking back to its cultural past.


Can the Modi government attract considerable foreign direct investment (FDI) for developing Buddhist Tourist Circuit and make India a Mecca for global Buddhists? Future can only predict how far India’s Buddha diplomacy would go to bring about country’s bonhomie in the region and resolve contentious issues. ---INFA  


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)







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