In view of shared history and common cultural, linguistic and ethnic ties in South Asia, there has always existed an implicit assumption that greater regional integration should have been easy to achieve. But that has not been the case. A certain sense of disappointment is understandable. Hence, the challenge today for South Asia is to promote unity and build interdependence, which not only integrates our region but also creates a vested interest in each other's stability and prosperity.
Critical to this endeavour is connectivity of goods, people and ideas. India has also actively provided development assistance and is engaged in capacity augmentation and institution-building exercises in our neighbouring countries. Within this overall approach, there is the challenge of evolving differentiated responses best suited to the requirements of our neighbors as the are in varying stages of transition both on the political and socio-economic fronts.
It was in this backdrop that UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute of South Asia Regional Cooperation (UMISARC), Pondicherry University organized a three-day International Conference on South Asia in 2020: Towards a Greater Unity and Interdependence on during 22-24, November, 2010 at the Convention-cum-Cultural Centre, Pondicherry University.
The Inaugural Session
The inaugural session began with the beautiful, highly imaginative and innovative university invocation composed by learned Vice-Chancellor, Prof J A K Tareen. This was followed by opening remarks by the Conference Convenor Prof N K Jha, who threw light on objectives of founding of UMISARC, grand vision of its founder of South Asia Foundation, Ambassador Madanjeet Singh ji. Introducing the Conference theme, he explained how compulsions of geography, economy, shared history and culture demand greater unity and interdependence among South Asian states and peoples. Hence, he complemented UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh ji and Vice-Chancellor J A K Tareen for establishing UMISARC for promoting peace, cooperation and understanding among South Asian Peoples. He also introduced the main speakers and discussed how Pondicherry University has scaled unprecedented heights in every respect under the dynamic and dedicated leadership of Prof J A K Tareen.
Delivering the inaugural adress, Ambassador Lakhan Lal Mehrotra, IFS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India & United Nations' Envoy in Cambodia and Indonesia, stressed on the imperative of regional cooperation for development and welfare of peoples in South Asia. He explained how regional cooperation should be promoted in South Asia. He emphasized that the main objective of education is to provide a vehicle to move people from darkness to light, "Tamsho ma Jyotirgamay," The people of South Asia must learn from their past to help them secure a better future. He also emphasized on universal harmony can be achieved only through regional harmony; "People should put their heads together to march forward." People in the South Asian region should move from MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) to MAC (Mutually Assured Cooperation) for better integration of the region.
In his Presidential address, Prof J. A. K. Tareen, Vice Chancellor of Pondicherry University elaborated to the delegates the origin of UNESCO Madanjeet Institutions of excellence in all SAARC countries and the mission of the founder of South Asia Foundation, Ambassador Madanjeet Singh, Goodwill Ambassador to UNESCO. One of the two institutions established at Pondicherry University is the MISARC, which was founded with generous funding from Ambassador Madanjeet Singh of US $1.5 million and it has been developing as a Hub for Academicians and Intellectuals for imparting training in the Area of South Asia Regional Cooperation. He also informed that two batches of students from SAARC countries have passed out the courses offered through support from Madanjeet Singh Group Scholarships. He added that UMISARC is likely to be inaugurated by Hon'ble Prime Minister in January 2011.
Working Session‑I: Economic and Trade Relations
The session was chaired by Nepal's current Foreign Secretary, Ambassador Madan K. Bhattarai. The lead speaker of this session was Prof. K. Tudor Silva, the Dean, Faculty of Arts at the University of Peradenya in Sri Lanka. In his paper, Towards Sociology of Poverty in South Asia: The Need for Regional Cooperation in Understanding and Responding to Poverty, Prof Silva emphasized on need for a greater understanding about poverty reduction strategies in South Asia and sharing the experiences of all the countries among themselves. He reiterated that unifying poverty measurement mechanisms in South Asia would enhance the capability of these countries to fight poverty as well as terrorism. A common data base on poverty related issues would help to promote a strong mechanism for combating poverty in the region. He added, a common approach towards meeting the challenges of problems like global warming and terrorism would enhance the capability of South Asian States for managing these common problems. Hence, he called for a greater common framework in this regard.
Working Session‑Il: Search for a Common Identity
The Session was chaired by Prof. S. R. Chakravarty, former Professor of South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The first speaker of this session was Prof. Rabindra Khanal, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, Kathmandu. In his paper on South Asia: Search for a Common Identity, Prof Kanhal lamented on the lack of any supervisory mechanism in South Asia for promoting cooperation. Hence, he proposed forming of some institutional mechanisms including a SAARC Parliament for developing common South Asian identity.
The next speaker of the session was Dr. Subhash Shukla, a faculty member at the Centre of Globalization Studies of University of Allahabad. In his paper, South Asia's Search for a Common Identity: A Case for Developing a Common Socio‑Cultural Identity, Dr Shukla explored various avenues to evolve a common identity for South Asian peoples. He added that such a common identity can be built on common indicators of human development in the social sector as well as upon the common values, lifestyles and socio‑cultural norms of the peoples of this region. He visualized a SAARC vision of Socio‑cultural identity on the same model as the ASEAN has developed a vision of an ASEAN Socio Cultural Community (ASCC).
Mr. P M Joshy of Department of Politics and International Studies of Pondicherry University, in his paper, The Politics of Identities: A Study on Social Capital and Region Building in South Asia, said that on the one hand, the neo‑liberal agencies have been trying to transcend the class antagonism through new development strategies to smoothen the process of financial globalization, on the other hand, many anti‑democratic forces are also trying to achieve their goals through the same track. Hence, he called upon the civil society in South Asia to check anti‑democratic and neo‑liberal forces, which are appropriating the Third World space for capitalist expansion and generating social conflicts, which ultimately produce an insecurity complex in the region.
Ms. Tanzia Anjum from Dhaka (Bangladesh), currently MSG scholarship holder at the Institute in her paper, South Asian Common Regional Identity: a Dream or Reality, elaborated that regional identity can be termed as an image, visibility and presence perceived, seen and felt by inhabitants of the region and by the outer world. In this sense, South Asian regional identity is based on a diverse amalgam of individual and group adherence to the South Asian geographic territory with a sense of belonging. Here people feel a 'pull' towards each other due to geographic proximity, shared political experiences going back to the colonial period and various ethnic, linguistic and religious continuities across their territorial boundaries. However, the same factors play a divisive role and 'push' the states of a region away from each other. Hence, the sense of belonging to a similar identity has not yet developed in true sense that is one of the foremost causes that keeps South Asia behind in the race for regional cooperation.
Professor M J Vinod of the Department of Political Science at Bangalore University presented his paper, entitled, Recasting South Asian Identity: A Study of the Role of the 'State' and 'Geopolitical' Factors. He argued that regional and global identities have come to play a significant role in shaping and influencing domestic structures and identities. Hence solely domestic level explanations are not sufficient for understanding this issue. In the case of South Asia, a particular constellation of social identities has become essential through the operation of powerful social institutions. He drew attention towards the phenomenon of modern identities being invented and old identities being reproduced and advised that South Asian leaders should not try to build nation on the basis of a single definition of national identity, whether religious, ethnic or regional. Building a composite national identity will facilitate sense of a common South Asian identity, he added.
Working Session‑III: Cultural and Educational Cooperation
The session was chaired by Prof. P. M. Kamath, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of Mumbai. The first speaker was Prof. Saleem Kidwai of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. In his paper, Role of Cultural and Educational Exchanges, Prof Kidwai argued that the academics can contribute to spread of awareness in South Asia about the costs of non‑cooperation and benefits of cooperation. This can be done through exchange of information, documents and experts on a larger scale than at present. Exchange programmes and creative dialogues among students, teachers, artists, and
media persons are obviously very desirable in spite of the attendant problems. Meetings, visits, and exchanges and travels should be encouraged with a view to strengthen people‑to‑people contacts. A better understanding of each other country's problems and perceptions resulting from this exercise will strengthen the government‑to‑government interactions for initiating peace process. With the exchange of ideas through travel and other modes of communication, one can expect a better, developed and a more peaceful South Asia.
Dr (Ms) R. D. Padmavathy in her paper, Seizing the Opportunity for Change: Promoting Unity and Building Interdependence through Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Programme, pleaded for fostering educational and academic exchanges for enhancing the interdependency in South Asia. She added that India can lead and engage the neighbouring countries in this respect. Another speaker of this session, Dr (Ms) Mumtaz Begum, an Associate Professor at Pondicherry University, in her paper, The Attribute of a Civilization is the Power of Uniting the Diverse, discussed how educational system in South Asia suffers from the twin problems of lack of access and excellence. In majority of SAARC countries enrollment of children at the primary school level is far below the universal level. This problem is further compounded by high levels of drop outs. Thus literacy rates remain low. In spite of effective initiatives, a lot more remains to be done before concrete benefits of such initiatives are felt and clearly visible. It is always said that together we will surely survive and if divided we will perish. Finally, Dr S Prabhakar, a Joint Director (Reporting) in Indian Parliament, New Delhi, discussed the role of Indian Parliament towards the shaping of India's policy towards her neighbors and added that an average lndian Parliamentarian has love for neighboring countries.
Cultural Programme & Madanjeet Singh Dinner
A grand cultural show was organized at the auditorium of the Convention cum Cultural Complex of the University in the evening in which students from various SAARC countries participated. They performed various folk and classical dances and shows of different SAARC countries. The Conference participants from India and abroad thoroughly enjoyed the cultural show, coordinated by Prof Nalini Thampi of the Department of French Studies of Pondicherry University.
The cultural programme was followed by a diner hosted on behalf of the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh ji at Hotel Ashok, Pondicherry.
Working Session‑IV: Environment and Development
As sustainable development can be facilitated by regional cooperation, the first session of day two that (was the fourth working session of the Conference) was devoted to this theme. The Session Chair was Prof. Neelambar Hatti, Senior Advisor, Nordic Centre for Peace Studies, Department of Economic History, Lund University, Sweden.
Prof. B. C. Uperati, Director, Center for South Asian Studies at University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, in his paper, Climate Change and Security in South Asia: Need for a Comprehensive Regional Approach, proposed a comprehensive framework for addressing emerging environmental threats in the region. Without a regional framework, he argued, it is impossible to face the challenges of the climate change. He proposed that the countries of the region need to come together on the table and identify ways for meeting this challenge.
The next speaker, Dr. G. Poyyamoli, Professor of Environmental Sciences of Pondicherry University, in his paper, Community Based Eco‑cultural Heritage Tourism for Developmental Cooperation in the South Asian Region: A Conceptual Framework, said that South Asian countries have a great opportunity in the heritage tourism. But the countries still fails to innovate it. Hence, lie pleaded more for cooperation in this respect.
In his paper, entitled, Cooperation on Dealing with Climate Change, Global and Warming, Dr. S. Vijayanand cautioned that if urgent steps are not taken for meeting the challenge of climate change, South Asia in general and countries like Maldives and Bangladesh in particular would meet the doom sooner than later. Extending this argument, Dr. Rabindra Prasad Singh from S K U University, Dumka (Jharkhand), discussed how the emerging environmental threat is going to affect the lives of the people of South Asia and highlighted a comprehensive mechanism for coming together of SAARC countries addressing this threat. Ms. Shruti Rao in her paper, entitled, Globalization and its Effect on Environmental Regulations in SAARC 2020, remarked that without an effective framework of regional cooperation, it would be impossible to face the challenges of environmental degradation. Dr. (Ms) Lily Arul Sharmila, proposed a mechanism where all the countries can work together.
Mr. Abiderda Md. Abdujjaher from Bangladesh, who is currently a MSGS holder at UMISARC, argued in his paper, The Issue of Climate Change in the Sixteenth SAARC Summit: A Review, that the issue of climate change has emerged as one of the most serious environmental threats of the Twenty‑first Century, which requires global as well as regional attention. Therefore, this issue was given prominence during the Sixteenth SAARC summit held at Thimphu in April 2010. In this context, he pleaded for a common fund for addressing the challenge of climate chance in the region.
As China plays a vital role in influencing cooperation and conflict in South Asia, Ms. Simren Thomas of UMISARC, Pondicherry University, drew the attention of the Conference participants towards economic and developmental strategies of China and India. She concluded that in view of rising power of both the countries, an improvement in India‑China relations is necessary for promoting SAARC.
Working Session‑V: Prospects of Multilateral and Bilateral Cooperation
The fifth working session of the Conference was devoted to addressing of bilateral and multilateral issues for promoting SAARC. Prof. Bhawani Singh, former Head of the Department of Political Science of University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, was in the Chair.
The first speaker of this session was a famous French scholar Prof. Claude Arpi, who provided a historical backdrop of the Concept of a South Asian Confederation and emphasized that this idea needs reinvention today. The second speaker of the session, Prof. S.R. Chakravarty, former Professor of South Asian Studies at JNU, New Delhi, assessed the prospect of peace and cooperation in the region in the new decade. In this context, he argued that Iran can be admitted as a member of SAARC to strengthen this grouping, as this will facilitate mobilization of energy resources for the region. The third speaker, Prof Purusottam Bhattacharya, former Director, School of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, presented paper on, Towards a More Co‑operative South Asia: Recent Improvements in India‑Bangladesh Relations. He pleaded that recent improvement in Bangladesh‑India relations should work as a model for improving India's ties with other neighbours, especially Pakistan. Abu Salah Md. Yousuf, Research Fellow at Bangladesh Institute of International Strategic Studies, Dhaka, currently, a final year graduate student of UMISARC, in his paper on, How Neighbours Perceive India: A Case Study of Bangladesh, elaborated that the emergence of India in the global level makes Indian neighbours more eager to engage India. In this respect, the response from India in the coming days will ensure the future of South Asia.
Dr. Sudhir Singh from University of Delhi though expressed difficulties in improving India‑Pakistan ties at the state level, he stressed that the people of Pakistan are not enemy of India. Hence, he pleaded in favour of a people centric approach for enhance cooperation in the region.
Mr. Parashmani Chandra a final year graduate student of UMISARC, cautioned in his paper, namely, Re‑conceptualising and Revitalising Regional Cooperation in South Asia, that South Asian unity cannot be achieved at once and with one single approach. The process must be seen as building a series of bridges. Some bridges will be long and others will be short. Some bridges must be built on difficult terrain and others on easy terrain. The bridges that are possible to build now should be built as models for the future. Once we shall be able to develop more confidence in each other then we can attempt to successfully build bridge over difficult terrains.
Another final year graduate student of UMISARC, Mr. Jayanta Ganguly, in the paper, Harnessing Transnational Resources in South Asia, identified the Darjeeling Hills as an example of trans‑national cooperation. He said that in the region, the regular and sustained cross‑border activities of individuals and groups with peer communities in Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet (TAR) are going on. Whereas states normally seek to regulate cross‑territorial movements, here India is maintaining an open porous border with Nepal and Bhutan, and freedom of movement with Tibet. Hence, the sharing of trans‑national resources in the region provides a model of example of regional cooperation in other areas of SAARC.
Working Session-VI: The Role of Media
The sixth session was on the role of media in South Asia. The panelists gave an in-depth idea about the role of media in South Asia. In this context, they were not satisfied with role of media in furthering a strong cooperation in the region. Hence, they called for periodic conferences of media persons belonging to SAARC countries.
Prof. K. Tudor Silva from University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka was in the chair during this session. The session began with the presentation of paper, namely, Media Cooperation in South Asia: An Exploratory Study by Dr. B.K. Ravi of Department of Communications at the University of Bangalore. Dr Ravi pointed out those ethnic ties among peoples of SAARC counties add to emotions of the media practitioners in their functioning. Since cooperation is influenced by emotions and common cultural base helps trigger common emotions, promoting cooperation in the region may be facilitated by media persons. Entertainment is the crux here and the Indian media has this in abundance. At the media entertainment will generate good revenue for the region. Dr. Dharmesh. V Dhawankar, a senior faculty at the Department of Mass Communications of Nagpur University, focussed on the role of electronic media in his paper, New Electronic Media: A Harbinger of Unity and Co‑operation among SAARC Nations. He discussed how electronic media can enhance sharing of culture among South Asian countries. Another journalist from Chennai, Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba, a Chennai based free lance journalist, in his paper, South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), Efforts for Peace, Stability and Cooperation in South Asia, dealt with the role of SAFMA in forging a strong link among the countries of the region. Finally, Dr. D. Purushotthaman, a faculty member at UMISARC emphasized on the role of journalists in dispelling misperceptions among peoples of the region.
Working Session‑VII: Curbing Terrorism
In the last session of the day, the paper presenters agreed that the issue of terrorism is hampering the substantive progress of the region. In this respect, the development process of the South Asia will not get any reality, if the terrorism issue is not addressed properly. Prof. P S Jayaramu, Dean, School of Social Sciences at the University of Bangalore chaired this session.
The session began with the paper on, South Asia and Home‑Spun Terror, by Prof. Bhawani Singh of the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, stressed on the imperative of a regional framework for combating this menace. Prof. P S Jayaramu in his paper, Combating Terrorism in South Asia, proposed that terrorism issue should not be addressed only through traditional methods, rather emerging issues should also be taken into consideration.
The next paper presenter was Dr. Anil Kumar Mohapatra of the Department of Political Science, Uttkal University, Orissa. He presented a paper on The Menace of Terrorism in South Asia: A way out. In this paper, he explained that no state, howsoever powerful it might be, is capable of facing the menace of terrorism alone, it needs a common or collective action. Hence, SAARC could be utilised as a forum or medium for joint action to withstand the challenges of terrorism in South Asia.
Working Session‑VIII: Curbing Terrorism & Protecting Human Rights
The final working session was chaired by Prof. Y Rafeek Ahmed, former Professor of Political Science at University of Mysore (Karnataka). The first to speak was Prof. P M Kamath from Mumbai. His paper was on South Asian Regional Cooperation in Curbing Terrorism and Promoting Human Rights: A 2020 Perspective. He was realist enough to admit that without an effective reconciliation between India and Pakistan, any counter terrorism measure would not be very effective in South Asia. Hence, he called for both Track I and Track‑Il dialogues between the two countries. Accordingly, he pleaded for via relaxation between the two countries.
The next speaker of the session was Prof. Karori Singh, former Director, Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. Though his paper, Free Trade in SAARC Region: Implications and Consequences, should have been presented on the day one of the Conference, due to his inability to be available on that day, he presented this paper on the last day. While elaborating the imperative of enhancing trade among SAARC countries, he recommended India, being the largest country in the region, must provide more tariff concession to her neighbouring countries that would have beneficial impact on all SAARC countries including India.
Dr. Sabu Thomas in his paper, Hosts Becoming 'Dishes': Examining the Impact of Terrorism on Regional Stability in South Asia and Dr. V.P. Nedunchezhiyan of the University of Madras in the paper, Counter Terrorism: The "Life line" of the States of South Asia in 2020, argued that most of the countries of the region are affected by the menace of terrorism. India being the worst the worst victim of the menace of terrorism, has to strengthen anti‑terror at the national level as well work for developing regional and international cooperation for this purpose. Dr. L. Mothilal of the Department of Management Studies of Pondicherry University, in his paper on Prevention of Terrorism is better than Cure: An Insight for the Policy Maker of the Nation, stressed the role of education in controlling terrorism.
The Concluding Session
This session was conducted in the chairmanship of Prof M Ramdass, a former Member of Parliament from Pondicherry and currently Dean, School of Management Studies at Pondicherry University. Professor N. K. Jha, Director of UMISARC and the Conference Convenor summed up the deliberations of the three‑day Conference. He said that the main achievement of the Conference is that all the panellists and participants agreed for moving towards a greater cooperation, interdependence and unity in the region. He said that instead of endlessly waiting for political understanding especially between India and Pakistan, the need of the hour is to move ahead with cooperation in areas which is less problematic such as cultural and educational exchanges, minimizing or eliminating tariff on trade of goods and services among SAARC countries to make SAFA a reality. He also called for unilateral relaxation of visa regulations by India to promote interaction among people of the region. He said that terrorists do not need visa. It is only our friend in SAARC countries who need visa and denying them opportunity to visit India can only prolong walls of division in the region. Hence, he proposed for a strong initiative from the academia to influence the policy making bodies for furthering regional cooperation in South Asia. Citing example of India-Nepal relations, he added that if Nepal needs India for trade and transit, India too needs Nepal for security and managing floods in north India as well as for addressing its needs of hydro electricity. Hence he concluded that success of SAARC will lead to interdependence and not dependence.
Mr Ibrabim Zuhuree, who heads the SAARC division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives, observed that South Asian countries are coming together for cooperation. He said that the neighbouring countries are eager to get benefit from the Indian education hub and IT industry. He congratulated UMISARC for holding such a valuable Conference.
Delivering the Valedictory Address of the Conference, Ambassador Madan K. Bhattarai, the Foreign Secretary of Nepal, said that the idea of greater unity and interdependence in South Asia is not confined as a cherished dream, but is gradually turning into a vibrant reality in the forms of closer co‑operation and collaboration through various SAARC process. The speed and the process of SAARC will largely be contingent on the collective will and wisdom of its member countries. He added that while regionalism and regional economic integration helps promote to bring SAARC members closer, bilateral processes also contribute to reinforce and supplement the process of regional integration. Holistic and inclusive approaches are, therefore, required for the promotion of unity and interdependence in South Asia. It is time to discard binary vision and to have a long-range 2020 vision for a South Asia as vibrant, dynamic, harmonious and prosperous region.
During his Presidential address, Prof. M. Ramdass, prioritised that poverty reduction must be the first and foremost objective of SAARC. Hence, he said that the Grameen Bank model of Bangladesh launched by of Dr. Younus in that country, is an excellent example for other countries of the region. He added that the mobilisation of the resources of South Asia is very essential for development.
The Conference came to a close by a vote of thanks proposed by Dr. D. Purushottaman, Lecturer at UMISARC. He thanked Ambassador Madanjeet Singh ji, Vice Chancellor Prof. J A K Tareen, distinguished dignitaries at the Dias including Ambassador Dr. Madan K Bhattarai, Foreign Secretary of Nepal, other participants, members of Conference organizing committee, media persons, and all those who helped in making the Conference a grand success.