Q & A: Singh to bring Indian heritage to RI youth through public diplomacy
Newly appointed Indian Ambassador to Indonesia, Timor Leste and ASEAN Gurjit Singh plans to establish a new paradigm of partnership with Indonesia by stressing people-to-people relations and with youth as his priority. The ambassador, who is fond of chicken satay and gado-gado (vegetable salad with peanut sauce), explains his public diplomacy approach during an interview with The Jakarta Post’s Ida Indawati Khouw.
Question: What shape are current bilateral ties in and what are your plans on that front?
Answer: The state of our political relations is very good and the matrix of collaboration is perfect. Almost all major agreements have been signed, exchange visits have been (and will be) done. India’s trade with Indonesia was US$20 billion (in 2011) with one-third being Indian exports and two-thirds Indonesian exports. We have set a target of achieving $25 billion in trade by 2015. Whereas Indonesia is now the largest trading partner of India in ASEAN. The plants have been planted; it is now our responsibility to make them bloom.
How would you describe your mission?
I want to establish a new paradigm of partnership. I am deeply interested in building people-to-people relations. I think we should also go back to our cultural linkage that in many ways has elements of Indian culture also well preserved in Indonesia. But the awareness here is more on traditional (Indian culture); awareness of Indian pop culture is not here. We are not giving up old traditions but are trying to introduce contemporary elements.
The youth will be the focus of almost all that we plan. We both have a large young population that needs not only employment but also social awareness (based on the 2010 census, India has 550 million people under the age of 25, while Indonesia has 110 million under 25s).
It is in youth that we properly harness our national goal.
How do you plan to put your mission into action?
For example, this is the centennial of Indian movies, and we hope to work with film organizations here to see what we can do to celebrate Indian cinema. Through this we hope we can build a bridge with modern youth.
In terms of art and culture, perhaps India can participate in jazz festivals.
In sport, we both (are good in) badminton. We will see what we can do.
In the field of education and human resources, I am trying to understand what youth programs can be put in this. How do we engage with Indonesia’s strong set of universities further for long term and short term, how to create twin universities? (This year, the Indian government has offered 125 scholarships to Indonesian students to study in India).
Furthermore, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations this year, (from September 2012 to April 2013) there will be an expedition by an Indian ship that will retrace the sea routes developed during the 10th and 12th centuries, linking India with Southeast Asia and East Asia.
We also plan a car rally that will start in Yogyakarta on Nov. 26 and end in India by the end of December. All the activities will be accompanied by seminars, festivals and receptions.
Please elaborate further on reaching out to youths.
We are in the age of globalized quick information. Today, you have settled people who are the largest segment of a country’s population, who have broader education, who are open to international consumer media on a 24-hour basis. In that, how do we bring our version to the fore? So, it’s like a generation brought up on the chicken burger culture and having to leave chicken tandoori.
Chicken burger is good, but we need to remember that chicken tandoori is also good. So we bring
that flavor back. It is not to displace anything, not to oppose any influence, but it is to bring our flavor to the youth.
What are the roles of social media and advancements in IT?
That is what we are trying (Singh broadcasted his introductory message “Old heritage new partnership” on YouTube). While mainstream media are extremely important, there is different world developing. We need to reach there too.
Are you trying to compete with East Asian popular culture from China, Japan and South Korea, which have gained acceptance among Indonesian youth?
No, no, we don’t want to compete with anybody. We believe that India has its own niche in Indonesians’ minds. We are only going to develop that niche. It’s not our intention to push anybody in or out because we believe that there is enough space in Indonesia for all your friends and partners.
How do you characterize your diplomacy?
I like to call it public diplomacy, as it includes culture, media, education, economic engagement, including almost every important gamut that we have.
I hope we can at the end say that India is Indonesia’s partner of choice.