Whispers of an In­dian wind

Pro­ject Mausam hopes to check­mate China, which is push­ing for its Silk Route ini­tia­tive

Governance Now - - MARITIME DIPLOMACY - Shankar Ku­mar

In­dia was wide-eyed when china ag­gres­sively pushed its silk route pro­ject – and it was then that New delhi de­cided to give Bei­jing a dose of its own medicine by launch­ing an am­bi­tious ini­tia­tive to re-es­tab­lish mar­itime and eco­nomic links with 39 lit­toral na­tions.

The grandiose ef­fort seemed promis­ing.

This was in 2014, a year af­ter the silk route pro­ject re­ceived a big push from china. Three years later, the pro­ject has hardly shown for­ward move­ment ex­cept for hold­ing of sem­i­nars. a sum of ₹150 crore has also been spent on Pro­ject Mausam, which is sim­i­lar to ara­bic word ‘mausim’ that means mon­soon, al­lud­ing to the tradewinds that brush past the In­dian shores and scoot off to lands far and wide.

Pro­ject Mausam hopes to re­vive cen­turies-old con­tacts with com­mu­ni­ties and cul­tures lo­cated along sea-far­ing routes.

“The en­deav­our through Pro­ject Mausam is to link the cul­tural route and mar­itime land­scape across the in­dian ocean on the one hand, and se­cure its en­ergy and trade in­ter­ests on the other hand,” says a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, who added that In­dia’s ini­tia­tive is a ro­bust an­swer to china’s silk route strat­egy.

With china in­creas­ingly try­ing to squeeze In­dia’s space in the In­dian ocean, New delhi has come out with sev­eral strate­gic, eco­nomic and cul­tural ini­tia­tives to stay the course in the third largest water body which, ac­cord­ing to for­eign sec­re­tary s Jais­hankar, is unique in its char­ac­ter as in no other part of the mar­itime world have “fun­da­men­tal eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties...been so di­rectly de­rived from cy­cles of na­ture”.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in the sec­ond edi­tion of the in­dian ocean con­fer­ence in colombo on septem­ber 1, Jais­hankar also said that “this ocean evolved its own spe­cial iden­tity that is based on mo­bil­ity, ac­cep­tance and in­ter­pen­e­tra­tion”. The for­eign sec­re­tary talked about the shared his­tory of in­dia and coun­tries sit­u­ated along the in­dian ocean.

“The his­tor­i­cal in­her­i­tance is vis­i­ble across its ex­panse, whether it is Hindu tem­ples in Bali [in­done­sia] and My son [Viet­nam], in fact, all the way from Zhengzhou to Arab com­mu­ni­ties in aceh [in­done­sia] and eastern sri lanka or the Waqwaq set­tlers in Mada­gas­car,” the 62-year-old in­dian For­eign Ser­vice (IFS) of­fi­cer said, out­lin­ing the broad con­tours of Pro­ject Mausam, an ini­tia­tive of the min­istry of cul­ture.

along with pro­mot­ing cul­tural re­la­tions with coun­tries be­long­ing to the in­dian ocean re­gion, the pro­ject aims to re-es­tab­lish in­dia’s mar­itime and

eco­nomic links with 39 na­tions, in­clud­ing china, in south asia, south­east asia, arab world and eastern africa. it fo­cuses on nat­u­ral wind phe­nom­e­non, es­pe­cially mon­soon wind used by sailors from in­dia in an­cient times for mar­itime trade with coun­tries of the in­dian ocean re­gion, home to more than 2.3 bil­lion peo­ple.

“The pro­ject aims to ex­plore the multi-faceted in­dian ocean ‘world’ – col­lat­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal re­search in or­der to doc­u­ment the di­ver­sity of cul­tural, com­mer­cial and re­li­gious in­ter­ac­tions in the in­dian ocean – ex­tend­ing from east africa, the ara­bian Penin­sula, the in­dian sub­con­ti­nent and sri lanka to the south­east asian ar­chi­pel­ago,” reads the con­cept pa­per of the pro­ject.

The pro­ject was un­veiled by then sec­re­tary of the cul­ture min­istry, ravin­dra singh, on June 20, 2014 at the 38th ses­sion of the World Her­itage com­mit­tee in Doha, Qatar. Apart from the Arche­o­log­i­cal sur­vey of in­dia (asi), the indira gandhi Na­tional cen­tre for the arts (ignca), the Na­tional Mu­seum and Na­tional Mon­u­ments au­thor­ity – all di­vi­sions of the cul­ture min­istry, the min­istry of ex­ter­nal af­fairs (MEA), the in­dian Navy and the Na­tional in­sti­tute of oceanog­ra­phy have been roped in to give the pro­ject a multi-di­men­sional shape.

But three years have passed and the pro­ject is bat­tling for sur­vival.

“For the past one year, noth­ing is hap­pen­ing on this multi-dis­ci­plinary pro­ject. We have not re­ceived any di­rec­tion from higher au­thor­i­ties re­gard­ing it. Nor is there in­for­ma­tion whether the pro­ject is alive or dead,” said a se­nior of­fi­cial of the asi, the nodal agency of the pro­ject.

The of­fi­cial added that the pro­ject was ex­pected to be com­pleted in two years, a claim which has been sup­ported by of­fi­cials of the IGNCA, which serves as the pro­ject’s re­search unit.

A se­nior of­fi­cial of the cul­ture min­istry ad­mit­ted that the “pace of work on the pro­ject has been very slow in the past six-eight months”, but held that it had not been put in “deep freezer”, a eu­phemism for ‘as good as dead’.

“Fre­quent changes of dg (di­rec­tor gen­eral), asi is one of the rea­sons for the cur­rent sta­tus of the pro­ject,” the of­fi­cial said, while ex­press­ing hope that it would now take off as a new DG has taken charge of the asi.

since the pro­ject was launched, the asi twice wit­nessed change of guards

“By go­ing be­yond con­sumerism and cheque diplo­macy, In­dia wants to es­tab­lish cul­tural and her­itage con­tacts with coun­tries of the In­dian Ocean re­gion.” Shashank For­mer for­eign sec­re­tary

at its helm: rakesh Ti­wari who joined as di­rec­tor gen­eral asi in 2014, re­tired from his post in May 2017, while usha Shama, an IAS of­fi­cer of the Ra­jasthan cadre of the 1985-batch, joined the asi as its chief in July 2017. Be­tween May and July, the in­sti­tu­tion was han­dled, as per sources, by the cul­ture min­istry’s ad­di­tional sec­re­tary su­jata Prasad.

There is also a bit of pass­ing the buck among of­fi­cials.

An ASI of­fi­cial claimed that the MEA, which is sup­posed to give fil­lip to the pro­ject by mak­ing all 39 coun­tries pro­vide in­puts to in­dia on is­sues of cul­tural, arche­o­log­i­cal, mar­itime and trade im­por­tance, has it­self be­come a “vic­tim of lethargy and in­er­tia”.

ex­cept for “the two-three coun­tries of the south­east asian re­gion, the rest have not parted with any in­for­ma­tion with in­dia on things of arche­o­log­i­cal or her­itage im­por­tance”, the ASI of­fi­cial added.

But south Block mandarins have a dif­fer­ent take. “We were at the fore­front in unesco to get [this pro­ject] recog­nised as a sub­ject of world her­itage im­por­tance. We helped in con­duct­ing the first Kalinga-in­done­sia di­a­logue in Bhubaneswar in Novem­ber 2016. We are co­or­di­nat­ing with a num­ber of in­dian ocean coun­tries in estab­lish­ing cul­tural linkages with in­dia and its states. so it is bla­tantly wrong to say that the Mea is not ad­vanc­ing the cause of the pro­ject,” re­torted a se­nior Mea of­fi­cial.

The of­fi­cial un­der­lined the sig­nif­i­cance of the pro­ject in pro­mot­ing in­dia’s soft-power diplo­macy. “With this pro­ject, in­dia will have more lever­ag­ing ef­fect on coun­tries of South Asia, south­east asia, east asia, arab and africa than what china is sup­posed to have with its ‘silk route’ ini­tia­tive,” the MEA of­fi­cial said.

For­mer for­eign sec­re­tary shashank sup­ports the stand. He says, “By go­ing be­yond con­sumerism and cheque diplo­macy, in­dia wants to es­tab­lish cul­tural and her­itage con­tacts with coun­tries of the in­dian ocean re­gion” and Pro­ject Mausam would fit in New Delhi’s scheme of things.

ac­cord­ing to him, it was only in the 1980s that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments started look­ing at the in­dian ocean with keen in­ter­est. “indians pri­mar­ily looked at the in­dian ocean as ac­ci­den­tal ge­og­ra­phy rather than recog­nis­ing its strate­gic im­por­tance,” he said, adding that for the first time in 2003 when he was for­eign sec­re­tary a sep­a­rate divi­sion in the Mea was cre­ated to look af­ter In­dian Ocean af­fairs.

cen­turies-old cul­tural, her­itage, mar­itime and trade links be­tween in­dia and th­ese na­tions were marked as a cri­te­rion in bring­ing them within the pro­ject’s bracket. of them, 35 na­tions are cur­rently mem­bers of the in­dian ocean Naval sym­po­sium (ions), a vol­un­tary ini­tia­tive of coun­tries of the in­dian ocean re­gion. To at­tain mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial mar­itime se­cu­rity out­comes within the ior, navies of th­ese coun­tries of­ten un­der­take good­will vis­its, while ex­chang­ing in­for­ma­tion on mar­itime is­sues. This high­lights com­mon un­der­stand­ing among peo­ple be­long­ing to the in­dian ocean.

“in an­cient days, ara­bian and african coun­tries were vis­ited by in­dian traders from Ker­ala, saurash­tra and other coastal states to sell spices. grad­u­ally, many of th­ese traders also set­tled down in sev­eral african na­tions ly­ing on the coastal side of the in­dian ocean,” said Bachchan Ku­mar, in charge of south­east asian stud­ies at the ignca.

The util­i­sa­tion of funds is a sore point. sources say th­ese funds have so far been utilised for hold­ing sem­i­nars, con­fer­ences and work­shops by the ignca.

Hi­man­shu Prabha ray, for­mer chair­per­son of Na­tional Mon­u­ments au­thor­ity who was the head of the pro­ject’s aca­demic com­mit­tee, main­tains that such in­vest­ments are es­sen­tial.

in re­sponse to Gov­er­nance Now’s ques­tion whether fund­ing is worth the pro­ject which is al­most a non-starter, she quoted the 2011 state­ment of unesco di­rec­tor gen­eral irina Bokova to un­der­line the worth of in­vest­ment for the sake of her­itage link­age: “Her­itage is a build­ing block for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, a vec­tor for so­cial co­he­sion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, a cat­a­lyst for re­gional co­op­er­a­tion. in the world of change, world her­itage is a re­minder of all that unites hu­man­ity. it is a re­minder also of the ties be­tween cul­ture, na­ture and so­ci­eties.”

she was cat­e­gor­i­cal that ini­tia­tives like Pro­ject Mausam will play a cru­cial role in strength­en­ing the coun­try’s soft­power diplo­macy. But so far, this pro­ject, which is con­sid­ered in­dia’s ma­jor for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tive, re­mains teth­ered at the chalk and board stage.

“In an­cient days, Ara­bian and African coun­tries were vis­ited by In­dian traders from Ker­ala, Saurash­tra and other coastal states to sell spices.” Bachchan Ku­mar Indira Gandhi Na­tional Cen­tre for the Arts (IGNCA)

Cour­tesy: wikipedia

Im­age of Cali­cut from Ge­org Braun and Frans Ho­gen­berg’s at­las, Civ­i­tates or­bis ter­rarum, 1572.

Cour­tesy: wikipedia

Model of a Chola (200-848 CE) ship’s hull, repli­cated by ASI from a wreck. Mar­itime trade pros­pered dur­ing the time.

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