The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)countries will inaugurate a set of commemorative stamps based on Ramayana at the India-ASEAN summit, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Secretary (East) Preeti Saran said here on Wednesday in an MEA briefing.
"When the leaders will come for a plenary session, together they will also inaugurate the stamps", said Saran.
The ASEAN India Summit will take place on January 25, followed by the Republic Day celebrations for which all the 10 leaders from the ASEAN countries have confirmed their participation in the commemorative Summit as well as to be guests of honour at the Republic Day.
"We expect the leaders to start arriving by January 24. It will begin with a banquet hosted by the President Ram Nath Kovind, followed by leaders' retreat in which our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited all the 10 ASEAN leaders for an exclusive retreat summit", said Saran.
"Thereafter, the leaders will move on to the plenary of the commemorative summit followed by a gala dinner to be hosted by Prime Minister Modi", she added.
She further said that a separate programme will also be organised for the spouses of the ASEAN leaders.
India has also invited Ramayana troupes from all the 10 ASEAN countries. They will perform Ramayana from January 20-24 at the Kamani auditorium.
A Ramayana festival, Ramayana stamps, specially-made Khadi jackets, and, of course, the Republic Day parade — India is planning a grand show for the 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders.
Officials said a Ramayana festival, which has a special connect with many of the ASEAN countries, has been curated by top artists. Sources informed that this was an idea suggested by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the ASEAN-India summit in Manila in November last year. He had said the depiction of the epic is a potent symbol of integration of the South East Asian region with India.
With mythology and folklore connecting the countries, various forms of Ramayana are prevalent in the South East Asian region. Sources said troupes performing Ramakien in Thailand, Pha Lak Pha Lam in Laos, Yama Zatddaw in Myanmar, Kakawin Ramayana in Indonesia and Hikayat Seri Rama in Malaysia will be part of the festival.
New Delhi is working with embassies of the 10 ASEAN countries to organise the Ramayana Festival, which will showcase the cultural interpretations of Ramayana across the ASEAN countries and India. “The similarities of mudra (hand gestures) in our dance forms across ASEAN and India will also be showcased during this festival,” said officials, adding that it will be held in the capital’s Kamani Auditorium.
The government has received confirmation that all the 10 countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam — will be represented by their heads of state or government at the ASEAN-India commemorative summit on January 25, marking 25 years of partnership.
The summit will be hosted at the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri area. The leaders will release a commemorative Ramayana postage stamp on the occasion.
The day will start with a banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind, followed by a leaders’ retreat at Rashtrapati Bhavan which will be hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sources said the leaders will be given the choice of wearing Khadi jackets for either the leaders’ retreat or the gala dinner which will be held after the plenary session on January 25. “A final decision on this is yet to be taken,” said a source.
For the Republic Day parade, a massive stage is being constructed and the leaders’ seating arrangements are being finalised — there is no precedent for seating 10 special guests at the event.
The 10 leaders and their spouses — at least six of them are expected to be accompanied by their spouses — will be seated with Prime Minister Modi, President Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. According to sources, at least 22 people, including the ASEAN secretary general, will share the stage. After the parade, the ASEAN leaders will attend the President’s At Home at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
A tight timeline for the arrival of all 10 ASEAN leaders, the President, Vice President and Prime Minister is being worked out by protocol officials so that the parade can start as per schedule. Also, to avoid any embarrassment due to unseasonal rainfall — as in 2015, when then US President Barack Obama was the special guest — the officials are planning to cover the dais.
Since the presence of ASEAN leaders will be watched closely by Beijing, the government is planning to have a marching contingent from the ITBP, which guards the India-China border. If that works out, they will be marching after a two-year gap. The focus will be on display of India’s naval prowess, since maritime security is an integral component of New Delhi’s engagement with the ASEAN countries.
While there will be emphasis on tableaux from the North-East states, which act as the land bridge with ASEAN countries, there may be tableaux from the ASEAN countries too. Sources said these elements are still being finalised.
Since at least six of the leaders are expected to be accompanied by their spouses, a separate programme is also being worked out for the latter, including visits to some tourist spots, crafts’ village or handicraft centres in the capital. “These will be incorporated depending on common interests and convenience,” said a source.
Secretary in-charge of eastern affairs in the MEA Preeti Saran said that connectivity and maritime cooperation will form the backdrop for the summit. A senior ASEAN diplomat also said that the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit of January 25 is likely to focus on maritime security for the region.
“We are discussing a very important agreement on how to enhance maritime connectivity with the ASEAN countries. We will also hold Working Group Meeting of the civil aviation ministries before the summit to discuss air connectivity,” said Ms. Saran in a special briefing on India’s plans for the Commemorative Summit-related celebrations on January 25 and 26.
Ms. Saran described the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit of 25 January as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘landmark’.
Ambassador of Thailand Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi said that ASEAN expects India to highlight maritime security during the summit, even as the Ministry of External Affairs said that discussion on a “very important” MoU on maritime cooperation is ongoing alongside plans for enhancement of air connectivity.
“We expect India to highlight maritime security (in the Commemorative Summit). This meeting is important and we hope that there will be serious discussions on maritime security, including freedom of navigation, piracy, keeping sea trading lanes clear. India attaches a lot of importance to maritime security and ASEAN countries are preparing for an intense discussion on that,” said Mr. Gongsakdi.
The envoy’s comment is significant as Thailand will be the coordinating country in charge of ASEAN-India ties from the middle of the year. In view of Thailand’s importance, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited the country last week.