Indo-Indonesian relations are booming – OpEd – Eurasia Review
India and Indonesia, maritime neighbors and strategic partners, have civilizational ties that span over two thousand years. The two countries enjoy very good relations with enormous potential for growth in the years to come.
Both are democratic countries with pluralistic societies where different religions, ethnic groups and cultures coexist in harmony. Since their respective struggles for freedom against colonial masters in the 1940s, India and Indonesia have helped each other and remain close friends.
“Relations between India and Indonesia are strong during good and bad times. In 2018, when Indonesia was hit by an earthquake, we immediately started operating Samudra Maitri“, ANI The news agency quoted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as saying during a speech to a gathering of Indian Diaspora living in Indonesia and Friends of India in Indonesia in Bali on November 15, 2022.
“That year when I came to Jakarta, I said that India and Indonesia may be 90 nautical miles apart, but in reality we are not 90 nautical miles but 90 nautical miles,” Modi added.
PM Modi mentioned Odisha Jatra from Balia sea voyage from Odisha to Bali in the past and an annual trade fair on the banks of the Mahanadi River in Cuttack to commemorate the rich maritime history of the state.
“When Indonesians see pictures of this year Jatra from Bali on the Internet, they will be proud and happy. Due to COVID-related issues, obstacles have arisen. After several years, Bali Jatra Mahotsav is being celebrated on a grand scale with massive turnout in Odisha,” Prime Minister Modi said.
Indonesia’s status as a Muslim-majority country has not prevented it from embracing the Ramayana in a unique way – each interpretation merits careful study and analysis. The performers of the famous Ramayana ballet at Prambanan Temple in Central Java are all Muslims.
Indian epics – Ramayana and Mahabarata – play an important role in Indonesian culture and history and are popular among Indonesians to this day.
Prambanan is one of the largest temple complexes in Southeast Asia which has different types of statues and reliefs. This temple is in the village of Prambanan, near Yogyakarta, in the regency of Klaten, in central Java.
It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991 and is the second largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia after the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. He is also known as Rara Jonggrang or Lara Jonggrang.
The temple, which was dedicated to Lord Shiva, was built around 856 AD by King Rakai Pikatan of the Sanjaya Dynasty of the Medang Kingdom in Central Java. However, it was not completed during his period but rather in 856 AD by his successor, King Loka Pala.
Prambanan has many reliefs telling various stories and symbols. The story of Rama and Sinta is the one portrayed. There are others too, like the mystical Garuda, a man-bird hybrid. Garuda is the national symbol of Indonesia.
There are three main temples – Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva – in the Prambanan temple complex, which symbolizes Trimurti in Hindu belief.
Each temple faces east and is adjacent to the accompanying temple facing west. Nandini for Shiva, Swan for Brahma and Garuda for Vishnu. Additionally, there are 2 flank temples, 4 kelir temples, and 4 corner temples. Meanwhile, the second court has 224 temples. The main temples of the Prambanan complex reach up to 47 meters, which is 5 meters higher than the Buddhist temple of Borobodur in Yogyakarta.
Indonesia’s fascination with the Ramayana is not new. The country was inspired by both the Ramayana of Sage Valmiki and the Ramayana of the Tamil poet Kamban and thus, the Ramayana remains in the imagination and the cultural milieu of the country.
Other Hindu temples are also found in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Bali. Bali is the only Hindu-majority island in Indonesia. Numerous inscriptions in Sanskrit (Pallava script) have been found in various places in Indonesia. One can visit the National Museum of Jakarta to find amazing archaeological evidence of the history of Indonesia. In front of the Museum, there is a magnificent statue of Arjuna’s chariot.
During the 3rd–16e century, many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms existed throughout Indonesia. To this day, Indonesia uses many Sanskrit expressions and the Hindu names of Ramayana and Mahabarata are very common throughout the country. Indonesian state ideology, Pancasila (Five Principles), state motto, Bhinneka Tinggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) and the slogan of the Indonesian Navy, Jalasveva Jayamahai (On the Sea, We are Glorious), are Sanskrit expressions found in Indonesia.
Bollywood movies and Indian yoga are also very popular in Indonesia.
However, cultural admiration is not a one-way street. Indians are also closely related to Indonesian culture, including Balinese Hindu culture. When visiting Java and Bali in 1927, Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore was so enamored with Bali that he said, “Wherever I go on the island, I see God.”
In 1950, Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru hailed Bali as the “Morning of the World”.
Nehru and Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, worked together to organize the famous Bandung Afro-Asian Conference in 1955, which led to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961.
In 1991, India adopted its “Looking East Policy” to engage more with Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia. Under the leadership of the dynamic Prime Minister Modi, India adopted its “Act East Policy” in 2014 to further strengthen India’s ties with Southeast Asian countries.
India-Indonesia relations peaked in 2018 when Modi visited Indonesia. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Modi flew kites in National Monument Square (Monas) in a personal affection between the two leaders. Many important agreements have been signed to improve relations.
In 2016, Jokowi visited India to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries. He also visited India in January 2018 to attend the India-ASEAN Summit.
Economic relations between India and Indonesia have grown by leaps and bounds. Indonesia has become India’s second largest trading partner in the ASEAN region after Singapore. Bilateral trade between India and Indonesia has grown from $6.9 billion in 2007 to $21.01 billion in 2021.
With $17.93 billion in exports to India in the first nine months of this year, it has become Indonesia’s fourth largest export destination in the world. Total two-way trade in the first nine months of this year hit a record $25.46 billion.
India is Indonesia’s largest buyer of crude palm oil as well as a major importer of coal, minerals, rubber, pulp and paper and hydrocarbon reserves. Indonesia buys refined petroleum products, corn, commercial vehicles, telecommunications equipment, oilseeds, animal feed, cotton, steel products and plastics from India. India also exports bulk pharmaceuticals and formulations to Indonesia.
India’s cumulative foreign direct investment has reached over $20 billion. In the future, more Indian investments will come to Indonesia.
The two countries have set a trade target of $50 billion by 2025. Considering the growing ties, including economic ties, this target can easily be achieved.
In the defense sector, the two countries work closely together. The Samudra Shaktia bilateral maritime exercise, and Garuda Shakti, a joint military exercise, are held annually. Indonesia has significantly stepped up its naval cooperation with India, including joint exercises and port visits by warships, as part of Jakarta’s focus on maritime security in the Indian Ocean.
What is needed now is a futuristic strategic dimension to cement these soft power relationships into civilizational pillars.
People-to-people contacts between India and Indonesia need to be strengthened. Indian tourists can visit beautiful Indonesia to see Hindu-Buddhist cultural and historical relics.
In 2019, around 657,000 Indian tourists visited Indonesia. This figure could be doubled in the coming years given the potential of Indonesian tourism.
Indian tourists will feel at home when visiting Indonesia.
On November 16, Jokowi officially handed over the G20 presidency to Modi. India will be the G20 Presidency in 2023. Jokowi said Indonesia fully supports India’s G20 Presidency.
India-Indonesia ties are currently booming and could reach new strategic heights in the years to come.
Veeramalla Anjaiah is a senior journalist based in Jakarta and the author of the book “Azerbaijan Seen from Indonesia”.