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Act East Policy, Cultural Connectivity, and Tourism

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Act East Policy, or “AEP”, is the most outstanding policy that makes Modi’s administration likely takes a serious step towards Southeast Asia. Despite India and Southeast Asia are the most diverse areas in the world. However, given the historical ties that had been crafted centuries ago, India and its southeast neighbor states have been sharing a common area about their cultural bond, particularly the religious realm. Depending on this reality, AEP must ideally be on the same track in how India and Southeast Asia join their similar knot on cultural connectivity, especially making religious tourism in Northeast Region is prominent stuff to be considered as a post-pandemic development strategy.

Furthermore, integrating AEP into the Indian foreign policy I argue that AEP has to affirm the close historical and cultural ties between India and Southeast Asia, realizing people-to-people relations between India’s Northeast Region and its east neighbor states. Modi’s administration has been exacerbating Indian diplomacy by conducting several multilateral and bilateral dialogs featuring Southeast Asia states, highlighting huge opportunities to share economic growth and mutual prosperity. Hall (2019) also gave the BJP-led government a mark about vishwaguru, placing India’s soft-power to be a “world guru” by performing engaging in religious diplomacy through India’s image as a tourist destination.

Moreover, Murni & Mishra (2019) have already stated that shared religious ties based on Hinduism and Buddhism between India and broader Southeast Asia had been centuries-old ago. They believe that AEP is actively encouraging ties between these two entities through improving infrastructure facilities at the place of pilgrims and uniting them as tourist hubs. 

Some Potentials.

According to Bhonsale (2019) in ORF Special Report, Buddhism一as a religion that born in India and spread to other countries一contains supreme potential for inbound flow of tourists, attracting tourists from other bordering states in East and Southeast Asia, regarding shared Mahayana and Theravada traditions in the society throughout this region. Internationally acknowledged, India Northeast Region is a part of a home for several Buddhist heritage sites along with India and Nepal. There is prominently recognized that Northeast Region offers some Buddhist heritage trails cantered in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, including but not limited to Rumtek Monastery, Urgelling Monastery, Tawang and Bomdila Monastery. Besides the destinations themselves, tourism potentials within the AEP framework are also measured institutionally by looking at the existence of the International Buddhist Conclave (IBC). Kumar (2018) stated IBC was launched to enhance the religious dimension identity of India and promote transnational activity in tourism. It also takes into account that institution organized by state ministry may provide resources and policies to ease barriers, moreover, invent tourism innovation.  

Future Development.

AEP will be or is being notably, prospective Indian foreign policy that likely materializes India-Southeast Asia long-life relation. This policy ideally leads to infrastructure development in Northeast Region by central and state governments and international institutions. As already mentioned above, AEP has to compromise with some identified barriers in the tourism area, erasing physical, interstate, and domestic obstacles indeed. Undoubtedly, the major scale of physical obstacles is developmental challenges. Referring to Singh (2018), developmental challenges are constituted by the lack of internal infrastructure and service and isolation of region that hamper accessibility of logistics. 

Another thing that must be addressed is an interstate obstacle, known as border security and illegal migration. India for a long time is still being busy solving those two problems. Hance, India together with Bangladesh and Myanmar should take the time to sit at the same diplomatic table, looking for any practical cooperation to tackle security and illegal movement considering the similarity of linguistic and cultural linkage between their society. Even, it is relatively being spotlighted on political violence based on religious beliefs in India. The lack of protection towards religious minorities is remaining on daily basis. Generally speaking, being a prominent religious tourist destination also insists on recognition and protection to religious minorities.

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